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Saturday, 19 August 2017

Are we free now? Sisters, let’s talk!

Linn Stalsberg , Thursday 3 Aug 2017
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Views: 1450

In a time when world-leaders are trying to pull us people apart and make us enemies, we must oppose this in the best way possible: let’s talk to each other, and let’s read eachothers books and stories.

As a feminist, I am in no doubt that women all over the world have much more in common, than what divides us by culture or religion. Do not believe those who wants us to believe otherwise, because feminism can be a strong force within a global movement towards a new kind of freedom for both women and men.

In 2013, I wrote a book up here in Norway called: “Am I free now? Time squeeze in the best country in the world”. The book was translated to Danish in 2015, and in February this year; into Arabic, and launched in Egypt.

Before writing the book I had for years been a journalist, a columnist, while being educated as a Sociologist from London School of Economics. Politically I had placed myself at the left, and done some activism, especially for refugees and asylumseekers, for womens rights and against the financialisation of world economy. 

But now, I was a mum, and suddenly life changed and all came down to managing everydaylife, and the unpaidcarework that is both amazing and exhausting, as I am sure all parents will agree. These new and stressful days, made me question the feminism of our time, and that was the starting point of my book.

At the time of writing the book, I was married, and had to little boys. Both me and my husband worked full time as journalists. My boys were in kindergarden all day, and is this respect, we were living the Nordic ideal of gender equality: Both me and my husband had jobs, and our own income, and we both did housework and took care of the kids. We have a welfare state that had given both of us paid leave from work when the kids were babies, and also provided us with cheap kindergardens, not too far from where we lived in a flat in central Oslo.

All should have been good, but as it turned out, this was not as happy or easy as it seemed. To cut a long story short: We felt the time squeeze (what sociologist call the work/life-challenge), and perhaps, me as a women felt it the most. I was never able to do my paid job well enough, always having to leave a bit too early, rarely being able to finish the days work properly.

And then, on the other hand, I never spent enough time with my kids, running into kindergarden to pick them up, sometimes knowing they had already been there too many hours. They were exhausted, I was exhausted, and my husband was as well. When we all arrived home after having been separated all day, we had the housework, the planning of the week, the grocery shopping and making of dinner and – if time – spending time with friends, neighbours, family, as well.

Our daily life felt like we were constantly in search of a moment to exhale, and even social gatherings that should have been nice and relaxing, just felt like yet another stressful issue that day. We were always behind, never catching up with our own lives.

At one point it did not work anymore. I quit my job, and wrote this book as a freelancer. At great cost when it came to our private economy, but as a family we gained some time and some ease, at daily basis. We were no longer totally gender equal. Suddenly I did most of the housework, and spent most time with the kids. My husband earned more money than me, and I came to be more dependent on him. Had I let feminism down, by doing this?

Now. As a Nordic feminist, I had let down some ideals by this choice. For many years, feminism had come to mean that women should have a job, or even better, a career, just like successful men have had in decades. In practice, this means that even when we have small children, man and women shall equally work full time, just as if we had no children.

Since we have state-supported kindergarden, there is no “excuse” towards why we should not manage this. Also, our welfare-system is based on work: Only of you work fulltime, you are entitled to full support from the welfare state, such as sickleave, maternal or paternal care, unemployment benifits, etc. Hence, not working full time put both men and women at risk, if you get sick or lose your job, for instance.

To cut it short; my book sums up how feminists in the western world rightly fought for womens independence though work and income, and also for cheap kindergardens that make it possible for her and him to have a job and children at the same time.

However, and now it gets a bit complicated: Just when feminists gained this right, and succeeded in getting women education and paid work from the 1970’s and onwards, did they also lose some other battles? Because, it is true radical feminist wanted women to work. But they wanted something else, at the same time: they wanted society as a whole to change, towards a more child-friendly and family-friendly worklife.

They wanted a structural change of society, not simply to let women into a society that was already there. Because this society that was there, was modelled on a male model, it was market-based and competitive, and difficult to unite with the needs of children or other vulnerable lives.

But the structural change never happened. Worklife continued like if we all had a wife or mother at home, and each women and family had to adapt to this.

No wonder we all started to feel stressed out in our everyday life. Also, even if working full time is our ideal. In reality 36 percent of women and 13 percent of men work parttime. It is still some distance between reality and ideal,also in our part of the world.

Why did this structural change never happen? Why did, especially radical feminist, lose structural battles, such as shortening the workday down to six hours for all, or, the right to partime work, but still having the right to fulltime welfare? Why did the unpaid work at home, like the carework women do for family members, or the social careing in neighbourhoods that keeps people together, lose all status in our society? Why did feminist end up at a place where paid work and career in workplace was the one thing that made you a successful feminist?

The low status of unpaid work brings women all over the world together. No matter if we live in the north or south; we women still do most of the unpaid housework and carework. The unpaid work that the rest of society depends upon to make the world and workplace go around. This was my challenge to my own feminism from the left; when and why did we succumb to markedforces and the statefeminism of equality – that to a large degree neglected carework, housework, and in the end; a sustainable environment ecologically. Because; if the aim of feminism is to make all women work, earn, travel and consume like middleclass successful men, then we will have no Earth to live equally and wealthy upon.

The structural change radical feminist once proposed, is more desperate and important than ever, in this time of ecological destruction and climate change.

The women's movement in the 70's talked about "women's liberation" - the desire for a better day-to-day life for both men, children and the woman. But structural changes are challenging: much more challenging than just adapting to the society already there.

Still, this is where women today must pick up feminism and continue this demand and struggle.

Proposals such as six-hour work day, free kindergartens, division of work at home and at work, and ideas about a different economic global system than this neoliberal one which requires growth, should all be part of modern, international feminism unity. An internationalism, that is of course anti-racist, and intersectional, recognising that women also have different battles to fight, in need of solidarity from others.

The overall theme is my book is hence the encounter between feminism and capitalism in the 1980s, when neoliberal economics was introduced in most countries in the world. Profit, privatisation, efficiency and critique of the state set the tone for this new age. I try to how how feminists unintentionally in some respects ended up supporting this development, with results we may analyse today and reflect upon.

Some would perhaps claim that the Nordic women complaining of time squeeze is just the voices of spoilt women wanting more spare time is their already comfortable life. In comparison to many women's horrendous life struggles in parts of this world, I can surely see that argument being valid. However, each culture and each time has its own struggles, and women in the north have theirs.

In this book, I hope to show how our private experience of stressful days in itself can be a hint of a much wider global crisis of care. And that the Nordic womens stories, are interlinked with women's life stories other places as well. We do not live in different worlds, we live in one.

I also want to show how this private everyday struggle is directly connected to the world outside: the neoliberal system with it defined economic and ideals for living, the unequal class-based society we all live within, and how traditional female values like patience, care, nurture, rituals and warmth, within this competitive economy rarely have any value anymore.

Therefore, feminism, for me, must always be system-critical and internationalist. We, women, have much more in common, than what divide us.

In Norway, where a new generation of young men take great interest in the care for their children, in cooking and familyvalues, they also come to feel the timesqueeze traditionally felt by women. Feminism will naturally come to include these modern men in their struggle.

Time-constraint-issues is for me much more than spoilt women complaining: it is an imbalance between care obligations and unpaid housing on one side – and the demands in a modern and competitive society and workplace on the other. Timesqueeze is just another word for lack of control over our own everyday life, and the demand for control over ones own life, that is an old claim from both women- and labourmovements. It is something to be takenveruseriously indeed in search for freedom.

To put it simple: Although many (wealthy) women all over the world have wonderful lives in modern capitalism, this comes at a cost. Both for her lowpaid sister in her own backyard, or in other countries, for Mother Earth suffering from an ecological breakdown due to a wealthy consume and lifestyle.

This is also a sort of modern sadness: Knowing our comfort and freedom depends on exploiting other human being and the earth itself. I think we do not really know how to express this grief yet, and hence we overlook it rather than go into the complexity and real change of life it demands.

NOBODY IS FREE UNTIL EVERYONE IS FREE.

For people to really talk to each other it is important to be honest, to put our guards down and to reveal our insecurities and anxieties. My life here up north has some challenges, despite the obvious comfort in comparison to many women many places.

I am not sure that we have done everything right when it comes to creating the best life possible for our kids and elders, for instance. I am sure though, that I have a lot to learn by listening to women and their experiences in other parts of the world. And I am sure she has something to learn from listening to me.

We, women of the world, have s lot in common. We want freedom from violence, from sexual harassment, from other demanding of us how to dress, how to speak or how to act. We, who give birth and are vulnerable because of this, want the freedom given to us by proper and free healthcare, by a welfare state that provides free schools and childcare, and the freedom to be able to combine paid work and unpaid work.

We want a place to live that is safe, and to be able to afford that place to live. We want to the freedom in choosing our own partner, or if to have a partner at all, or to leave them, if we are not happy in that relationship. We want the freedom to live different lives; to pursue a career if we want, to stay at home with our babies if we want to, to live alone if we please, or with a family if that is what we want.

Things are not so complicated, and if we talk to each other about our insecurities and our strengths this will be obvious to one another. We people must stick together and not let worldleaders desperate for power and money divide us. They do not have our interest at heart.

Are we free now? Not at all. Feminism is still a dead important force, and we women must unite in it, together, for a sort of freedom and structural change the world has yet to see.

 

*Linn Stalsberg is a Norwegian journalist, columnist, public debater and author. She has worked as a journalist for Verdens Gang, Dagbladet, NRK, Klassekampen and Amnesty Norway. She has an MSc in sociology from the London School of Economics.

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