Feminism in Norway
The feminist movement in Norway has made significant progress in reforming laws and social customs in the nation, benefiting the women of Norway.
In 1850, women status was considered as incapable, that is to say, that it was impossible to enter into any agreement, debts, or even control their own money. They were not entitled to any training, or able to be considered for any government job. As for single women, of which there were many during the era, they could request to be placed into employment under the authority of a guardian. On their wedding day, married women transitioned from living under the authority of their fathers to under that of their husbands.
During the reign of Magnus VI Lagabxter, the age of majority was set at twenty years for both sexes. Norwegians law changed later, during the reign of Christian V(1670-1699). His regime issued the Law in Norway (1687) which, following the Danish rules of that time, defined unmarried women as minor.
However, in 1845, a 1st step towards women’s emancipation was taken with the “Law on the vast majority for single women,” for which the age majority was granted at age 25, without a requirement for submitting to a guardian after that age.
In this 1st part of the century, women worked in the early textile mills and in the tobacco factories which were reserved for their employment. They also worked in the food industries and jobs requiring “little hands”, but they didn’t work in heavy industry.
The literature marketed to women of the time was still a reflection of society’s value system: only the quest for a husband was to be found in these novels. Among the women writers published in Norway during the era were Hanna Winsnes, Marie Wexelsen and Anna Magdalene Thoresen.
During this period, new laws were passed, and although they didn’t at once revolutionize the status of women, barriers were being crossed regularly and rapidly. Formal equality of women with men became almost complete in the space of just two generations. In 1854 the law on royal succession was passed. The rule of Christian V, who wanted women to be entitled to nothing beyond joint-ruler status, lapsed and equal inheritance for both sexes became the rule. But this didn’t happen without heated debate and resistance.
In 1863, a new law is passed on the age of majority that succeeds that of 1845: women attained the age of majority at 25 years, as well as men. As for widows, divorced and separated, they become major “regardless of age.” In 1869, the age of majority was reduced to 21, although not without some wondering whether it was defensible for women. The committee of law, believing that women matured more rapidly than men, stated that the age is very suitable for her. In 1866, a law was passed establishing free enterprise – except for married women – so that anyone could obtain a license in their city.
But it is mainly through literature that women expressed themselves. Camilla Collett in particular is the 1st writer who went outside the bounds which had been established for women’s literature up until that time, and whose most famous novel, The Daughters of the Prefect, deals with the education of bourgeois women in the 19th century. The central theme of this novel is the conflict between the standard conventions of society and the feelings and needs of the individual.
Finally, Aasta Hansteen must be mentioned, the truly passionate voice of the feminist cause, and whose colorful persona served as a model for the character of Melle Hessel in Henrik Ibsen’s The Support of Society.
The writers who took up the case for women would claim Camilla Collett as their inspiration, and thus created the 1st wave of feminism in Norway.
In 1871, Georg Brandes initiated the movement of The Modern Breakthrough: he asked that literature serve progress and not reactionary views. It was then that Norway had the writers who became known as the “Big Four”, namely Henrik Ibsen, Bjxrnstjerne Bjxrnson, Alexander Kielland and Jonas Lie. All would speak for the cause of women. Camilla Collett and Aasta Hansteen wrote to defend the cause of feminist theories that were an integral parity of a larger program for the authors of the Modern Breakthrough. For the latter, it will be to defend the oppressed people against the social expectations of the time, of which the wife was one: women who received a primary education whose sole purpose was marriage, women who were unable to continue to fully enjoy intellectual lives, who could not freely dispose of their own life and body.
This is especially through two plays,The Pillars of Society and A Doll’s House (1879), where Ibsen took up the cause of women. The latter play in particular had a significant influence on the feminist movement even outside Norway, as it was translated into several languages and performed widely across Europe and beyond.
Bjxrnson wrote a play in 1879 called, Leonarda, in which he defends the woman who “has a past.” But above all, his play A Glove had a great impact on the public in Norway.
During 1880, Norway experienced a proliferation of debates, the 1st concern of women being that of double standards.
During the 19th century, Norway was a very poor country, which led to a rural exodus and high levels of emigration. In 1882, Norway had 30,000 departures from a population of 1.9 million inhabitants. However, the number of emigrants is higher than 27% of Females in 1900; by that year, there were 165 men to every 100 women. The consequence was the disintegration of the family unit, resulting in the increase in births outside marriage and an overwhelming increase in prostitution.
The explosion of prostitution and the proliferation of brothels cause strong reactions, which focussed public attention on the problem of sexual morality. The Christians of Bergen are the 1st to lead the offense in 1879. In 1881 the Association Against Public Immorality was founded.
During the debate on double standards, marriage was regarded as the basic unit of society, but one that should be reformed. For the authors of The Bohemia of Kristiania, it was more radical: marriage wasn’t a foundation of society, and the debate should focus on a more political solution to women’s inequality. While Arne Garborg considered marriage as a necessary evil, Hans Jaeger believed that marriage should be replaced with free love.
Not sharing the same views expressed by the Bohemia of Kristiania, writer Amalie Skram became the most radical character during the period. If, like other writers, she denounced the difference in treatment between adulterous men and women, she then considered that the Don Juan was the male equivalent of a prostitute: the conventional view was that the Don Juan does not sell himself, he accumulates his conquests; for Skram, this isn’t a valid argument, because a woman has accumulated conquests, too, although her conquests will be seen as prostitution even when she isn’t selling.
Literature enabled a real challenge by Ibsen and Bjxrnson to the middle classes, with The Bohemia of Kristiania spreading through the popular consciousness.
In 1884, the Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights was created, the 1st formal women’s rights organization in Norway. In 1885, the Association for Votes for Women was founded, but it dissolved in 1898. In 1890, the 1st women workers’ union was established, then in 1896, that of the Norwegian Women’s Health Organisation and the National Council of Women.
Two significant laws were passed in 1888. By the 1st law, married women gained majority status. The 2nd law ended the authority of the husband over the wife. The man retained control of the home of the couple, but the woman could now freely dispose of the fruit of his work.
Unlike some countries where women gained the right to vote through one piece of legislation, there were several stages in Norway.
The expanded suffrage in 1884 became “universal” in 1898. In 1886, the Norwegian Association for Votes for Women had demanded access to universal suffrage. However in 1901, women who can establish a minimum income of their own and those who are married to a voter may participate in municipal elections and then in 1907 in national elections.
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