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Journal of Women's History 13.2 (2001) 201-203
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Women against Women
Christina Florin, Lena Sommestad, and Ulla Wikander, eds. Kvinnor mot kvinnor: Om systerskapets svårigheter. (Women against women: On the troubled sisterhood). Stockholm: Norstedts, 1999. 249 pp.; ill. ISBN 91-1-300723-8 (cl).
Had this book been written twenty years ago, the title would prob- ably have been Women Together! not Women against women: On the troubled sisterhood! Comprised of eight essays about both conflict and cooperation among women, written by well-known researchers in Swedish women's history, this edited collection's general perspective, with which I totally agree, denies the assumption that women constitute one coherent group. The authors intend to show that conflict among women derives from their different class, ethnic, occupational, educational, and generational backgrounds as well as diverse individual values. This perspective goes against conventional wisdom, which treats women as one category and assumes that women ought to be able to work together. Conflict among women is seen as a result of women's petty, narrow-minded, and gossipy nature.
What we should study is how, when, and on what issues women, in fact, have been able to work together. In the introduction, the editors stress that cooperation and conflict among groups of women always takes place within and is shaped by male dominated institutions and structures. They argue that historically it has been more difficult for women to work together as a group because of women's many different ways of providing for themselves or being provided for. This thesis is, however, not pursued further.
Several essays deal with labor conflict, women in trade unions, and the Social Democratic Party in Sweden. Bengt Nilsson, for example, addresses conflict among female telephone operators during a 1922 strike in Stockholm, and Lisa Öberg discusses the feminist dilemma of women im-proving working conditions for their housemaid "sisters." A modern feminist, for instance, admitted: "It [having a Polish maid] is so embarrassing, that I cannot speak about it" (198). In her study of the Women's Council of the Swedish Trade Union Congress, 1947-1967, Ylva Waldemarson contends that, caught between gender and class, the union chose adjustment (meaning that women must learn to become "real" and organized workers), but the result was marginalization. Waldemarson uses old photographs [End Page 201] to support her interpretations. I would, however, recommend more caution when interpreting dresses and age from old pictures.
That women are not born pacifists is illustrated in Kjell Östberg's contribution about strong women's defense organizations in Sweden at the turn of the century. He shows that even feminist associations supported the defense cause to demonstrate that women too were willing to make sacrifices for their country. In rare moments, such as during World War I, peace women and defense women were able to unite their forces. Maria Sjöberg's essay is an interesting study of the way in which Ellen Fries, the first Swedish doctor of philosophy in history, through her feminist nineteenth-century lens critically described the behavior of Ebba Brahe, a seventeenth-century noblewoman.
The remaining essays deal with the past thirty years. Christina Florin analyzes the hot disputes between housewives and young academic women over "split" taxation (e.g., individual taxation.) The progressive tax scales prevented many women from joining the labor market because their income was placed on top of their husbands' and consequently was heavi-ly taxed. Florin asks why housewives did not manage to make links to powerful male allies, when so many men, in fact, disliked this dramatic transformation, which eventually made Sweden a society without housewives. In this case, as in the introduction of free abortion in 1974, discussed by Gunnel Karlsson, stronger social forces than even the dominant Swedish Social Democratic Party were at play, and there was no return to the old family structure.
In her interesting essay, Ulla Wikander discusses the Swedish women's liberation movement from the 1960s to the 1990s "from a personal perspective" (216) and draws general conclusions about the development and decline of the movement. Two...