Sweden is considered to be one of the countries with the highest level of equality. It was here that gender studies was first established as its own subject within academia. Mia Liinason at Lund University in Sweden has conducted research on what gender studies has achieved and what it has failed to achieve during its 30 years in Swedish universities.
One of Mia Liinason’s conclusions is that gender studies, as a political investment in equality, has found its place in academia; gender studies researchers have succeeded in creating an arena for research on power relationships that concern gender, sexuality and ethnicity.
However, she also concludes that gender studies has developed a bias towards research that has to do with gender. This focus on gender has been made at the expense of other power relationships; other power structures have been marginalised and perhaps even become less visible.
"In some cases, the subject may have helped to confirm the dominant notions of gender rather than the reverse”, says Mia Liinason.
It was during the 1960s and 1970s that feminist researchers in Sweden began to organise study groups on the situation of women and power structures. Around the same time, the Swedish government decided research was needed if progress was to be made on gender equality.
Money was earmarked for equality research and since then the subject has often come under fire:
"It is the subject’s political support that angers some people”, says Mia Liinason, who finds it no stranger that money is allocated for gender research than that it is allocated for specific medical research.
Mia Liinason is herself a gender studies researcher – the first person to gain a PhD in the subject at Lund University. She chose the difficult task of analysing her own discipline.
"It hasn’t been entirely easy. Many people warned me and thought I had taken on a difficult project”, she says.
The difficult thing has been that there is a strong sense of allegiance to the subject in some parts, she explains. Feminists have always emphasised the importance of sticking together in the face of oppression and injustice. Therefore, criticism of their own subject has been waved aside. According to Mia Liinason, many have claimed that in order to achieve change the focus must be on shared experiences and objectives rather than internal differences and conflicts. There has been a fear that self-criticism would weaken the feminist movement. However, adds Mia Liinason, feminism is not a uniform movement, and other feminists have therefore argued for the necessity of also critically examining power relations within feminism’s own practices.
"It is these dominant features within gender studies and feminism that I wanted to study in my thesis”, says Mia Liinason.Mia Liinason’s doctoral thesis is entitled Feminism & the Academy. Exploring the Politics of Institutionalization in Gender Studies in Sweden.