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Now I remember why I went abroad to study May 14, 2007

Posted by Johan in Off Topic, Rants.

The Moralist. Excerpt from Ship of Fools (Brandt, 1498)

There’s a bit of drama in the Swedish news about the psychology department at Gothenburg University (story here, here, and here, for those who speak Swedish). Apparently, the department discovered that one of their undergrads had appeared as a page 3 model in a Swedish lads’ magazine, which caused them to, well, go psychotic.

The department demanded that the student attend psychotherapy with a member of faculty, and that she apologise in front of her entire year. They then barred the student from going on work placement (which all the other students in her year were doing), leaving her to work in the department (presumably photocopying and boiling coffee).

When confronted about this unusual reaction, the head of the department, Erland Hjelmquist, argued that her future position as a therapist would be compromised if she was recognised from the pictures (which is perhaps not entirely unreasonable, although unlikely), but then he said… I’ll just translate the last bit for you: “[her appearing the magazine] raises questions about her way of reflecting on the content of the course, and how one relates to one’s self concept.” (italics added)

Apparently, women who take their clothes off in lads’ mags need therapy, must apologise for shaming themselves, and have damaged self concepts. It is also clear from the Gothenburg U psychology course content that taking your clothes off in a magazine is deeply psychologically damaging and inappropriate (I’d like to see their textbooks!).

I wonder how Dr Hjelmquist would react to the fact that a few U of York undergrads are financing their education by dancing in clubs…

The striking thing is that Sweden is a profoundly atheistic, tolerant country. We pride ourselves on having liberal laws on abortion, gay rights, and other social issues. Yet, there is a moralistic undercurrent. A student in a lads’ mag causes an outrage, much like it would at a Christian university in the US or at a private school in the UK, but the outrage is not fueled by religious values – instead it’s fueled by some kind of misguided authoritarian feminist dogma.

This woman isn’t being ostracized for her sins, she is ostracized for contributing to the patriarchal objectifying of women. According to this dogma, any woman who sells her body, dances in a club, or poses for pictures is probably a victim of sexual abuse, and is only doing what she does because she is self-destructive and has a low self-esteem (ie, her self concept is off). This is why the student needs therapy – to address the underlying trauma that must have caused her to behave this way.

Still, it’s most likely that the people in the Gothenburg psychology department who dealt with this would be deeply offended if anyone dared call them moralistic or conservative. It’s curious that the outcome of a profoundly leftist, progressive ideology is in fact the very same intolerance that you normally expect to find on the far right.

Finally, a disclaimer: I am a feminist. In no way am I saying that feminism by definition is an authoritarian dogma. Feminism is a belief in the equal value of men and women, and its corollary is that society should reflect this equality. The authoritarian dogma I outline above has, by that definition, little to do with feminism.


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