Feminism Makes a Comeback in Helsinki
This fall, a group of women minoring in women’s studies at the Kristiina Institute of the University of Helsinki has come together to create a new student interest group. Asenne F, or F Attitude, is a representative organization working to make women’s studies better known to others. Asenne F is currently led by Mia Spangenberg, a German major and women’s studies minor. “In the United States it is expected that gender studies are taught in universities. Studies of race and sexual orientation are also much farther advanced there than here,” explains Spangenburg, who lived in the USA for some time. On the other hand, gender studies are more political in Finland than in the United States. “It is a result of the illusion of gender equality in the Nordic countries. The fight is harder here,” she believes.
Both men and women in Finland are on their guard when it comes to feminists. “Feminism has a bad rap and no one wants to study gender studies. Some people call us man haters or lesbians.” Many Finnish women support equality between the sexes but are not ready to call themselves feminists. For the last decade, feminism has struggled to maintain a representative organization among the university community. In 1992, the Helsinki University Student Union (HYY) set aside 60 000 FIM for activities of the then active Women’s Working Group and another 80 000 FIM to pay a part-time secretary representing the group. The next year, after the former government of HYY was ousted by a more conservative representation of students, the group received a mere 4 000 FIM. By the spring of 1997, the group was no longer in existence.
Real Estate Brokers Play Nasty
Rental apartments in the city of Helsinki are near impossible to find and people dealing in rental property have resorted to drastic measures to make a deal. For some time now, ads in the paper that seem private can actually be a broker, giving potential renters the false impression that they may not have to pay a broker’s fee. A recent incident at the university, however, is even more concerning.
The Porthania building in the University of Helsinki has a board where students and those with apartment space to rent can post ads. Hoping to avoid unnecessary broker’s fees, a couple that wishes to remain anonymous was interested in renting out their apartment and posted an ad for student renters in Porthania.
That same day, a real estate dealer called and asked permission to place their customer’s name on the list. The owners of the apartment thought that the caller was from HYY, they had been in communication with HYY about the apartment earlier. No written contract of any kind was made and the owners of the apartment learned that their new renters had agreed to pay a 2 000 FIM broker’s fee only after the rental agreement was signed. The broker had apparently gotten the apartment information by either posing as a student that needed an apartment at HYY or copying it from the board in Porthania.
Anne Viita of the Renters Union says that without a contract from the apartment owner, the broker cannot legally take a fee, let alone arrange for a renter. The owner of the apartment is not willing to divulge the name of the broker for fear of trouble, but is upset at being used. “Our renter ended up paying for nothing.”
What Is This About Test Aquariums?
You can’t get your books in time. There are too few tests with too long an interval before the next one. The University of Tampere has come up with a solution that might be the answer to your problem: the test aquarium. In the test aquarium, students would be able to take tests on subjects whenever they wished. It would be as simple as walking into the nearest computer lab and turning a unit on. Test questions would picked randomly from a question bank.
Otto Auranen of the Tampere University Student Union’s Academic Policy Division explains that the inspiration for the aquarium was mainly the ongoing scarcity of test material. More flexible testing times could perhaps lead to books being loaned from sources at a more efficient rate.
Auranen is quick to point out the other benefits of the aquarium. Students could attend tests more often than once a month and there would be no time limits on question answering. Answers entered into a computer would also cut down on the time that instructors need to decipher student penmanship. A suitable space in Tampere is being sought for a trial run, but nothing is expected to happen quickly. Certain issues have not yet been addressed, like testroom monitoring, computer hacking and student identification. One thing is certain,however: the aquarium will not become a reality until students and teachers alike are in favor of its adoption.
Anna Parpala, Academic Policy Secretary for HYY is wary of the change, feeling that studies should be becoming more interactive, not quarantined. She fears “It could easily become the sort of test which no longer measures the abilities required from students of today, like a full understanding of the big picture and application of science.”
Bad Poets’ Society?
Hidden away in the writing desks of the Finnish nation is an unlimited supply of mediocre poetry and literature. The calabre of the amateur writer’s work has become nothing less than legendary. The university interest group, jokingly named the Nobelistikerho, or The Nobel Prizewinners Group, is an interest group for amateur writers that meet regularly and share their texts with their peers. The quality of the work runs the gamut.
Tuuve Aro, a member of the group for five years, says, “We try to give a direct response for every text, even the bad ones. No one has broken down and cried yet. At least not while they were here.” Sometimes there is a pearl among the oysters, however, “Every once in a while, we’ll have someone fall into the group and bring with them an massive, incredible stream of consciousness. Then they will disappear just as mysteriously as they came.”
Riitta Tanhuanpää is a Project Secretary for Nuoren Voiman Liitto, an organization that provides support and critique for young writers in Finland. She feels that most amateurs make the writer too visible in the text. “Cliches are a typical stepping stone, particularly in prose. I come across metaphors that have been used a million times before, like “The sky is crying,” she says. She defines poor writing with a comparison, “Good literature brings out something new and talks to all of us. So I suppose bad literature is something very flat and obvious.” The Society of Bad Literature has recently announced the beginning of its search for hopelessly bad writing. All entrys are welcome.
It’s a Mad, Mad World Out There
A million Finns are mentally unstable. Mental health issues affect almost every one of us. Now, when pills have made many problems treatable, mental health problems are coming out of the dark. Satu Viskari is a mental health care provider. “We are trying to make this a hot topic, like AIDS was a few years back. ” Her collegue Katja Ahmavuori continues, “No one claims that HIV is just a disease for homosexuals anymore. In the same way, schizophrenia is also nothing to be ashamed about.”
Both Viskari and Ahmavuori work for Alvi ry, a care center for people with schizophrenia. “No one is willing to defend the mental health insitutions. If someone in the family has schizophrenia, they prefer to cover it up. Only people who are physically ill are sympathized with,” explains Outi Laajus, a careprovider at the center. The women hope to change the prejudices against mental health care with their public relations campaign for mental health awareness.
Some people claim that mental disorders have increased in the 90s: more people are going into early retirement because of mental health reasons and a record number are using anti-depressants. In North America, it is considered a normal activity to see a psychiatrist regularly. Chief Doctor Timo Tuori of the Center for the Development of Social and Health Care Programs in Finland (STAKES) tells that “Small disturbances appear in increasing fashion. Neurosies and diseases have become more complex than they used to be.”
Still in the 1980’s, there were 20 000 places for mental health patients in Finland. Today that number has been cut to 6 000. Viskari estimates that over 5 000 residents of Helsinki alone need to be hospitalized for mental health care, but there is no place for them to go. Finland has switched to an open care program, whereby the majority of patients come to see a doctor regularly and are responsible for their own medicine. Tuori explains that good open care is difficult because there should be more interaction with staff and less emphasis on medicine. Several clubhouses and care centers have been started around the country for open care patients to find support and adjust to life and work in the real world.
Kim Tammi suffered from anorexia for seven years and still deals with the depression that caused it, “The clubhouse has helped me a lot. I started here doing small things like typing up letters.” Now Tammi is active on the clubhouse’s Internal and External Committee. The Mental Health Fair is scheduled for November 15-17 this year.
Information on the clubhouses and the university’s support group, Nyyti, can be found on page 15. Now that mental health problems have been brought out of the hospitals and into the open, it is time for all of us to learn to relate to them. “If a blind person walks alone outside and seems helpless, he is usually helped. If someone is talking to themselves on a street corner, it seems only natural to ask whether you can be of any help,” says Tuori.
by Pamela Kaskinen