Hierarchies of Desirability: Racialized Cartographies in Media Discourses on Relationships between Finns and Foreigners (1982–1992)
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Hierarchies of Desirability:
Racialized Cartographies in Media Discourses on Relationships between Finns and Foreigners (1982–1992)

In 1984, a Finnish women's magazine Anna published an article that informed—or rather, warned—Finnish women about the perils of marrying a foreign man. The article painted grim scenarios of what might happen if a naïve Finnish "girl" fell in love with a "charmer from the Mediterranean." The possible scenarios varied from a culture shock if a "liberal" Finnish woman married "a Catholic or Muslim man" to gender violence, white slavery,2 child abduction, and fraudulent marriages forged for migration purposes. The article cautioned that many men married Finnish women only because they were "after our quality of life." An official at the Immigration Office commented, however, that "there is not that much pressure [at our borders] yet. Finland is often only a stepping stone and the final address is Sweden" (Runeberg 1984, 18–20). [End Page 217]

Besides the extreme problematization of relationships across national borders, what is intriguing in this article is the imagined origins of "dangerous" partners of Finnish women. The author of the article specifically named men from the Mediterranean countries and Catholic and Muslim men, and also wrote more generally about (pre-modern) family values in an undefined "South." The black-and-white stock image attached to the article portrayed a shirtless man with light skin color, curly dark hair, and thick eyebrows, gazing intensely at a woman with lighter skin and brownish hair, with a slightly concerned expression on her face (fig. 1). The image of an "undesirable" partner of a Finnish woman thus contained references to a non-Protestant religion, dark bodily features, patriarchal gender norms, and national or ethnic origin in southern parts of Europe, or the world more generally.

Fig 1. Suomen kuvapalvelu (Finnish Press Agency), Urpo Rouhiainen and Kristian Runeberg, Anna 34 (1984): 18–9.
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Fig 1.

Suomen kuvapalvelu (Finnish Press Agency), Urpo Rouhiainen and Kristian Runeberg, Anna 34 (1984): 18–9.

This magazine article gives insights into the ways in which early 1980s Finland was placed in public discourses on a world map where "North" and "South" did not necessarily refer to certain geopolitical or geographical areas, but to racialized, gendered, and sexualized spaces. Moreover, the relationship between these imagined spaces was not constructed as equal: the terms were used in a way that placed [End Page 218] them in a hierarchical relationship with one another. In this magazine article, for example, a "desirable" partner of a Finnish woman would have been a Protestant man with light bodily features, supporting egalitarian gender roles, and originating from Northern Europe. Furthermore, Finland was not only placed on the world map as the opposite of the South; the migration official's portrayal of Finland as a gateway to Sweden draws attention to Finland's borderline position between the Eastern and Western Blocs during the Cold War years. As scholars have explained in a multitude of studies, the country's position between Sweden and Russia has been crucial for the ways in which "Finnishness" has been understood (e.g., Saarikoski 1997; Alapuro 1999; Lehtonen, Löytty, and Ruuska 2004). What is intriguing in the Anna article, and the focus of this discussion, is how Finland was placed in a racialized world order where not only "East" and "West" but also "North" and "South" denoted racialized, gendered, sexualized, and classed imaginative spaces.

This article analyzes how intimate relationships between those defined as "Finnish" and as "foreigners" or "migrants" were discussed in two Finnish magazines in a period spanning from 1982 to 1992. My primary goal is to analyze how divisions between East and West, and North and South, were produced in the Finnish media through gendered, racialized, sexualized, and class-based representations regarding foreign partners of Finns. I discuss the ways in which intimate relationships across national, ethnic, or racialized borders were discussed in the media to reveal, in an illuminating way, how Finnishness became defined in relation to the aforementioned global imaginings, which, in turn, were tied to histories of colonialism, racism, and Cold War geopolitics (Urponen 2010, 275). As suggested above, I do not understand East/West and North/South as referring to certain geographical or geopolitical areas surrounded by...


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