Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Undermining Women's Political Agency: Media Coverage of Feministiskt Initiativ (Fi), Sweden's First Feminist Political Party

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Undermining Women's Political Agency: Media Coverage of Feministiskt Initiativ (Fi), Sweden's First Feminist Political Party

Article excerpt

In May 2014, a feminist political party for the first time gained a seat in the European parliament when the Swedish party Feministiskt Initiativ (Feminist Initiative) or Fi, received 5.4 per cent of the votes. "The feminist breakthrough," as feminists themselves labelled the result, was considered quite sensational. Fi had been more or less absent from the political debate in Sweden for several years and opinion polls had for a long time indicated that less than one per cent would consider voting for Fi. The few months preceding the election however, brought increased media visibility and growing support for the party.

When Fi was launched in 2005 as a political party, a new political phenomenon emerged in Sweden and feminists received a considerable amount of attention. For the first time, a feminist political party with the explicit goal of gaining seats in the national parliament appeared on the political scene. (1) The intense media coverage of feminist issues and actors began at the somewhat chaotic press conference where the party was introduced to the nation. This continued until the national elections were held in September 2006. Public interest in the new political organisation grew, with opinion polls indicating that as many as 13 per cent of those polled had indicated that they were considering voting for Fi in the upcoming elections. (2)

Keywords: the media, feminist political parties, women's political participation, Sweden, Feministiskt Initiativ (Feminist Initiative)/Fi

The year and a half preceding the 2006 elections was a dramatic time for the new party. From the start, an abundance of disconcerted voices and critical reports appeared mixed in with some fairly positive coverage. Not long after however, media scandals involving central party representatives emerged. Around the time of the party's first congress meeting, in the autumn of 2005, newspapers were filled with reports of dramatic quarrels between some of the more well-known leading figures in Fi. Professor Tiina Rosenberg, a queer-identified academic and leading member of Fi was falsely accused of plagiarism. Other examples of particularly harsh media reporting on Fi involved accounts of members of the party being described as Nazis or Stalinists; as being ugly, angry, and unattractive while at the same time sexualizing them as smiling bimbos with good looks but no brains. (3) Satirical pictures published in some leading newspapers portrayed the women as crazy hens running around in all directions or alternatively as half-naked cut-out dolls with hairy legs, sagging breasts, ugly shoes and varicose veins. (4) By the time of the national election in 2006, Fi had lost most of its credibility obtaining only 0.7 per cent of the vote. In the national election of 2010, it again received only 0.4 per cent of the vote. Despite continuing its political work after electoral defeats, it took the party until 2014 to recover from the electoral losses.

The great interest this new political party generated, the mainstream media's aggressive coverage and the party's crushing failure in the national elections are all interesting aspects of Swedish political history. The strong and often scornful reactions towards the women of Fi may seem surprising in a country like Sweden with a reputation as being one of the world's most advanced countries in terms of successfully achieving gender equality (Towns 2002), a reputation it relies on for its "nation branding" (Hornscheidt 2008, p. 391). In the field of journalism, Sweden is also often viewed as a pioneer in terms of gender equality (Djerf-Pierre 2007, p. 81). However, research in the area of gender equality and the media, has shown that Swedish media representations of women politicians are far from unproblematic. For instance, media coverage of political scandals tends to be tougher and less forgiving towards women than men (Bromander 2012). Family life and motherhood continue to be formulated as a problem for women politicians (Hammarlin and Jarlbro 2012; Wendt 2012). …

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