Minnesota Swede Blog

Polaris: Photo Elicitation

By Matt Johnson


This article is meant to be a bit different from the rest. It is a journey into some thoughts and philosophies evoked from experiences in Stockholm, Sweden. Stockholm, the modern metropolis, provides an interesting mix of economic, political, and social mobility for women in the 21st century. The emphasis by its inhabitants is how to increase the capital of women. But it should be understood that Stockholm, Sweden has not always been the mecca of equality that it is perceived to be in the United States. Instead, Sweden was once a patriarchal society that very much practiced the “Great Man” theory like the rest of the western world. Leadership in Sweden was once obtain through family, money, and male predisposition. Noting else. It was once an herrenvolk state. But today, Sweden is much different. It is a social democracy that believes in the welfare state – helping those who cannot help themselves and helping those who are disenfranchised.

The Silver Throne

Swedish Royal Court - The Silver Throne

Swedish Royal Court – The Silver Throne

Since the dawn of human civilization approximately 10 thousand years ago, leaders have been viewed as “Great Men.” In other words, most of humanity’s known great leaders have been men; those with the access, family wealth, and predisposition based on their maleness. Examples of this have been the vast majority of Sweden’s kings, the kings of the British empire, all of the Judeo-Christian prophets, and all forty four presidents of the “great” United States, all of the Supreme Court Justices of the United States, all of the leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, professional sports and all of its respective hall of fame athletes in the United States, and all of the great military generals to serve in the United States military.

When men and women view an inanimate object like a throne, they know that it is reserved for a man, but they “don’t know” it is reserved for a man. In other words, they accept that the purpose of that object is to wield power and to project all of its subsequent privilege, law and order, and punishment. They also know that it represents masculinity. It is a state of economic, political, and social power. This is the difference between the subconscious and the conscious; this is the difference between being self-actualized and not being self-actualized. This is also the difference between questioning the purpose, or function, of an inanimate object or the “way of things.” To question the purpose of an object, and/or derived law, is to illustrate one’s own existence and relationship with the object of “great man.”

Jane Addams

Jane Addams, American Suffrage Leader

Jane Addams, American Suffrage Leader

Pictured to the right is 1931 Nobel Laureate Jane Addams. Addams was a prominent figure in the Suffrage movement of the late 19th and early 20th centries. She also played an intricate role in the passing of the 19th amendment in 1920, which gave women the right to vote in local, state, and government elections. Until 1920, only men – specially white, straight, and Christian – were allowed to vote. This fact is not salient in current modern political debate. In other words, there is no self-actualized consciousness. This is because the “Great Man” stereotype is perpetuated in modern political discussion. Instead of focusing on the intersectionalities of leadership including civil rights leaders, suffrage leaders, and those whites who marched beside black men and women in the south during the 1960’s, the media continues to preserve the herrenvolk institute that is the United States in sights and sounds. But what we have here is the acknowledgement and respect of one of America’s great leaders for civil rights by a foreign institution. It is the outside looking in.

Literally, it takes a Swede, or Swedes, to acknowlegde and appreciate the suffrage work of an American; whereas, it takes a United States citizen, or United States citizens, to ignore the accomplishments of a fellow citizen who fought back against the oppressive state and exercised true constitutional rights for the benefit of not just one person, but an entire people. Until the United States as a whole recognizes this fact, its citizens will continue to bear the insidious burden of oppression as a nefarious sleeve of privlege and blindness.

We Will Always Have Stockholm

Swedish Women in Stockholm

Swedish Women in Stockholm

Sweden is not a utopia. This point should be made salient. But Sweden is quite exceptional in many areas which includes representation. Sweden’s parliament is approximately 50 percent. Sweden’s Nobel prize organization has recognized American women for their accomplishments (see Jane Addams). And Sweden emphasizes the success of women in the economy, politics, and social arena. This is what makes Sweden so remarkable and attractive for Swedes and for those abroad, and the young women pictured to the right are not exception. But perhaps they do not look like Swedes? Perhaps they do not fit the perception of what Americans think Swedes look like? None of the are tall and blonde with blue eyes, but yet here they are, in Stockholm during sunset, out and about doing Swedish activities in the evening time. Lets explore this picture a bit.

An interesting piece of dialogue that has been taking place between my fellow study abroad students and myself is what our preconceptions of what Swedes look like; that is, tall, blond, and blue eyes. But in reality, this is not true. If you are interested in seeing what Swedes look like, view the picture to the right. Yes, it is true that Stephanie, the furthest to the left is blonde, but as we have learned during our journey is that this is not the only type of Swede. Iman, furthest to the right, could also be just as Swedish as any of the other young women. Matter of fact, Swedishness is quite wide and diverse. Any one of these ladies could walk down the street in Stockholm and be considered Swedish. And this is precisely the point, Sweden is a modern country with a modern population that is representative of its capital in diversity.

If an American were to follow the classical preconception of what Swedes look like, his thoughts would follow with tall, blonde, and blue eyes. It would not recognize these young ladies as Swedish. Although this is not a “great man” perspective, the perspective resides within the “great man” construct that is the United States. Historically, the economy, policy, and social being have very much created a welfare state for the ingroup; that is, those who are white. Today, the United States is very much still this country. This includes the current cognition of transplanting its current beliefs and perceptions onto other cultures and societies.


For generations, men sat upon the Silver Throne in Sweden. But in recent decades, this has changed. In fact, Princess Victoria will be crowned queen when King Carl XVI Gustav steps down. For generations, Jane Addams has not received the respect and recognition from her country that she so deserves from her leadership in suffrage but the Noble institute felt otherwise. Maybe the United States will catch up and decide to acknowledge and accept its own. Finally, Americans have thought, for generations, and continue to think that Swedes are tall and blonde with blue eyes. But clearly this is not the case. Sweden is a wide and diverse group of people. The Sami, who are the ancient and native Swedes, are not tall and blonde with blue eyes. They more resemble the natives of the rest of the artic peoples. Blonde hair and blue eyes, as paleoanthropologists suggest, is fairly new in the human population and it is associated with the Vikings. But this type of knowledge and thinking is depressed by archaic views like “great man” theory, which is practiced even today in modern United States.

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