Marie Eriksson, historian and senior lecturer in social work, carries out research on violence and gender, both historically and in our own time. Today, on the International Women’s Day, we asked her about inequality from a historical perspective and what she thinks is required in order to achieve a future with gender equality.
Why has there been so much inequality in the relationship between men and women through history?
Marie Eriksson explains that there are a number of different ways of understanding and explaining why unequal power relations have existed, but also why they are still present and constantly recreated.
"A common point of departure among researchers is that gender is not nature-given or constant. Historians have demonstrated that sex or gender, that is to say the perceptions of female and male, are so-called social constructs. They are formed by people everywhere, in all contexts, from politics and education to health care and family. This is done by separating ideas of what is normally considered female from what is normally considered male, and the other way around. In that way, a perceived gender difference is created, where the similarities between the genders are simply ignored", explains Eriksson.
The creation of a distinction between what is female and what is male also has to do with power, Eriksson continues. Power can be anything from financial resources, status and influence to the possibility to shape society and one's own life.
"The distinction ties men closer to power and links masculinity to a superordinate position – in relation to women and femininity who are positioned as subordinate or outside, with less power. In this gender hierarchy, men and masculinity are the norm, what is considered natural, normal and desirable", says Eriksson.
Why is there still today inequality in the relationship between women and men?
"The historian Yvonne Hirdman explains gender as 'the changing forms of what is stable'. She talks about how the creation of what is female and what is male has changed over the course of history. One such formal change took place in 1873 when women were given access to Swedish universities – roughly 450 years after men. This is a change in progress and today – 144 years later – women make up the majority of all students who get an academic degree. Changes and improvements like these are often presented in connection to the International Women's Day, with the aim to make us feel refreshed and happy that things were actually worse before", says Eriksson.
"However, at the same time, there is a stability in the creation of gender which results in the fact that some things do not change. Since gender is created all the time. Everywhere. An intense and sometimes forceful creation of differences, in which men become men and women become women. When creating the differences, we also recreate the inequality in power relations, living conditions, and the conditions for who we are, can be and want to be in this world", Eriksson explains.
Marie Eriksson's equality requirements for the future, with no order of preference:
The knowledge about gender must increase.
Both gender and norm-critical perspectives must be given more room and higher status – within all areas of society! This is vital knowledge, which we can use to affect poor health, poverty, violence, war, and other gender-based societal problems.
Equality must become everyone's responsibility.
It cannot be handled as a voluntary "women's matter" for women only, or for those particularly interested. There are political decisions declaring that equality is to be integrated and observed at, for instance, authorities, universities and university colleges.
Those with more power and privileges must share with those who have less.