Lest we forget what can hide underneath a veneer of equality, the New York times has published this article by Lizette Alvarez that reminds us that public acceptance does not necessitate private practice.
Alvarez begins by discussing the support of feminism in Sweden:
Feminists here are seldom hectored about quashing family values or derided, at least publicly, as a gang of castration-happy women. Relentlessly, they have pushed for women’s rights, and their triumphs are well known. Sweden ranks at the top (or near it) in the number of women who hold public office, serve as cabinet ministers, graduate from college and hold jobs. Mothers are granted long maternity leaves and send their children to excellent day care centers.
Sweden begins to seem like a political and social paradise for us equality-loving folk, especially if seen in light of a recent post on paid parental leave with an “equality bonus” by Egalia over at Tennessee Guerilla Women. But no society is perfect, and Sweden is no exception. The dirty little secret in this case is domestic violence.
The turmoil began a year ago with the Amnesty International report, which took Sweden to task for failing to adequately curb violence against women and help victims cope with their situations. The organization also cited spotty prosecutions, vague statistics, old-fashioned judges and unresponsive local governments.
Alvarez puts much of the blame on the rampant equality of women, saying that “[r]ather than boldly tackle the pattern of violence, many in Sweden reflexively dismissed it as the sort of thing that happens somewhere else.” I think that reading is too simplistic, and ignores the need for a double pronged approach to achieving equal rights – using laws to enforce public acceptance while employing more subtle means to coax the private sphere into internalizing the new ideology.
I agree with the sentiment expressed in Even in Sweden:
So what is going on here? Is the whole edifice of relative gender equality in Scandanavia, or at least Sweden, a facade? I’m guessing not. More likely, I think, the lesson to take is that the barrier between the public and private is stubborn, and that it is possible to make great gains in where women stand in relation to men in public, without corresponding gains in private.
And, just in case you can’t figure out where I stand, I believe that public gains without corresponding private ones are valuable, but ultimately useless if the private sphere is ignored and neglected. Unless people actually start believing in equality, all the legislation in the world isn’t going to change what happens in their heads, or behind closed doors.