Läst: 179 år av ensamhet – Tio röster från en manlig bastion, red. Jenny Lantz & Linda Portnoff

Efter tjugofem år som kvinna i en mansdominerad bransch – den sk. IT-branschen – har jag inte bara lärt mig var mina gränser går utan också vad priset blir när jag inte är lyhörd för min egen magkänsla.

Redan någon gång i mitten av 90-talet tittade jag på mig själv och vem jag var och bestämde mig för att a) inte kompromissa med det som är viktigt för mig – jag vill kunna se mig själv i spegeln både på morgonen och på kvällen – och b) att alltid dela äran med de andra som deltagit i  eller haft påverkan på arbetet.

Att leva efter det har inte alltid varit lätt och såhär långt kan jag väl ärligt säga att jag fortfarande misslyckas ibland. Vi är alla människor och vi har alla dåliga dagar, fattar alla ibland mindre bra beslut. Som senior har jag alltid sett det som en del av min uppgift att hjälpa mer juniora kollegor att känna att de har rätt att ha det utrymmet – att ha en “bad hair day” utan att världen rasar samman (även om jag själv alltid får ångest när saker inte blev som jag hade tänkt).

Jag har också försökt förmedla en strategi som egentligen var ett råd som jag plockat från en tidningsintervju med någon kvinna i ledande ställning, för så många år sedan att jag tyvärr inte minns vem hon var. Hon underströk att som kvinna fick man ALDRIG NÅGONSIN använda uttrycket “jag känner…”. Män kunde använda det utan urskiljning men som kvinna placerade det en i någon slags subjektivt känsloträsk där man inte behövde tas på allvar.

Insikten hon förmedlade var att män får känna hur mycket de vill, deras känslor är nämligen objektiva och därmed normativa, medan kvinnor som “känner” ses som om de är rov för hormonsvängningar och vad vet jag – kristallers inverkan, eller något.

För mig var strategin framgångsrik. För faktum är att “jag känner” egentligen används för att uttrycka det jag istället har valt att säga, nämligen “min erfarenhet är…”. “Min erfarenhet” väger enormt mycket tyngre än “jag känner”, och som kvinna behöver man all hjälp man kan få när man ska förmå andra att ta en på allvar. För trots “min erfarenhet” så väger jag som kvinna lätt mot munlädersmorda självbespeglande yngre män som utan att tveka och utan att ge kredd till någon annan än sig själv och sitt posse kidnappar min (och andra kvinnors – män ges alltid källhänvisning) kunskap, min under hårt arbete systematiserade erfarenhet, mina angreppssätt på problemet, och gör den till sin.

Antologin 179 år av ensamhet – Tio röster från en manlig bastion sätter ljuset på detta fenomen. Det är en samling på tio texter skrivna av tio kvinnor som alla har det gemensamt att de har bedrivit forskning inom ramen för Handelshögskolans verksamhet.

Handelshögskolan är allmänt känd, i alla fall i mina kretsar, som ett ställe där redan privilegierade män alltid har företräde. Därför föreställde jag mig att det som kvinnorna som kommer till tals i boken skulle berätta om skulle vara som en slags skräckhistorier. Visst kan man inte undgå de misogyna strukturerna men jag kände nog att jag både har bra kvinnligt nätverk och fungerande egna strategier. Och det kanske jag har. Mina har i alla fall, för mig, fungerat bättre än somliga av de strategier kvinnorna i boken berättar om har fungerat för dem, medan andra har varit till förvillelse lika. För liksom många av kvinnorna i boken är jag ofta den enda kvinnan i rummet och jag analyserar så gott som alltid maktfördelning/makttilldelning och spelet som sker i en grupp innan jag väljer strategi. Det är liksom bäst så – jag kan aldrig förutsätta att de jag träffar faktiskt respekterar mig och den kompetens jag står för och behöver därför veta hur jag ska gå tillväga för att få gehör. Om det ens är möjligt.

179 år av ensamhet visar med all tydlighet något som jag visserligen redan visste, nämligen att dessa mina erfarenheter inte är unika utan är en del av en struktur. Alla kvinnor behöver alltid tänka efter extra, alla kvinnor behöver vara extra hårdhudade. Sverige är ett samhälle där mannen ses som norm och där mannen har företräde, av tradition. Kommer många kvinnor in i en sektor sänks automatiskt sektorns status, i omvärldens ögon.

Jag hade hoppats att sånt som beskrivs i boken, exempelvis synen att som kvinna kan man alltid välja att bli försörjd av en man = du hade egentligen inte behövt vara här så du får faktiskt tåla att ta skit, eller att kvinnor inte gör karriär därför att de saknar kompetens (och underförstått förmåga), skulle vara helt passé. Men nej. Dessa forskare, docenter och professorer bedöms och poängsätts i kursutvärdering efter kursvärdering efter hur de klädde sig och ser ut – inte efter kvaliteten på deras undervisning eller forskning. De drabbas systematiskt av att deras studenter men även överordnade tilltalar dem med en “men lilla vännen, då”-attityd, som om deras rigoröst genomförda och kvalitetsgranskade forskning bara var deras egna privata fantasier. De drabbas systematiskt av att studenter och andra forskare tror att de är assistenter och sekreterare, inte huvudföreläsare och kursansvariga. Även andra kvinnor behandlar dem så. Kanske för att de vill framstå i god dager hos de män som kan påverka deras framtid, kanske för att de faktiskt tycker att sakernas tillstånd är i sin ordning.

Och det är ett av bokens bestående värden. Var och en av de händelser som beskrivs kan ses som engångsföreteelser och det är det de oftast betraktas som – en gammalmodig person, eller han var berusad (alltid godtagbar ursäkt för en man, aldrig för en kvinna), eller han skämtade bara, lite får man tåla. Men lagda bredvid varandra ser man ett mönster, en struktur, ett implicit regelverk, en kultur. En kultur som omhuldas och bevaras just i dess negligerande.

Väldigt få skolor har som uppgift att skapa förändring. Väldigt lite forskning bedrivs för att förändring ska kunna uppnås. Forskning finns för att svara på frågan om hur saker fungerar. Förändring baserad på nyvunnen kunskap är en bieffekt, inte huvudmålet. Och skolor, dom är till för att genom återförande av utvald kunskap, utvalda mönster och kulturer, bygga ett stabilt samhälle.

179 år av ensamhet visar med all tydlighet på vilket samhällsmönster som av somliga inflytelserika personer med mycket makt anses vara värt att bevara. Ett monokulturellt samhälle som med maktmetoder annihilerar alla som är oliktänkande. Har vi hört det förut? Känns det bekant?

Läs, fundera, och ställ dig själv frågan om det är det samhälle du vill ha, som du tror på, och vilket ditt ansvar är, som hon, han, den eller det, för vilken riktningen blir.

Reread: A Song for Arbonne, by Guy G. Kay

This is my third read of A Song for Arbonne, and this third time, despite knowing what will happen, it hits me just as hard as it did the first time – maybe even more. Despite this I didn’t have it in queue for a reread – there are so many other books to read, out there – hadn’t it been for it being chosen as the next group read at the Green Dragon, the Librarything pub.

As usual with Kay a number intertwined themes are present throughout the book – most prominently themes of loyalty and trust, and of the destructive powers of a monocultural society. The backdrop is a early medieval type of world, with feudal nations or nation states, each small enough to be travelled on horse in a couple of days, and in a precarious balance of powers. We follow Blaise, who first seems to be a mercenary just like any other – the younger son of some noble family, not in line of inheritance and thus not particularly needed – as he after long travels ends up in legendary Arbonne. Coming from the patriarchal Gorhaut he is prejudiced against “women-ruled” Arbonne but as he comes to know both the men and women ruling the river valley he slowly beings to understand and appreciate, if not love, a culture that could not had thrived elsewhere. Had it not been for his background, slowly revealed throughout the tale, this could had been enough. But he soon finds himself embroiled in the kind of politics that define both nations, cultures, and their vessels – the people ruling.

Kay paints an elaborate and believable world were people’s powers and strengths have their limits, in a feudal society were the produce of the land is what ultimately sustains the economy, were even the powerful has draughty windows and cold stone floor, and were death is as omnipresent as life.

Personally I don’t much like the ending. It is a sad one, in more ways than one, even if the characters themselves seems to accept it as a good one. Still, a very good read, and a rewarding one.

Almost a review: Chanur series, by C.J. Cherryh

I’ve made several tries at starting this post, the first as far back as 12 March. Why has it been so hard? If I question myself I think the most probable answer is “the scope”. Some people reads the five-book series as a space opera adventure. Others reads it as a treatise on gender. Yet others as a discussion on culture and politics. And to me it’s all of these.

At the most visible layer the books tells the tale of one Pyanfar Chanur (with the last book having a different perspective and protagonist). A trader travelling between space stations bringing wealth to her down-planet clan she get caught up in interspecies politics, quite by accident, and her life takes a hard turn.

Pyanfar is female. So are all other hani in space; hani being her species. In hani society the women runs the show for the feeble-minded and rash males, of which only a few survives to maturity. Males are viewed as unreliable, ruled as they are by their feelings rather than their minds.

Other species we encounter are the mahendo’sat, a primate (I imagine them as a wee bit more human-proportioned gibbons because if I start thinking of them as baboons or any other of the ‘great’ apes I’d die laughing), who like humans travels space male and female alike; the stsho, with three genders and ability to change gender throughout life; the kif, who seems almost exclusively male, but who know? They are almost reptile, or at the very least rodent-like; and then the methane-breathers – the knn, the t’ca and the chi, with only the t’ca able to communicate with the oxygen-breathers, and then only via complex multi-tiered matrices.

There’s also some stray humans, most notably Tully whose escape from a kif ship is what get Pyanfar entangled in the conflict in the first place. But we don’t get the story as seen by humans – rather humans are the most alien species of all, in this setting.

Against this backdrop it is possible to discuss almost any topic there is concerning culture, politics, societies… and that is exactly what’s going on, if you want to look further than the action.

Some people might be put off by the ‘cats in space’ theme put forward by the cover art but I really do recommend these books.

The Chanur series consists of the books The Pride of Chanur, Chanur’s Venture, The Kif strikes back, Chanur’s Homecoming, and Chanur’s Legacy. The first and the last could be viewed as standalones, while the three in the middle is one story split over three volumes.

Review: Gender in the early medieval world, edited by Leslie Brubaker

This book is a collection of essays offering a view on late ancient/early medieval societies, centred on the remnants of the former Roman empire. By applying a gender perspective to a diverse range of disciplines and sources the collection offers an added and in some cases new perspective on previously held ‘truths’; other items just confirms earlier research.

It is of course close to impossible to review a book consisting of 16 different essays only sharing a loose framework of time, place, and gender perspective. Inevitably there are pieces both good and not so good included. Some were laugh out loud funny. Not intended, I’m sure.
The good stuff is in majority, though, and I recommend the book to anyone interested.

I’m sure at least some of the essays will resurface later on, in further musings, here and otherwise.
The first half of the book also made me want to revisit Sarantium, a fictional Byzantium created by G. G. Kay. This will have to wait, though, as next read will be The Eyre Affair, for the Green Dragon group read.

The retelling of history – a window on our own time

One of the interesting aspects of reading texts that deal with human history is what these texts tells us about our own time (or the time when they were originally written). Currently I’m reading Gender in the Early Medieval World. It consists of a number of essays written during the early 2000’s by different scholars, and they cover different aspects and themes.

The ‘world’ means, in this context, Europe proper and the Middle East. As the term ‘medieval’ generally is applied to the nations and cultures that succeeded the Roman empire this is an accurate term but to me the ‘world’ is rather larger than that, so that I think the editors show their Eurocentric world view.

Our present values also show through in the implicitly – maybe even unconsciously – made judgements on gender roles during the times discussed. Not that I disagree. But a value judgement is a value judgement, no more no less, and just as we perceive times past our time will in turn be looked down upon – there are no moral absolutes, just as there is no fixed path to civilisation, or an apex of said.

So, halfway through the book I feel like I’m watching a meta-philosophical argument trying to repair damages done by previous generations; putting salve and plasters on an academic agenda which has previously excluded the impact of the hidden society – e.g. those not male and politically and economically empowered – on the evolving cultures, societies and nations.

This willingness to see history as something more than an enumeration of years and important kings, masters and wars is interesting. When this approach was discussed in the 1970’s it was perceived as a Marxist agenda, and thus suspect. Or – this is at least what I remember from my years in compulsory school (from ages 7-15, at the time).

Just let’s hope that academia in general is ready for a more, let’s say, holistic approach to their topics. It is certainly long overdue.
If they manage academia might at last be of some relevance to the civil society.
(Not that this is what some of them remotely wants, but that is a whole another discussion.)

The mindless reproduction of negative stereotypes

Today I received an image in the mail. It was sent by a female colleague and I know she meant no harm but personally I thought it a bit over the top.

Not that it was offending, in any way. It was a nominally harmless joke – the text “An international symbol for marriage has now been agreed upon”, attached to an airport sign style icon showing a dominating female at whose feet a subservient male kneels while offering the woman his credit card.

I can think of countless ways this symbol, with it’s byline, should be hilariously funny. So why don’t think that is the case?

My reasoning goes like this –

I think this a very common stereotype used between men. It’s a way for a man to joke at his own expense, to play down the emotional aspects of his relationship with his wife. Despite the fact that we look down our long noses on societies were marriage is not a matter of love but of economics and politics we on a societal and cultural level have inherent difficulties with admitting to being in some way ruled by feelings and emotions – we, as rational beings expect of ourselves to behave in entirely logical ways.

Also men, at least in the cultures and societies I have encountered, are supposed at the very least to be independent of women. But a relationship is a co-dependency. This adds to the need to play down the importance of the relationship.

I can understand this need to downplay. Very few are strong or single-minded enough to recognise or withstand these behavioural imperatives. What I don’t have much acceptance for is women who are complicit in enforcing their own subservience.

In this category I count women who complain endlessly how their men don’t help with washing the dishes or cleaning up the house but then deny them the right to help by complaining on how the go about these tasks.

I am known to laugh at gender stereotypes. Some of them work to defuse situations we by no means have the tools or means to handle or change. Others are too close to observed truth, within a given culture, not to be funny.

This particular image, though, paints a picture were the male has to submit to the dominatrix, to give her all his money or perish (in this it also plays on religious imagery but I’m not going into that aspect).
It paints a picture of the shopaholic wife, and so either endorses a consumer lifestyle or shows women as slaves to shopping. Whichever of these two the woman can be interpreted as a mindless animal rather than a representative of Homo Sapiens. She is a slave to her impulses, and her impulses is enslaving the male.

It also paints a picture that justifies men having a higher income, even if they are in the same business and have the same skill levels and experiences as women. You know – “it’s all right, the money will end up in the woman’s purse anyway”.

Contrary to these interpretations it could also be read as showing how it is the woman who have to handle all the purchases of a household. On the surface this seems a more benign interpretation – she is able and responsible! – but in reality it means the male escapes responsibilities by placing them on the female, who then have to carry a burden which should rightfully be shared between the involved.

Whichever way seeing the image did not make me laugh. I only felt very VERY disturbed. It’s closely related to the logic used to justify the delimitation of women’s rights as humans just because males are so brain dead they can’t control themselves if they sees some female skin.

Demeaning to men and women alike.

It follows that GAAAHHH!!! is the only rational reaction I can muster.

Gender in writing. An infected topic, but I can’t let that stop me :-)

Last year when I read Powers by Ursula K Le Guin, the third novel in the sequence Annals of the Western Shore, I could not help but reflect that if that story had been written by a man this would had been branded a piece of true misogyny. Throughout the story, aimed at young adult readers, women are systematically treated as objects and frequently as objects without worth beyond the physical. Only at the very end do we get to see that this is not how it must be, and even then it is ambiguous.

This is not the first time that happens in her writings. I think her method is to show the world as it is, in all it’s cruelty, and then offer alternatives or strategies. It’s not a very direct method but she manages, mainly because I as a reader know her for a feminist. But this begs the question what would happen with how we interpreted her stories if there wasn’t a name attached to them.

Compare with the female characters, and the worlds, described by Guy G Kay. Some women thinks he writes good female characters but most seem to think him a chauvinist, always describing worlds and circumstances were women are secondary beings left to their own often subversive strategies if they are to survive or hold power, and often with their bodies as part of the game.
Given that Kay often writes historical fiction rather than the fantasy his books are tagged with, is this so strange?

Should an author be charged with writing only worlds or tales she or he would want for themselves, or do an author have the possibility to make up worlds and situations as stages for discussion and elaboration, extrapolation, debate?

Granted Kay has no feminist agenda, but in some ways his writings works just as well as Le Guin’s to show what is wrong with a society, from a gender perspective. But he is a man, is he not, and not gay (what I know, anyway, I generally don’t care but feminists often seems to do), so he just HAS to be chauvinist. Stands to reason, no?

I don’t say that they should be equalled. It is allowed to be appalled or charmed by both, either or none of them. But I do have to wonder where and by what criteria we place our borders.