The most salient cleavage

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The Swedish government’s requirement that all courses at the university should have a “gender perspective” is yet another example of the parochialism of Swedish universities. It’s yet another expression of a very Swedish, and very limited, view of the world.

By imposing this rule, the government assumes that the distinction between men and women is the most salient cleavage in society. It is only a “gender perspective,” after all, that is given privileged access to all reading lists. The most important division in Swedish society, is the implication, is that between women and men. Other divisions matter less.

To understand how limited this view is, consider a similar diktat being imposed on universities in the United States. “What about race?” would be the obvious reply. “Why shouldn’t all courses have a discussion of slavery?” Or genocide against Native Americans, or colonialism, or social class? The US has a number of salient cleavages, and there is no reason why gender should be privileged.  The same thing is true of most societies — consider religion in Northern Ireland, caste in India, social class in Brazil, political power in China, sexuality in Jamaica or Russia.

In fact, the feminist activists are wrong about Sweden too. Gender is not the only salient cleavage in Swedish society. Today there are growing differences between social classes, a large and growing Muslim population, and new cultural strife.  Besides, those eternally marginalized groups have not gone away — the Roma, the Sami, old people, the handicapped. They can all make equally legitimate claims to be included on all reading lists.

The reason gender is in a position to dominate all other topics is that women have a powerful position in Swedish society, not a weak one. It is because they have come into positions of power that feminist activists can impose these kinds of rules. Moreover, it is a very white, very middle-class, very Eurocentric perspective. Yes, it’s a Swedish view of the world.

In the US they deal with this problem by giving freedom to the universities and to the teachers. This is why American universities both are highly diverse and the best universities in the world.


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