Portrait: Maud Eduards

2002-05-18 10:34

In order to cross the highway, women criss-cross between cars instead of taking the pedestrian underpass. In a choice between two dangers, many women prefer being run over to being attacked and abused.

Maud Eduards, Professor of Political Science, offers an everyday example of how women adjust in a society that congratulates itself on being the most equal in the world.

According to Maud Eduards, women should strive for freedom through organisations, and they should not avoid confrontations with men in politics. Conflicts between the sexes may be the beginnings of increased democracy.

In the preface to a new book, Maud Eduards writes that she, at long last, has followed a recommendation given to her a long time ago by a colleague to ‘dare more’. What is it she dares to do?

She produces a leaflet from Åhléns department store. The text states that after September 11, we all have a need to make our homes into safe zones. The ad is illustrated by a picture of a young woman standing behind a curtain that covers half of her face, like a veil. A woman enclosed into her home is thus made into an image of safe and cosy domesticity, something that angers Maud Eduards.

–  In the past, I would not have realised that this is about politics. For me, politics has been something carried on within the political parties, the government and parliament. But I have become more radical. I dare add up the details in everyday politics. When you do that, you see how women’s sphere of action is curtailed.

The conditions for men and women are different in Sweden. We must see that gender is a dividing line much in the same way as social class.

A feminist perspective

Although she has long been conscious of the injustices in women’s situation, she has not always found it self-evident to apply a feminist perspective. When Maud Eduards started her work on a dissertation in political science in the early 1970s it did not occur to her to use a feminist perspective. Her dissertation, which took thirteen years to write, examined regional collaboration between states in North Africa. Maud Eduards shakes her head:

–  I am a horror example of slow dissertation writers.

She defended her dissertation in 1985 after having bargained with fate. In 1982, she was going to move with her husband and family to Bangkok. Since this was before the time of computers, her manuscript, taking up a huge box, was sent by boat. The doctoral candidate in political science knew that there was a risk that her dissertation papers would never reach the shore.

– I decided that I would finish my dissertation if the manuscript arrived. If the box sank in the Indian Ocean, fate indicated for me to change my direction in life.

The manuscript having arrived safely in the Bangkok harbour, Maud Eduards kept her promise to herself and finished the dissertation. Since then, she has done research on women and politics and written several books on this topic. She has a professor’s chair in Stockholm and is also adjunct professor at the Centre for Research on Women and Gender at Oslo. She seems not to be hitting from below. Her theses are formulated in an apartment in a posh neighbourhood in Stockholm. She has recently moved there together with her husband, to whom she has been married for close to forty years. When her brain empties out, she can gaze out to Riddarfjärden water and the boats along the quay.

A rebel in school

In her new book, Forbidden Action: Women’s Organisations and Feminist Theory, Maud Eduards has gathered the fruits of many years of research. She examines how women’s political action has been met with resistance, not infrequently in the name of equality. She demonstrates, further, how women’s subordination is maintained. A key question is what women should do in order to enlarge their sphere of action.

A sphere of action for women is of central importance for Maud Eduards. Women’s lives are circumscribed even on a physical level, something she reacted to herself as a young woman. She was a rebel in school and did not live up to what was expected from a girl in a well-to-do bourgeois family in Gothenburg in the 1950s. At the age of 15, she drove a moped like the boys. Since she did not want to study she consciously strove for grades bad enough not to get her admitted to high school. She ended up in a girls’ school with French and art history as main subjects. Here, Maud Eduards realised how beneficial friendships with women were.

Despite her decision not to pursue a higher education, she did complete her high school studies and went on to study French and art history at university. She was just over twenty and a new mother.

–  Having children and studying at university was a great combination. If necessary, I could study at night.

Secretive and threatening

Her husband cut down on his work hours when their children were small. This was unusual in the 1960s, but it made life much easier. His work involved long stays abroad. In the spring of 1968, they lived in Paris during the students’ rebellion. Maud Eduards looked out her window and realised that she did not really know what was going on. Her frustration led to an impulse to study political science.

–  I was like someone born again! Finally I understood what I read in the newspapers!

From then on, she has been analysing what the Swedish public debate says about women’s political actions. In her book, Maud Eduards examines what happens when women form organisations to influence politicians to deal with gender injustice. The ‘Supportstocking’ Network angered people during the 1994 elections with their intention to form a women’s party if the established parties did not increase female participation. They were seen as secretive and threatening and were accused of resorting to dirty methods. The foundation of women’s hotlines and safe houses are other examples of women’s single-sex groups that give rise to suspicion.

–  Oftentimes, it is not the issue itself that causes the protests. Rather, it is the fact that women form organisations of their own that do not include men that is being criticized.

A vision of equality

Maud Eduards finds that this resistance comes from the fact that political life in Sweden is marked by a vision of equality. The ideal is for men and women to work together, with the women expected to support everything in the organisation.

–  We carry our dreams of love and belonging from our private lives into politics. But the conditions for men and women are different in Sweden. We must see that gender is a dividing line much in the same way as social class.

Since men’s and women’s interests are opposed in certain areas, Maud Eduards thinks it is a good idea for women to organise on their own. She is convinced that new ways of working politically are called for.

– Women are breaking new ground with their networks. For them to struggle for their own issues is efficient since it causes a turbulence that may help us understand the problems.

In 1997, the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research was founded. Maud Eduards was asked to be the first Chair, and she remained with the Secretariat until 2000. It was interesting to establish a wellfunctioning institution, she says. But she issues a warning that all institutions can lose their edge.

–  It is an open question how we should carry out our task of coordinating and informing about gender research. We do not have to be in solidarity with equality politics. We could even be a bit difficult.

Men’s violence against women

One area that interests Maud Eduards is men’s violence against women, perhaps because the conflict between the sexes becomes so obvious here. She analysed the reception of poster campaigns against men’s abuse of women that included photos of ‘ordinary’ men. The idea that all men could be potential perpetrators evoked strong reactions.

–  Women may be collectively identified as the victims of men’s violence. But if you link individual men’s violence to masculinity and to men’s collective responsibility, this is met with resistance.

This may be due to our habit of making men into an invisible norm. But we must be able to look at men as a group just as we do with women. Men as a collective take advantage of women’s precarious subordination, according to Maud Eduards. Their freedom builds on women’s circumscribed space. Eduards is often criticized for being hard on men. But she stands her ground.

–  Women realise that they are women, while men deny being members of a privileged sex. If men become more aware of this, women and men could carry on a more constructive political dialogue also about issues concerning gender and power.

She takes an example:

–  Consider what would happen if men’s violence against women were brought up in the debates between the leaders of the political parties! Then something might happen.

Maud Eduards does not think we ought to be afraid of conflicts between the sexes leading to political disturbances. Rather, she makes it sound worth striving for.

– We forget that democracy often is created out of chaos. New chaotic situations need not lead to worse things.

Author Mimmi Palm, translated by Kerstin Shands
Source The portrait was originally published in Gender Research in Sweden, 2003
Facts
  • Maud Eduards was born in 1944.
  • Among Maud Eduards previous publications: - Women and Politics (Kvinnor och politik, 1977) - Gender, Power, Citizenship (Kön, makt, medborgarskap) editor, 1983 - Contributor to Towards a New Democratic Order? Women 's Organizing in Sweden in the 1990s (1997)
  • Research project in progress: "State action in relation to gender structures where global violence is linked to local violence". (Staters agerande i relation till könsordning där globalt våld kopplas till lokalt våld.)
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