Career or Family? The Fight of Two Prominent Scandinavian Feminist Politicians

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Internationally, in the twentieth century, women in higher and managerial occupations were
confronted with barriers because they had to fight prejudices concerning their ability to
maintain themselves in traditionally male occupations. This was the case for instance, with
women politicians in the West. More than their male colleagues, women politicians had to
prove that they were fit for the job. At the same time they were supposed to have a special
responsibility for their private sphere. This was more difficult in the period before the second
feminist wave than after, but it became never easy. Even in the Scandinavian countries, seen
as triumphs of emancipation, at least from the 1970s, it continued to be a struggle.
This article intends to delve deeper into the situation in two Scandinavian countries,
Sweden and Norway. It will deal with two prominent political women leaders from these
countries, namely Alva Myrdal (1902-1986) and Gro Harlem Brundtland (1939-). Myrdal
was a powerful political intellectual and cabinet minister in Sweden. Brundtland would
become the first Norwegian woman Prime Minister. In recent years increasing amounts of
literature on female political leadership have appeared, but these are often general overviews
from a political or sociological perspective. Such general facts and insights are useful, but
there is also a need to explore the lives and careers of individual female political leaders. In
this way we can expand the insight into how women attempt to gain admittance to political
parties and the field of parliamentary and governmental politics. Both Myrdal and Brundtland
have had to deal with the snares inherent in the combination of their public and private lives.
Their personal biographies give evidence of this: in both cases we are dealing with feminists
who attempted to find solutions for their personal problems and at the same time for those of
society as a whole. These are solutions that were implemented in reality in their own
countries during the second wave of feminism, and found their resonance in other countries.
Nevertheless both politicians came up against the boundaries of the feasibility of their own
lives, something that for them, as social-democrats – traditional believers in feasibility – must
have come as a blow.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-51
JournalGender Forum
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2017


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