A woman with long brown hair stands up at a conference and after thanking the organisers and apologising for being no good at using Powerpoint, she begins her speech nervously, as though she were saying something that might lead her to being attacked.
“I am a mother,” she says.
I have never heard those words spoken as if they had such meaning. She sounds brave and defiant. It is reminiscent of the crowd of slaves on the hill in the film, Spartacus. One person after another in the crowd stands up and declares, “I am Spartacus!” knowing that, in doing so, they risk being crucified.
How brave do you have to be to identify yourself as a mother in Sweden?
Madeleine Wallin, speaking at a Mothers At Home Matter event, says that politicians there “shun” her when they learn what organisation she represents. She is a board member of HARO which campaigns for care of children by the family. Even using the word ‘family’ is to get onto dangerous ground.
“You don’t talk about the family,” she says.
She demonstrates how people literally refuse to shake her hand. She says about a prominent Swedish woman politician, “she doesn’t answer when I talk to her…never”.
She says how nice it is to speak to an audience in London that is sympathetic to the idea of the mother.
“To meet Swedish women…it’s a fight.”
Although she is part of an organisation that campaigns for motherhood to be valued, she evidently feels so isolated in Sweden that she remarks: “Sometimes I have the feeling that perhaps I’m the one who is crazy.”
But although it is a strain, her passionate belief that children benefit from lots of time and care from their mothers keeps her going.
Her description of how motherhood is a dirty word in Sweden reminds one of the audience of Brave New World where, similarly, ‘mother’ and ‘family’ are bad words. No institution must exist that challenges the power of the State.
Where does the hostility come from?
She does not discuss that but, during my own visit to Stockholm, I came to think that it came from a kind of ultra-feminism in which the independence of women was valued above all things, even the well-being of children. Of course it was not described that way. Instead, a blind eye was turned to all the evidence that a child wants and needs an attachment figure it sees a great deal – probably, but not necessarily, the mother – in its early years.
I ask Madeleine whether there is any sign of a change in attitude in Sweden.
“Nope,” she replies.
But then she adds that a party which has recently grown in popularity, The Swedish Democrats, has agreed to hear her. This is a party that ‘talks about’ immigration and some of her fellow board members are opposed to having any conversation with it. But Madeleine will agree to talk to any politician willing to listen.