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Women's Issues - Still an Issue?

This exhibition was opened in May 2009, to the 125th anniversary of The Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights ("Norsk Kvinnesaksforening"). It was opened by the then president of the association, Torild Skard.

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This exhibition displays all the great and small steps on Norway's road to equality and emancipation. Before 1854, girls only inherited half as much as their brothers. Women had no right to self-government. Unmarried women were not granted legal autority until 1863, and married women had to wait until 1888 for the same rights. 

Today, there are laws protecting Norwegian men and women from gender-based discrimination. Many feel as if we have reached our goals in terms of equality in this country. However, research has shown that we still have some way to go. Changing attitudes takes longer than changing laws. We are hoping this exhibition can make our visitors more conscious of this.

Our story of feminism in Norway begins in the 1850s and ends today. It includes an art installation by Britt Holm. Here follows a short summary of the exhibition:

Camilla Collett

Camilla Collett is often said to be our first feminist and the mother of feminism inNorway. Her novel The District Governor’s Daughters (Amtmandens Døtre) showed how young girls were not able develop their abilities. The only thing that mattered was to be married and cared for. Camilla Collett became a very important figure for the women’s movement in Norway.

Read more about Camilla Collett here!

New meets old

A snap of the time when feminism became an issue in Norway. This was a time when the Norwegian society was changing from the old rural culture to a modern country. It was an age of optimism and belief in the future and in the importance of progress. However, women were still very much on the outside of all this. Their rights and ability to influence was still limited.

The modern breakthrough

The writers and their works were important for the pioneering age of the women’s movement. The new realist movement wanted to debate social problems. The great authors of the time focused on the position of women. Most famous is A Doll’s House by Ibsen. Jonas Lie, who lived in Kongsvinger, also “talked feminism” from very early on.

The founding of NKF

About the forerunner, the discussion club Skuld, and about the founding of The Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights (Norsk Kvinnesaksforening, NKF) in 1884. The initiators were Gina Krog and Hagbard Emanuel Berner, the latter was elected leader. Camilla Collett was named honorary member, and the year after, Anna Stang was appointed the Association’s first female leader.

Gina Krog

Gina Krog was the undisputed leader of the Norwegian feminist movement, and a figurehead through a number of years, but she was never leader of the NKF. She spent all her time fighting for women’s rights. She founded The Association for Women’s Suffrage (Kvinnestemmeretsforeningen) and later The National Association for Women’s Suffrage (Landskvinnestemmeretsforenigen). She concentrated on fighting for general suffrage for women.

Read more about Gina Krog here!

Fight for what you hold dear!

NKF had many fights to fight, but its members disagreed about the approach. This led to several new associations being established, and the most difficult issues were removed from NKF. Many of the prominent feminists were members of several associations.

Learning for life

There was a great difference between girls’ and boys’ schooling. Girls were not supposed to learn for their own sake, but to make them good wives and mothers. Important battles were fought to open up education and occupations for women.

Out to find work

From the upper social scale, girls were recruited to work as schoolmistresses and telegraph workers. The big urban factories needed manpower, and were the workplaces of many women. However, the largest group of working women were the domestic servants. Common for all occupations was the difference in wages for men and women. The matchstick makers and the female telegraph workers went on strike. These conflicts got a lot of attention and were important to later generations of working women.

"... and he shall rule over thee..."

Married women were subjected to guardianship. The man was to rule the family. The ritual of marriage established that the woman should subject herself to her husband. The woman had no control over her own property. Some people believed that separate ownership for women was against the word of God.

Whore and Madonna

Women’s image was two-tiered; you had your fun with the whore, and married the Madonna. The sexual morals for men and women were completely different. Women were supposed to be “untouched” and unknowing before getting married, while the man was to be sexually experienced. This was not the best starting point for a happy marriage. Prostitution was a serious social problem.

Suffrage - The Essential Right

There was disagreement about the best strategy and method to win the fight for the vote. Gina Krog was uncompromising as always. Women were given suffrage limited to income in communal elections in 1901. When Norwegian citizens voted over whether or not break the union with Sweden in 1905, women were excluded, but arranged their own petition and collected almost 250.000 signatures. In 1907 women got suffrage limited to income in national elections, and in 1910 general suffrage in communal elections. The final victory came in 1913, when general suffrage for women was unanimously approved by the government. Norway was the first independent nation to have this.

Then came the war

Many lost some of the spark when the vote for women was a fact, and believed they had reached their goal. First World War broke out, and people became focused on the near and dear. Many women did not use their right to vote, and very few were elected into positions of political influence.

Home or career?

There was a change in the women’s movement, where the traditionally feminine values were revalued. The focus was on the woman’s role as housewife and mother. NKF established several housekeeping schools. There was also an important battle going on for the right to paid work for married women.

Oh, I'm a struggling mother

The mothering and taking care of children was seen as women’s most important task, but in a different perspective from before. Katti Anker Møller is an important name. She fought for the rights of single mothers and their children. She was called the mother of the new children’s laws. Children born out of wedlock were given the rights to inherit their fathers’ surnames and property. Katti Anker Møller opened the first office for maternal hygiene in the capital in 1924, quickly followed by offices in other cities.

Women for Peace

With the dissolving of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905, the peace question became relevant. Randi Blehr was one of the most prominent leaders. Bertha von Suttner, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905, was the inspiration. Ågot Gjems Selmer (an author from Kongsvinger) held peace lectures in Kristiania (Oslo), Copenhagen and Stockholm. The peace was to be secured through the upbringing of children.

Read morea bout Randi Blehr here!

Surrounded by enemies

In the years leading up to World War Two, women’s movement became tantamount to the fight against Nazism. The Germans conducted a raid in 1941 and seized all property belonging to the NKF. The archives were never found again. The women were important for the war effort. They kept homes and communities ticking over, and performed illegal work, but were never acknowledged the way they would have deserved. All the famous heroes were men.

The Happy Housewife?

In the post-war years were dominated by an ideology centring on the role of the housewife. There have never been so many stay-at-home wives in Norway as there were in the 50s and 60s. The reconstruction of the country after the war wanted a social equalization, but equality between the sexes was not an issue. Margarete Bonnevie became the new leader of the NKF, and she fought to make it easier for married women to have a position and a career. She wrote several important books on the subject.

New Feminism

There was a change in the wind around 1970. The new feminism was starting to grow. Several new groups were founded, Nyfeministene (The New Feminists), Kvinnefronten (The Women’s Front), Brød og Roser (Bread and Roses) and others. Many young women joined, there were new battles and new ways of fighting. The old feminist movement also underwent a radicalization.

Liberating Motherhood

The Abortion Law was approved in 1978. By then, the fight for the right to induced abortions had been going on since it was started by Katti Anker Møller in 1913. Both married and unmarried women with large groups of children already wanted abortions. This was often related to poverty and bad health. Induced abortions were criminalized until 1975. The debates around the Abortion Law created much hostility.

Some are more equal than others

Likestillingsrådet (The Council for Ensuring Equality) was established in 1972. The Equality Law was approved in 1978, and in 1979, Eva Kolstad became the first Equality Ombudsman. Even if Norway officially was a country with complete equality, changing attitudes and meanings was a more difficult task. Berit Ås made this visible by talking about master suppression techniques.

Madam Prime Minister

In 1981, Gro Harlem Brundland became the first female Prime Minister of Norway. In 1986 she created the so-called “Women’s Government” with 44% women in ministerial positions. This was an international sensation. Women organized “Women’s Coups” in the communal elections in 1971. Asker, Oslo and Trondheim all had more women than men in central positions. However, the everyday life of a female politician was so difficult, many women gave up after only a very short time.

Waiting for Daddy

Already in 1953, Åse Gruda Skard asked why fathers were not more important in the upbringing of their children. Equality depends on men taking their turn at home when women have work outside the home too. The building of kindergardens only really began in the 80s. Later, the parental leave was extended, and a “daddy quota” introduced. A new generation of fathers take for granted that they have to do their share at home and with the children.

Radiant Role Models

It has always been important for women to have role models to relate to. In 2009, Marit Breivik was awarded the Order of Saint Olav for her new and creative leadership techniques. Anette Sagen beat the ski-guys when women finally were granted admission to the ski jumping hills during the Skiing World Championship in 2009. Pippi Longstocking has been an important figure of inspiration for several generations of girls. Nothing is impossible for Pippi.

Headscarves - A Feminist Thing?

The fierce debate about headscarves or hijabs has been going on for a while. The question is whether this is a religious symbol, or an instrument of suppression. International feminism is not always simple because of the massive differences in culture. However, sister solidarity across borders has always been important for feminists.

Me, a Feminist?

Who would actually agree to call themselves a feminist? Many care about equality, but hesitate to use words like “feminism” and “feminist”. There are strong prejudices against terms like “suffragette” and “redstocking”, and they are still sometimes used as insults.

Equality World Champions?

Norway presents itself as the most equal country in the world, but complete equality between men and women is a myth. Our labour market has a strong gender division, young girls tend to choose traditional professions, and most positions of authority and power are filled by middle-aged men. At home, women still do twice as much house work as men. We haven’t reached goal yet, keep on going!

Written June 2009

Ingun Aastebøl.

Translation: Maren Sofie Løfsgård.

Museum24:Portal - 2024.06.11
Grunnstilsett-versjon: 2