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Uneven about heroines

Marte Spurkland and Arnhild Skre pay tribute to their heroines in their own book, but their message is that women must find solutions on their own, our reviewer writes.


Arnhild Skre and Marte Spurkland have each written a book about heroines. Spurkland has interviewed the elderly Guardian First Ladies, while Skre has conducted "intense sentimental reading of literature" to find theirs. What right do I have to criticize other ladies' heroines? All right, for both take their mouths full when they say they should consult everyone with innovative thinking.

Sentimental stories

In the preface to Fire and Water – Norwegians in South America Kjartan Fløgstad describes the difference between male and female sources as follows: “As oral cellars, it often seems that older men develop an anecdotal way of thinking in which memory and experiences from a long life are embodied in three to four permanent narrative forms. The women are less anecdotal, more morally and more politically correct narrators. Where many men would sell grandma to get a good story, just as many women dictate her to get a good morale. "

It is perhaps well known that men exaggerate their own courage and size of the catch, while women underestimate and are most concerned about their moral reputation. Women's stories are sentimental, and men's stories are spectacular and fun. I've been annoyed a lot by this, thinking this doesn't apply to my ladies. No one tells such wonderful and brutal stories as my ladies.

Unfortunately, Spurklands confirms first Ladies Fløgstad's assumptions about older women's stories. I hope and believe that it is not the interview objects that are the problem, but the focus of the interviewer. Each chapter has a theme and a first lady as an interview object. The ladies have a lot of heart, but the chapters are about as much about their men and Spurkland themselves. We get to hear several nice love stories, but in the long run it will be a lot. At its worst, the book is like a meeting between the women's magazine Henne and the weekly magazine Hjemmet in the form of a "at home" report.

Mas about men

The bass line through the book is love. Not the love of life, the project or burning hearts, but of the faithful gender-oriented husband. Why this eternal fuss about husbands? Does not a woman's life consist of something more – something bigger? Love can be a beautiful bass line, but music with only bass is not much to brag about.

The ladies' best advice might be to get a good guy, but the author's insistence on the same is annoying. In the reflections on her aunt Ingrid Spurkland, who has lost her life companion, the question is asked: "When she thinks the chances are small to find a worthy partner again, so does she choose loneliness?" When it comes to a woman who has lived alone , she asks: "This lady who is as deadly charming as old, and she must have been a bomb when she was young, how could she not make an offer and get married?"

Marte Spurkland writes well and the language flows easily, but that may be because the text offers so little resistance. So little to wonder about. I have a sense of the project, because my generation has too little contact with the grandmother's generation, but the book's questions become too shallow. The old ladies are not placed in a context. We get to know in which house they live and how the author found them, but little about the time that created them. And when the first ladies are not placed in a context, the friction between them and society – what created them and how they created themselves – also becomes invisible.

To draw a conclusion from Spurkland's book, there must be something like this: "The good women's life must be individually fixed with networks, skills, domestic help and the search for an equality-oriented husband." The bassline about "finding a man" overcomes the interesting twists of the first lady, juicy stories and reflections on life.

Literary heroines

Love is also one of many themes in Arnhild Skres Heroines I've met, and unlike Spurkland, her book does not have a headline bass line. But maybe too many?

The book tells the private story of Skre, from the time she was a young feminist in the 1970s, through jealousy and self-realization, until it ends with a breather on the ground focusing on her own right to make mistakes as a woman. Skre guides us through the story along with her literary heroines, who are extensively described by name, family, network and where they belong in book history. In the first chapters it becomes a bit much and long-winded. Maybe Skre could have had a clearer focus on what should be told, because every time she comes to an interesting question, she hurries on.

For example, I have often wondered what happened to the perennial feminists in the 1980s as the Jupiter era came. Skre comes with an interesting analysis. She writes that the 1970s feminist demands to realize yourself by breaking with the family ties and becoming a blacksmith of their own happiness through working life fits hand in glove with the Jupet era self-realization project. Unfortunately, this is the case. As Skre comes in challenging landscapes, she doesn't write about it anymore. Is it possible to live out the intense love, the quenching desire and be the subject of one's own life? Is it possible to live with tensions in our demanding women's lives? The questions are asked, but as with Spurkland, they are unanswered.

The chapters on the literary heroines of the 1980s and 1990s are the best in the book. There, Skre mastered the levels. She has an exemplary analysis of Alice Walker's novel about Celie, The color beyond, where she shows how African American ladies began to formulate their own stories. Not as victims, but as subjects in their own lives. The criticism of the black feminists is bone-hard diet, even for the most solid white woman. They would not be saved with compassionate eyes. In these times when there is a mantra that the Muslim women must be rescued from their Muslim men, whether they want to or not, Celie still has something to tell us.

So what do Skre's heroines have to teach us? They can teach us a lot – to reflect on, fight for and reformulate life – but as with Spurkland, the solutions lie on the individual level. Every woman for herself. I hope tomorrow's first ladies and heroines want something more than just themselves – and then also across national borders.

PS! Hannah Helseth, Marte Spurkland, Grethe Nestor and Hanne Andrea Kraugerud debate today's feminism during Bok in Sentrumi Oslo on Friday 28 October.

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