According to leading sociological research, Sweden is likely the most feminine country in the world. In the past, universities have been male-dominated, but with increased female participation we now witness a far-reaching feminization of the culture at f higher education institutions. Academic Rights Watch’s Erik J. Olsson explains why this development is now the most urgent threat to academic freedom in Sweden.
According to current scientific studies, Sweden is currently in the bottom tier of Europe in terms of protecting academic freedom, according to a recent study. The work of Swedish academic watchdog Academic Rights Watch (ARW) seems to confirm this picture. Since 2012, ARW has documented hundreds of violations of researchers’ and teachers’ rights on its Swedish website. How could this happen, and what are the deeper causes?
“In investigating these matters, we have chosen not to shy away from uncomfortable truths. The discussion must obey the principle of consequence neutrality and be firmly rooted in careful documentation and empirical research,” says ARW co-founder Erik J. Olsson, a professor of theoretical philosophy at Lund University.
A crucial factor is Sweden’ extremely feminine culture, which was observed by the prominent Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede, whose empirically well-supported theory of cultural dimensions, while it has its critics, may be considered a standard theory in the field accounted for in every modern textbook in organizational theory.
A society is considered masculine if gender roles are distinct: men should be dominant, tough and focused on material success, while women should be more modest, gentle, and primarily care about quality of life. In feminine societies, gender roles overlap: both men and women are modest, agreeable and primarily care about quality of life.
“In studying extensive data from 76 of the world’s most developed countries, Sweden appears to be the most feminine country in cultural terms. Then come Norway, Latvia and the Netherlands. The most masculine country is Slovakia, followed by Japan and Hungary”, says Olsson.
Sweden’s previously more masculine culture was feminized as more women began to work in the public sector, including law enforcement authorities.
“Universities are no exception. The proportion of female researchers and teachers has increased dramatically over the past 40 years. Only among professors is there nowadays a clear male majority,” Olsson explains.
For universities, Sweden’s hyperfeminine culture is of great significance:
“In a feminine culture, the average student is the norm and weak students are rewarded, in a masculine one the norm is the top student and excellence is rewarded. In feminine cultures, attempts to excel spark envy and aversion, while in masculine cultures excellence and competition are encouraged.”
Olsson believes that many, perhaps most, other threats to academic freedom previously documented by ARW have their roots in the feminization of academia, which therefore stands out as the most serious threat of all.
“This concerns, for instance, the characteristic Swedish unwillingness to hold managers and others accountable when violating academic’s basic rights. This legal lacuna in turn made possible New Public Management, the introduction of corporate governance in the public authorities, including state universities, which tends to de-emphasize central values such as scholars’ right to freedom of speech.”
“Meritocratic shortcomings in academic hiring can also be partly explained by a feminine culture, according to which positions are distributed to those who are considered to need them the most or are particularly friendly and sympathetic”, says Olsson.
Olsson believes that scientific success and excellence, by contrast, can be linked to a masculine culture of achievement:
“According to Hofstede, almost all scientifically prominent nations are those with distinctly masculine cultures, such as the United States, Germany, Japan and China. The same applies to countries with the most prominent universities according to Times Higher Education.”
However, Olsson does not advocate hypermasculinity, which he believes can lead to excessive competition, whereby much energy is spent on asserting and guarding one’s own position in the hierarchy, rather than being channeled into productive work. He also believes there is a causal link between hypermasculinity and scientific fraud.
“Rather, the conclusion is that Sweden as a country – and this probably goes for other countries currently undergoing feminization as well – needs to become more responsive to how feminine and masculine cultures interact and complement each other, and in which activities the one should dominate and the other retreat.”
“Sweden’s exemplary constitution is very much serves as protection of various masculine state-bearing principles, such as meritocracy and freedom of speech. If we protect it, we thereby also protect higher education in general and pave the way for a credible and sustainable knowledge-based democracy,” says Erik J. Olsson at Academic Rights Watch.