Feminism and the Women’s Rights Movement
Girls get to learn the same things as boys and get to choose the same careers. Girls can even make their own decisions about their bodies! Anything else would be unimaginable to us. Girls having the same opportunities as boys isn't something that happened by itself.
Women stand up
From the end of the 18th century and into the 19th century, Europe experienced some major changes. New, modern ideas about freedom and equality started to spread, and technological developments raced forward. It changed many aspects of Europeans’ lives, as ordinary people started to gain greater freedom and more power, that is, except for women.
Their standing in society was as it always had been – she was the man’s property, and her primary task was to bear children. As women watched the developments taking place outside their kitchen windows, several began to protest against this injustice. They did not want to be excluded from this new and modern world that their men were living in.
Thus the women’s movement was established, something that is now a worldwide phenomenon. This movement fought and still fights for feminism. In this article we will focus on five key areas for the movement within Norway.
Kvinnedag tog i Washington DC i 2018
Girls did not use to receive the same education as the boys, nor were they allowed to progress on to higher education. Secondary schools were divided into boys’ schools and girls’ schools. Eventually, the boys’ schools started to allow girls to attend. In Norway, the pioneer school Ragna Nielsen was the first school that had co-education, all the way up to higher levels. It was unheard of at the time that a woman would be running a school with both boys and girls attending. Cecilie Thoresen was the first female university student in Norway. She started her university career in 1882 at the University of Oslo. Today, there are actually more girls than boys studying at colleges and universities.
Portrait of Ragna Nielsen. ⮕
A woman was not allowed to choose her own future, and it was expected that she would marry a suitable man that her family had chosen for her. As a married woman, she was still considered a minor, and the man ruled over her in every way. For example, the man would decide on the children, her money and whether she was to take on any work outside of the home. Society was based on the wife staying at home and the man making the decisions. This age-old tradition was extremely difficult to break, and only at the end of the 19th century did married women gain the right to control their own income.
Camilla Collett published the novel ‘The Amtmann’s daughters’ in 1854. The story is based around Sofie, who is living in an unhappy ‘marriage of convenience’ and inflamed the fight for women being able to show and accept their feelings, and hence being able to have a love-life. The novel outraged and excited readers, and ignited the debate around marriage. The book was in many ways a forewarning of the women’s liberation that was to come.
Portrett av Camilla Collett i 1893
At the start of the 19th century, many young, unmarried women worked as seamstresses or maids. Later, as industrialisation gained momentum, many women started to work in factories, in offices and as nurses. No matter what work they did, their salaries were always lower than that of their male counterparts – normally only about half.
In the matchstick factories in Oslo, the working conditions were dreadful, and many women worked here for very low wages. Furthermore, the work itself was dangerous, as the phosphorus that the matches were made from could lead to poisoning. Teeth and skin rotted away, and something as simple as soap and water to wash away the phosphorus was nowhere to be found. In the end, the ‘matchstick ladies’ went on strike, and received a good level of support from the community. People were shocked by the wretched conditions that the women were working in, and for such low salaries. This was the start of a rebellion that would later change and improve the working conditions for many women and men.
Kvinner jobber på fabrikk
Beyond the role of bearing children for their husbands, women were not supposed to have a sexual life. Girls and women were supposed to be innocent, keep their legs together and behave modestly. That meant wearing long dresses and certainly not having multiple sexual partners. Women who were perceived as ‘loose’ and ‘strong-willed’ were often labelled and ostracised by society with serious consequences. At the same time, men were able to pretty much do as they wished in terms of sexual partners and women’s bodies. They could have multiple relationships and go to prostitutes. Prostitution, which is the sale of sexual services, has continued to keep women oppressed.
“Both pornography and prostitution are the sale of the female body, and convey a view of women that both maintains and reinforces the oppression of women”, Unni Rustad said in an interview for the Kvinnefront magazine in 1980. The right to control one’s own body has long been a major cause of struggle for the women’s movement. Today, it is a criminal offence to buy sex, but not to sell sex in Norway. Owning your own body and believing that you are good enough is also part of this fight, which is something that is still ongoing today. Amongst other things, feminists fight to accept the female form as it is; skin, hair and the natural shape, not just as something that men desire.
Kvinnekroppen i neonlys
Voting in democratic elections was still a fairly new idea at the start of the 19th century, and not even all men had the right to vote. You had to be over 25 and come from the higher class of society. At the very end of the century, all men over the age of 25 were given the right to vote. This was called universal suffrage, mind you, except for the poorest.
Women’s suffrage was still a ridiculous and terrifying thought. However, there were some women who couldn’t get this crazy thought out of their heads. As the rights for men were expanded, protests from women became more commonplace. Women wanted to be able to vote on the same basis as men. By this time, women had already gained more rights and benefits in society, such as being able to study, work and run a shop. They were contributing to society, and the demand for the right to participate and influence pushed them forward.
Finally, in 1913 it was decided that women would be allowed to vote on the same terms as men. This was thanks to a group of enthusiasts that would not settle for ‘no’. Norway became one of the first countries in the world to allow women to vote.
Stortingsvalg, muligens Drammen, Buskerud, 1909. Ved dette valget kunne kvinner fra borgerskapet og middelklassen avgi stemme for første gang
In Norway today, girls and women have great freedom and opportunities to make decisions about their own lives. We have come a really long way in 200 years. Norway is actually one of the most equal countries in the world. Well done! And thank you, feminists!
Although many of the battles have already been won, it doesn’t mean that the feminist movement is dead. To the contrary, it is actually rising with increasing strength.
Equality must be defended, again and again, and feminism is gaining more and more supporters. An example of this is the #metoo movement, which showed that girls and women are still experiencing sexual harassment and abuse of power. More and more people are realising that feminism is actually beneficial to all of humanity, becausefeminists fight for all people to have equal rights and opportunities regardless of their gender.
- Buregren, Sassa og Lindell, Elin: Feminisme pågår
Omnipax. Oslo 2017.
- Forskning.no (23.01.2021): Utdanningsgapet mellom kvinner og menn øker
- Kvinnehistorie.no (02.02.2021): Aksjoner mot prostitusjon på 1980-tallet
- Kvinnehistorie.no (03.02.2021): Fyrstikkarbeiderstreiken i 1889.
- Lønnå, Elisabeth: kvinnebevegelsens historie i Store norske leksikon på snl.no.
Hentet 25. januar 2021 fra https://snl.no/kvinnebevegelsens_historie#-Kvinnebevegelsens_hovedsaker
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Hentet 3. februar 2021 fra https://snl.no/stemmerett_for_kvinner_i_Norge
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Hentet 3. februar 2021 fra https://snl.no/Ragna_Vilhelmine_Nielsen
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Hentet 3. februar 2021 fra https://snl.no/Stemmerettens_historie_i_Norge
Mobilus In Mobili (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Getty Images / Asta Nørregaard (CC BY-SA 3.0 NO)
Getty Images / Johan Gørbitz (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Anders Beer Wilse / Norsk Folkemuseum
GGAADD (CC BY-SA 2.0) / Thordis Elva – YouTube