DOC NYC and New York Women in Film & Television presented the International premiere of The Feminist: a Swedish Inspiration on Saturday, November 10 at Cinepolis Chelsea. Produced by Helene Granqvist and directed by Hampus Linder, the documentary is an intimate portrait of Gudrun Schyman—a living icon among feminist supporters in Sweden. As a candid politician, she does not hide her difficulties in balancing family life, alcoholism and the multitude of barriers she has had to overcome as a feminist politician.
Schyman has already disrupted the gender norms by founding Europe’s first feminist party, Feminist Initiative (Fi). She continues to inspire both men and women by debunking myths and bringing clarity to the definition of the word: feminist.
After the screening, Gudrun Schyman (GS) and Hampus Linder (HL) grace the stage of the theater for a Q and A session moderated by Melissa Silverstein (MS).
MS: In the film, you say that the Answer to Fascism and Nationalism should be feminism, could you explain this?
GS: The Ideological base of Nationalism is military forces, family policies, typical gender roles, and the ideal “white” societal norms. Feminism is the opposite. It is about antimilitarism and open borders. When we work for gender equality, we work for equality in other groups too.
MS: Hampus, what prompted you to make this movie?
HL: I got into politics at 18, and Gudrun was center of the political landscape then. She is like a cat with 9 lives; so many things happened, but she managed to return time and time again. She helped me gain knowledge and look at things differently.
MS: What is it about Sweden that makes it so different and able to move the conversation forward?
GS: There isn’t a huge difference. Sweden is seen as a place of gender equality and in some areas it is—there are more women working. However, the gender pay gap is still there, so is the idea that their main responsibility is children, and the problem of representation in business and private sectors. And yes, the “me too” movement happened in Sweden too! I am not surprised by the facts, but I am surprised that others are surprised. So many women told the same story at the same time. We have the same problems because our basic thinking is still patriarchal.
MS: What is the role of men in this movement?
GS: I have hope about men. When we started Fi, 10% of our supporters were men. Now they stand at 25%. These are primarily young men who don’t want to enter the patriarchal society, or those above the age of 60 who have had their careers, have nothing to lose, and whose daughters have educated them.
MS: Could you talk a little about the young women who have joined the initiative?
GS: Even though in 2014 we lost the election, a feminism wave happened in society that we did not produce. A lot of happenings made people conscious of women’s situations in society. The people who wanted to make a difference saw Fi as the place to go to make this difference. However, a lot of the people who joined were activists, so they didn’t stay long and went on to join other causes. Sadly, we are now back to 0.4 percent due to the backlash.
HL: There has been a lot of change though. Now 47 percent men and women call themselves feminists. This number used to be 16 percent.
GS: Right now, people are scared of the political landscape. When people get scared, they take a step back. In these situations, people vote for a safer choice—for someone who will definitely enter Parliament. So even though so many people wanted to see Feminist Initiative in Parliament, they didn’t dare vote for us. But there is no denying that now, almost every political party in Sweden writes that they are feminists. We won the battle about the word. Now we are in a position where we can talk about feminist policies.
MS: The movie showed this as a grassroots activist campaign. We also saw the amount of sacrifice that went into it through the conversations with your daughter, Anna Westman (AW).
AW: We never talked about these issues earlier on. I wasn’t ashamed, but I was sad. When I heard Hampus was going to make the film, I wasn’t ecstatic. Everyone in Sweden already knew about our situation at home, and I wondered if this is what my life was always going to be about. But later on, it felt nice to finally be able to talk about everything with my mother. Actually, many people have a relative who is an alcoholic. When I was a child, I found it very tough to have such a busy mother. But now, I am very happy about it. I realized that I was upset at her for being the type of person to come to a parents’ meeting in a skirt and heels*, but I am also now wearing the same.
MS: Was it a difficult decision to be part of the film?
GS: No, because it started with “Could I film one home party event?” Then gradually more and more events got filmed. After which I said that if he could take care of himself, he could film what he wanted. No one knew that it would take four years, but my husband was also a documentary filmmaker, so I was used to it. Watching it was not easy, as we were revisiting a lot of our past. This has all been a huge part of our lives and it was not an easy process.
HL: During our first year of filming, the film’s direction was not very clear. Alcoholism was not a planned part of the film. But personal and political lives are so connected, so it became part of the final product.
GS: This film has shown that there was a history to the entire process and now I can take a small step back and rest a little. I will be starting an academy to educate young female politicians, so our work will all still continue.
(C) Katusha Jin (11/11/18) FF2 Media
*The questions and responses have been adjusted to fit the format of the article.
Featured photo: Gudrun Schyman in The Feminist: a Swedish Inspiration (2018)