OGH Comments

Apr 27
Comment: “The snake is long, seven miles”

For some reason this song part often intrudes when I read recent news on the 2011 Arab revolution – and counter-revolution, e g  in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.  It is from the Doors’ first album (1967), the song The End. The snake is long, seven miles… he is old, his skin is cold, Jim Morrison sings, in one of the dream moments of this apocalyptic song. Perhaps it is no wonder that it creeps up on me, as I read about the counter-revolution, the way tyrants now move into fascist means of controlling their populations, firing with heavy armour, using the military, covert action, snipers and torture.

My heart is with the revolution, the proudness and courage displayed by the democracy protesters, who are forced to become militia, and take up weapons, and their families and friends. Whatever the tyrants do, the democracy activists will be remembered as martyrs for a more democratic, free, developing, prosperous, respectful and dignified Arab world.

Mar 30
Books, comments: Gender perspectives in health and medicine

I am one of the contributors to the Women’s health days event in Oslo 1-2 April. See


My paper is titled Gender, violence and health – do we need a gender perspective in health and medicine? (in Norwegian,  Kjønn, vold og helse – trenger vi et kjønnsperspektiv på helse og medisin?v/Øystein Gullvåg Holter, professor i maskulinitets- og likestillingsforskning, UiO)

The seminar starts Friday 1st of April at 9, Oslo kongressenter, Youngstorget

My introduction, ca 10, will be focused on one example of why a gender perspective is needed – violence against children. New results show that violence against children is mainly performed by the adult who dominates the decision-making in the home.

Gender equal decision making among adults in families lowers the chance of violence against children perhaps as much as two thirds.

This is a major historical research result – in my view, and I will highlight it in my lecture.

Mar 25
Books, comments: Children, socialization and gender equality

The gender equality survey in Norway 2007 showed that children growing up in gender-equal homes, where the parents decided things equally, were less exposed to violence and physical punishment, compared to father- or mother-dominated homes.

This is a major new finding, and I regard it as one of the most important findings of my research, stretching over many years from 1980 to today.

The 2007 representative survey data maps adults retrospective experiences, growing up ca 1940-2000, and seems to be a clear and solid data source, for example, reported in a very similar way by men and women. Compared to violence in adult life relationships, also included in the survey, the data on childhood experiences seems more robust, less prone to “mission shift” or normative reinterpretation, although it is retrospective. If bad memory or rescripting due to age was substantial, we would expect disparate reports from different age groups, but instead, that data gives a coherent picture. The age groups tell of gradually reduced violence, like other sources, and also, they have much the same basis for regarding something as violence, as indicated by e g health correlations. For example, it is not the case, in terms of health outcomes, that violence in childhood reported by the young is any less serious than the violence reported by the old part of the sample. A variety of tests point in the same direction, the childhood gender equality and violence reporting is realistic.

Gender equality in the socialization agency, the family, or the parental group, in this study, reduces the chance of violence against children substantially, almost two thirds. In father-dominated homes, 27 percent experienced violence or punishment, in mother-dominated homes 17 percent, in gender-equal homes 10 percent. The main perpetrator, the violent or punishing person, also mapped in the survey, and in father-dominated homes was mainly the father, in mother-dominated homes mainly the mother, in equal homes more balanced but more often the father.

This main pattern was not much affected by gender, age, education, whether the parents were divorced, or mobbing in the socialization environment. Gender equality emerged as  a strong independent factor, regarding violence against children, according to the survey results.

The main result was described in the report, see Holter etc: Gender equality and quality of life, p 239. but it took some time for the message to sink in, and this is a case that deserves better promotion.  Further analyses of the survey results have confirmed the independent character of the gender equality decision-making variable. Its strong effect and similar patterning across other known variables, like social class related variables, family breakup, and social problems (mobbing in childhood environment) is remarkable.

These result are of historical importance.  They should be better tested and established, can they be repeated in Norway, are they international, do they represent a wide trend? If they turn out to be right, through broader testing, they demand a rethinking, or even a paradigm change, in many disciplines.

Mar 25
Books, comments: Japan tragedy and gender equality

In my March 15 blog post on the Japan catastrophe – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear fallout – I commented that the problems are also due to lacking gender equality. What does that mean?

We might start by considering plant eaters and meat eaters (Japanese terms), or soft and strong men (Norwegian terms), democracy and authoritarianism.

Historically, Japan managed to adapt successfully to Western imperialism only by regenerating authoritarian tendencies, leading to the axis power alliance and imperialism in World War II.  Lack of attention to gender equality was part of the limited development of democracy in post-war Japan.

Women were not much present, it seems, in Japanese decisions leading to the lacking defence against the three main parts of the catastrophe (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear). The basic issue is not just gender balance, but gender interest balance. It is the reproductive sphere that is hurt, mainly, by the damages in today’s Japan, although production is diminished too.  The main victim is civil society and human lives.

Perhaps Japan needs an ideas and behaviours revolution, learning from Egypt and Tunis, extending democracy peacefully? Japan needs to move beyond its authoritarian inheritance and conformism, leading e g to the ignorance of the warnings from outspoken researchers like the seismologist Ishibashi Katsuhiko.

In many countries of the world, new and old roles for men are in opposition, a change behind the scenes. In Japan, it has been called a struggle between “plant eaters” and “meat eaters”, in Norway, a struggle between “soft” and “hard” men. All over the world, there is a need for change, and also, for using tradition, for making use of the stability of culture, but  no longer for authority, for democracy instead.

Mar 15
Comments: Japan tragedy

What can we do? Japan is hit by a terrible multiple tragedy, first, the earthquake, then, the tsunami, and now, the possibility of nuclear fallout.  I am deeply concerned for the Japanese people. Yesterday, a Japanese student broke down in tears in my course, and asked for a postponement delivering her paper – I said yes, and tried to comfort her.

What I can do, as  as a social researcher regarding gender equality, is to ask – what role gender equality, what role women, regarding nuclear and environment safety in Japan? Has this been an all-male affair?`It is fairly well known that men’s risk margins are larger than women’s. There are studies showing that the presence of women improves  health, environment and safety in business organisations. I am not saying that gender equality could have avoided the catastrophe, but it could have reduced the impact.

Mar 07
Comments: Democracy costs

Who is going to bear the costs, of Libya divided? Scenario one, a victorious Arab democratic revolution. Scenario two, some tyrants resisting, mixed picture, civil war. What is the best solution? The first, most of us would think, but how can it be achieved? The young generation “new configuration” of the new Middle East was created by the revolutions in Tunis and Egypt – but even there, each inch of progress is hard-won.  In a recent event, pro-democracy protestors in Egypt, demanding their right to overlook the security service, were attacked and beaten. Should the Arab world face this democracy issue alone, or should the rest of the world support them? The answer obviously is yes, this is a global issue. We are not living in fascist times – are we? But then the question is, how to support the democratic struggle, with many divided voices. A debate going on while the democracy fighters of Libya and elsewhere are dying, taking the load for the world community.  Unorganized idealists against a fascist thug army. Do we want a repeat of the Spanish civil war?

Feb 22
Libya defiant

How many people should die in the streets, before the world stops the killing? Where is the UN, stopping potential genocide in Libya? Is a revolution for democracy just a matter for a country on its own and isolated? Should a ruler be allowed to bomb his own people, Guernica style? Are we powerless to stop current-day fascism?

The revolutions in the Arab world requires the ability to speak with – even – the old dictators, the old fractions of power.  They are not “mad dogs”. However if they want to participate at the speaking table, rather than stay in prison, they must stop their repression – right now.

Feb 14
Two ways for policemen in the street

One way, harassing, persecuting, levelling law and order, keeping to a power regime, with the ultimate expression of dictatorship. Other way, demonstrating for their rights. Way one, well known. Way two, less well known, but seen now also in Egypt.

The problem with police work is that it is entangled in keeping power in the most strategical sense, and yet, has the greatest need for not being kept hostage, to keep a professional distance on its own. I am a policeman, a dictator orders me to torture once in a while, I wont give up my work, I see no possibility to protest, yet who do I select as victims. As science fiction author Gene Wolfe has examined, in one way or the other, we are all part of the torturer’s game.

Feb 11
Democracy won – Egypt is free

Amazing news, after having seemingly lost the momentum, the opposition in Egypt gathered again, and has won, the dictator has resigned. A great message of hope for everyone. Egypt with democratic fire in her eyes has come through. Whatever happens next, the democratic greatness of this moment of history will always be remembered. People rose against dictatorship and filled the streets even if some were shot and tortured, they did not give in.

This is like a cure for cancer, for human society. It tells of medicine for the future. Egyptians followed Tunisians, but in a sense, also following the Americans two hundred years before, creating a revolution from the English, and more recently, trying to create a new change policy.

Basically Egypt has lived up to the lessons of World War II, the need for democracy to avoid slaughter and holocaust. Democracy is risky, everyone knows that, but I am ashamed of some “western” messages to Egypt over the last weeks, as if democracy counted for little, expedience for all. Turn your love lights on, recognize that even for “Western” interest, democracy is what works best, in the longer run, recognizing some typical short term costs. If a regime allows or creates violence, target this as criminal activity across honour and politics divides, don’t give in to stereotypes like “wars” or the abhorrent “zero tolerance” sloganeering, instead, be constructive and realistic. Forget tabloid macho language, focus on real solutions. Learn from the pioneers in Egypt 2011.

My heart is with Egypt today, the way is opened towards democracy and prosperity.

Feb 02
Egypt with fire in her eyes

It may be strange to post to this section through a kind of extended “beat poem”, but OK here it is.

Egypt with fire in her eyes

Home is where the heart is
But when there is no work, no food, no future – there is no home

Egypt has arisen with fire in her eyes
So-called apathy and lethargy, but now, banners in the streets

People showing up, we want human rights, and we will not yield to dictatorship
We don’t flee, we don’t give up to fear, we won’t use violence, and we stop looters and violence
I bow deeply in honour, as I watch street demonstrations in Cairo, Alexandria and other places in Egypt

It is not the sword of Islam, it belongs to all religions
It is not the superiority of Marxism, Liberalism or any other -ism
It is not the voice of any single belief

Instead, it is the big voice of all, of democracy, the experience of history
A power of old, a sister and brother, an ancient parent, a deep prayer
Learning from the best, South Africa not just for the black man, not the killing, but peacefully, together

Many things can come out of this, and for a poor country, it won’t be easy
Yet nothing can stop the forwards momentum, if people hold on to justice and democracy
People power is old women, not just young men
People power is a critique of those who have traditionally represented people
People power is an old power, like the power of cancelling debts, freeing labourers, letting the Jews go, equalizing beliefs
People power is a new power, women as much as men, peace before violence
Egypt has arisen – and the fire in her eyes gives hope to the whole world

I am just a European watching Egypt’s revolution on TV
I am just exposing my troubled mind
I am steeped with killing solutions, my history is full of it, even in small Norway, like the persecution of the Sami people
The west has blood on its hands – how can it help, making things better, from now on?
I am tired of the north African world being a despotic world, why can’t they get a chance like everyone else?
When I was young, South East Asia was a poor and war-torn region, now it is prospering
South America had dictatorships, now it has democracy
Now is time for Africa to move

My mother barely escaped the Nazis, fleeing to Sweden in World War II
My father fought with the British marine, securing convoys to Murmansk
My uncle was in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen, and barely survived
My other uncle fought in the Norwegian resistance

Egyptians, unite for democracy, and you will have the victory on your doorstep
Develop democracy for all, in everyday life, and it will lead to the developments you want, for all the people
We Norwegians united, to create a democratic state from 1814 onwards
We resisted colonialism and occupation, and won
We have some fire too

As world citizens, we were all betrayed by the horrendous 20th century killing solutions
Nazism especially, but also Stalinism
I was born in 1952
Seven years after the gas chambers
The gulags still ongoing
The two worst horrors humanity has yet seen

Why did these horrors happen?
Capitalism did not work out, not for the people, only for the rich
Reactions appeared, these were misused, catastrophies followed
Capitalism’s antidotes, its vaccines, like Marxism. were initially good, but were misled and became killing solutions instead

Why could such beliefs be misused?
They missed a central point, democracy
It was so weakly developed, that power people could take the front instead
The first holocaust, before the Nazi execution of Jews, was the Stalinist killing of revolutionary opponents
My uncle told me, German communists were the first inmates in Sachsenhausen
It all started with imprisonment of the opposition, breaking the first democratic principle
“Freedom is the freedom of the person that disagrees with me”

This is why I look into the eyes of Egypt and see a fire that is different
How can the democratic fire of street demonstrations remake a nation?

It is the spirit of democracy that makes people rise, the need for dignity, not the right belief
Perhaps there is a greater historical purpose, to get the message across, to get the old power to work
Don’t give in to factionalism, split interests or fundamentalist causes

Just get the little gold ring in place in the middle
Gold not for its value but for its prophecy
The voice of wisdom
To unite, to make democracy work
Women, as much as men
Is the ring whole?
At first it seems broken, but you can find the missing parts, they are there

The fire creates the ring
The fire in her eyes

Home is where the heart is
Egypt is our home today