Whenever the government doesn’t know what to do, but something still has to be done – which is fairly often – it establishes a working group. At the end of October, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health published a report, “Male-Centered Issues in Equality Policy”. The working group that tackled the topic should have been established ten years ago.
And hey, fine, better late than never. It’s a swell report with lots of important points; the male image needs updating, men are much more than just grunting bozos, and so on. Quite right.
Still, something is amiss. For instance, the number one issue in Finland that could be changed for the better in terms of equality is brushed off: “Military conscription treats men and women unequally. The status of conscription must be re-evaluated in terms of gender and the images thereof.”
Besides being terribly vague, the paragraph offers no explanation for why it is placed in a section called “Violence Prevention”. There are also no suggestions as to potential steps to take, such as extending conscription to affect all Finnish citizens or abolishing the practice altogether, both of which have been repeatedly offered elsewhere.
National defence concerns aside, let’s take a look at an allegory for what military conscription actually means for Finnish men.
Would it sound like a good idea to make everyone determined to be female at birth learn childcare for at least six months at a government-controlled Child Rearing Center in the middle of nowhere? Or if a female-at-birth felt looking after offspring to be gender stereotyping, they could choose knitting or go dig ditches for the duration. If these aren’t good enough, it’s off to prison.
None of that should sound like good thinking, because 1. it is not a woman’s duty to raise children and 2. it is offensive to human dignity for the government to subject people to forced labor.
Flipside: 1. it is not a man’s duty to learn how to fight wars and 2. it is offensive to human dignity for the government to force every Finnish man to either play wargames, commit to a random job for minimum upkeep or be sentenced to jail.
Feminism is the cornerstone of equality politics. And it is well suited to it, since feminist research represents valuable information on the nature power, acquired through scientific methods.
And yet Finnish feminism is still linked to the likes of Naisasialiitto Unioni, formerly the League of Finnish Feminists or literally, the “Women’s Issue Union”. Unioni, to this day, does not accept men as its members. I accept their reasoning, because an association is free to fight for the rights of women if it so chooses. But it isn’t feminism. If they wanted their work to be feminism, they should firstly change their name, from “women’s issues” to something like “gender studies”, as Finnish universities have done. Because feminism can’t be a one-trick pony, or squabbling over which minority is doing worse than all the others.
But since the prevailing image of feminism is of a women’s movement, reactive forces inevitably arise. One example is an association founded in 2008 called Miesten tasa-arvo, which means “Men’s Equality”. It’s a registered association whose agenda is even narrower: the equality of the white heterosexual male. The thorn in their paw seems to be all kinds of non-men making their mark on society and upsetting the holy order. They seem much less interested in the differences between men, because their thinking starts from the invented problem of women supposedly using the most power in society.
Because there is no statistic, figure or other empirical observation to back up this notion, sociologist Henry Laasanen has invented the so-called theory of sexual power. The theory is based on the idea that women are in possession of a special kind of cultural capital because of their gender, and that they use this capital in relation to men. The theory is only correct in that it identifies sexual power as a thing, but it is something that both men and women can use and direct at other men, other women or any other gender you care to name.
Both men’s-issue-men and oldschool women’s-issue-women keep flogging the same dead horse in that they bundle men and women into two uniform groups that each have some sort of inborn strengths or weaknesses. They do not.
That is why we desperately need something else besides Naisasialiitto Unioni. For models on how to do something different, we need only to compare this country with Sweden, the Nordic state that Finns ordinarily look to anyway to see how everything is better. About ten years ago Sweden founded a feminist party called Feministiskt Initiativ. According to a survey conducted by the country’s national radio, a stunning 50 percent of the population claim to be feminists.
Now many might want to say that feminism should be renamed for it to be equal for everyone. Nope: men can be feminine and women can be masculine. The point isn’t the term but the understanding that, currently, the most credible, believable and rational individual in our society’s pecking order is a man who acts masculinely.
Oh, Sweden doesn’t have conscription, by the way. It doesn’t mean that Sweden is a completely equal society or that not forcing citizens to war or labor is the panacea for all problems of equality. It just means that the Swedish government doesn’t subject its men to a generational experience that has them posting photos of themselves in uniform and hastagging them with military lingo in a forced attempt to feel they belong; the kind of poseurism that later gets roisterously brought up in the sauna while women organize their equivalents, girls’ nights with wine and pastries.
We do well to remember that there are always those who don’t get invited to either of these parties.
Translated by Kasper Salonen.