When the #MeToo movement took off I really wondered what would happen in Norway. As I wrote several years ago, it can be a true joy to be a woman in Norway. It seemed to me like politicians, radio and television people as well as other people in power would be less likely to use that power in order to harass people sexually in this country. Firstly because Norway is a super champion in terms of gender equality, both in personal and professional lives (ranked number 2 in recent study). Secondly because Norwegian society is infused with protestant values of high ethics and morals. Raping and plundering was for the Vikings, times have changed in the Northern lands. And thirdly because doing anything against the established social norms, especially for someone in power, can lead to social and professional ostracism. In a country where having the wrong IKEA table can lead to many comments, imagine what would happen if you put your hand where it does not belong on someone else’s body.
It turns out I was wrong. The #MeToo skeletons in Norway’s closet are getting out one by one. I am only looking at the political sphere here, but other spheres are affected such as sports. A few common elements in the cases I am showing here which have been exposed in the last few weeks only: these men are all at top political positions in different political parties (Labour, Conservative, Progress party/far right). They do not seem to understand the gravity of their actions, or the effect their power and actions have on their victims. What is very shocking to many Norwegians, is that most people, including men, could not imagine that this kind of things were happening to this extent in Norway. Trust is one of the founding unwritten social norms of this society, and especially trust in the powerful. So someone in power breaking that trust and using its power to get what they want, for example sexually or for money/self interest, would lead to ostracism. An outsider is something nobody wants in to be in Norway.
Note that none of these men has been condemned, and everything said in this article is therefore allegations and not established by any court.
- Number two of the Labour Party accused of sexual harassment and maybe more
A few days ago, Trond Giske, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, biggest party in Norway, resigned after allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault by several women in his party. The case went on forever, and the Norwegian media seemed obsessed about the case for weeks. Giske went on national television to say he did not mean to offend anyone, I am so sorry/sad etc. etc. He said Jeg er lei meg, the key sentence all Norwegians use when they want to be forgiven. Turns out even in Norway some things are unforgivable. To me he did not seem to understand the gravity of what he was accused of. Eventually just before his boss was about to ask him to leave his position, Giske resigned. He is still an MP, so we’ll be seeing him in parliament soon enough. The persons accusing him and the exact content of the allegations are not all public.
2. Number two of parliamentarian group of the Progress Party accused of sending hardcore porn to underaged boys
Yesterday a new case was released, which could almost be comical if it weren’t so outraging. Ulf Lerstein is an established Norwegian politician. He has been a member of the parliament since 2005, has been elected mayor of the town called Moss, and is now the number two in parliament of the Progress Party (far-right) currently in the ruling government. It turns out this man allegedly sent 55 porn pictures to boys volunteering in the Youth Progress Party. 44 of these pictures, which Norwegian Broadcasting Agency has accessed, are hardcore porn, and one of the boys was 14 years old when he received these emails. He has spoken to the media anonymously, saying he was petrified and did not know what to do since he admired this politician, as well as someone with so much power in the party it was difficult to talk. Interestingly enough this politician is also a member of the Justice committee at the Norwegian parliament. After the story being revealed, Lerstein abandoned all his official positions, not before posting this troubling message on his Facebook page:
“(…) I acknowledge that I have crossed a line, and I regret it. It was not my intention to offend anyone. I was going through tough times and did things I’m not proud of. Both as an individual and an elected person, it is unacceptable of me. I’m sorry for showing poor judgment. I am now taking a timeout from my responsibilities in the party”.
Now everyone goes through tough times. This is something everyone above the age of 8 years old can understand. And people have different coping mechanisms. Some cry and scream, others go and see a shrink, others leave their partner and buys an expensive car. But what kind of lame excuse is it that you went through tough times so you sent hardcore porn to children? Seriously? The cherry on the cupcake is that Lerstein sent all the emails from his professional account at the Norwegian parliament…Needless to say there will be an investigation, as the whole thing is a crime.
3. Leader of Youth Conservative party accused of sexual harassment
Kristian Tønning Riise, leader of the Youth Conservative party, has apparently been the subject of several internal complaints in the party since 2013. Without any reaction from the leaders. He resigned last night, and the leaders of the party and apologising for their lack of follow up. They are expecting more allegations and complaints.
It seems that the #metoo worldwide campaign has opened Pandora’s box, also in Norway, shedding light on structures where sexual harassment and sexual assault are tolerated, sometimes just because there is no mechanism for victims, may they be men or women, to complain. Even when there are existing mechanisms, the allegations are not followed-up and victims are in structures where leaders protect such offenders by not acting. It seems like those days are over, also in Norway.
Is Norway still number two in gender equality in the world? Sure. But as I often say, Norway is just a bad pupil in a class with mediocre level. As a comparison, a tv anchor got fired for telling this joke on French national television: “What do you say to a woman with two black eyes?” “Nothing, you’ve already explained it to her twice”. He still does not understand why he got fired, and bigs pans of the media have defended him publicly. Today Catherine Deneuve, famous French actress, defended men flirting heavily with women, and condemning the #metoo movement as an attack against sexual liberation. Again, the level is so low globally on gender equality and views of women, that Norway comes on top.
But the #MeToo closet is open in Norway, and I wonder what will come out of it next!