Portrait: She chose a life outside the academy

2009-02-20 13:10

According to an old Swedish primary school cliché, love always begins with a lover's quarrel. For Carin Holmberg, sociologist and researcher on violence, it is, at least in theory, the other way round.

I barely have time to cross the doorstep of the three-room flat in Björkhagen, a suburb of Stockholm, where Carin Holmberg lives with her partner Ulrica, before she tells me how lucky she is to have experienced some of the years when solidarity and resistance against market forces were at the centre of political debate.

– One can imagine what it is like to be young in our time and find one’s way into this hyper-individualistic society, she says. She tells me that she is still listening to Röda Bönor, a feminist band from the seventies with a shudder at the memory of the big marches against the nuclear facilities at Barsebäck in which she and her mother participated in her teens.

She is, on the other hand, cautious to point out that she was never an activist of the traditional kind. Beginning her study of sociology at 25, she chose to study full heartedly instead of fighting on barricades.

Nine years later she defended her thesis, “Det kallas kärlek” [It’s called love ], about love and relations of young, heterosexual couples, whose self-proclaimed equality proved to be anything but free from patriarchal structures and unequal gender power relations. The book “Det kallas manshat” [It’s called man-hating], an angry discussion on present-day matters in “the world’s most equal country” was released three years later, in 1996. Carin Holmberg was in those days the polemical feminist on everybody’s lips.

Many choose to stay in a violent relationship as their fear of not having other relationships is so great. In cases where you are the only homos in a small town it is not easy to abandon your dream of a love relation.

Breaking the sound barrier

After the doctoral thesis Carin Holmberg fell ill from a very rare lung disease, which affects only women and is hard to diagnose. Since no diagnosis was at hand, Carin Holmberg went on working: researching, lecturing and writing articles.

When at last the diagnosis appeared after ten years of hard work despite failing health, she had in the meantime become exhausted to the point of being ‘burnt out’, or, in her own words, of having ‘broken the sound barrier’.

She points out the irony in the fact that she, who had worked with gender research and feminism for so many years was unable to realize that the clever girl, who always works a little more and never says no, was a part of her too.

– To exaggerate a bit, one could say that it took me 20 years to realize that I, myself, am a woman, she says, laughing.

Since then she has learnt how to say no, but above all how to structure her time. As a researcher one may easily work day and night – there are always more books to read, more texts to write. Her solution was to leave the academy and begin working within clearly limited office hours, where the work is finished when the working day ends.

After working as an employee at Teamet för våldtagna kvinnor [Team for raped women] at Alla kvinnors hus [All women’s house] in Stockholm, she began working at the crime victims hotline of Riksförbundet för homosexuellas, bisexuellas och transpersoners rättigheter [The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights], RFSL, in Stockholm.

Carin Holmberg comments that there are certain differences regarding the nature of violence in same-sex relations and hetero-relations.

– There is more stress on homosexual couples; for many of these couples it proves impossible to be open to families and the social environment, with the result that the social isolation coming from the exposure to violence in a relation is, in many cases, present from the very beginning.

Also the reality experienced by LGBT people is absent in the general debate on violence in close relationships, which means that many of them may not even be aware that what they are exposed to by their partner is, in effect, violence. Moreover, it is not that easy to break up a relationship, neither for couples that live in a small society where all of the few open LGBT people know each other, nor for those who don’t know any other person than the one with whom they are living.

– Many choose to stay in a violent relationship as their fear of not having other relationships is so great. In cases where you are the only homos in a small town it is not easy to abandon your dream of a love relation.

Difficulties in keeping up the RFSL hotline

Although the RFSL hotline is the only one of its kind they have difficulties in keeping up its activities; even though the government’s big action plan of last autumn deals with the question of acting against men’s violence towards women, so-called honour related violence and violence in same-sex relations, the money is in reality directed to men’s violence towards women, Carin Holmberg tells us.

This means that the hotline activity is not funded, as the RFSL also addresses men and trans people who are exposed to violence.

Nor can men be given places in supported accommodations, simply because they do not exist.

– The practical assistance that I can offer a violence-exposed man is the phone number to the social welfare office. There he will be referred to visit a hotel or youth hostel if he has no income or other assets – only if he has no financial assets whatsoever the welfare office may help him with a sheltered accommodation, which probably means a hostel for addicts. Not to mention transpeople – one dare not even refer them to the social welfare office as they run such a serious risk to be badly treated there.

In spite of all this, the contribution to the RFSL hotline by Rotary to finance sheltered accommodations for LGBT persons constitutes a small step in the right direction. So far, Carin Holmberg and her colleagues are still negotiating with a local housing corporation.

– It takes time. What we would like most of all right now is to be on our way to Ikea.

Author Anna Hellgren
Source The portrait was originally published in Gender Research in Sweden, 2009
Carin Holmberg...
... doctorated in 1993, with her thesis "Det kallas kärlek" [lt's ca I led love] ... lives with her partner Ulrica, the Tibetan terrier Asta, and the cat Mossa in Björkhagen outside Stockholm. ... has among other texts written "Det kallas manshat" [lt's called man- hating], "Med husbondens röst - om våld mot djur i misshandelsrelationer" [In the master's voice - On violence against animals in relations of abuse], and "Varför går hon? Om misshandlade kvinnors uppbrottsprocesser" [Why does she leave? The leaving process(es) of battered women], together with Viveca Enander. ... is fervently committed to the cause of animal rights while pleading that those anxious to understand the mechanisms of violence should consider the way people treat and objectify animals. She recommends the books "The sexual politics of meat" by Carol Adams and "My year of meat" by Ruth L. Ozeki.
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