The Pippi Longstocking essay and gay adoption in Sweden

by on February 24, 2011 at 6:40 am in Education, History, Law, Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

Thanks to Jayme Lemke, it has fallen into my clutches; the previous summary reference was here.  The essay by Henrik Berggren and Lars TrägÃ¥rdh, is interesting throughout.  It has useful insights on Sweden, statism, how collectivism and individualism interact, what architecture reflects, and why many things are not always as they seem.  Here is one good passage with a different slant than what I already covered:

While it is obviously true that gay marriage remains a highly controversial issue in the US, what is often over-looked is that adoption of children by gays is not prohibited but indeed rather common.  In Sweden the opposite is true: gay marriage or partnership is today relatively uncontroversial (although an opposition of course exists there as well), where the adoption of children by single or couples gays remains a problematic issue.

One way of understanding this difference is to see that while in the US marriage is a highly public matter, and the family a sacred institution, children are by and large seen as a kind of private property, or something to which every adult individual has a right.  In Sweden, on the other hand, the family is a private matter, while it is the child who is the public matter.

Can Swede readers attest to this?  This short BBC bit seems to confirm.  Gay adoption was legalized in Sweden in 2002, but in 2000 16 children were put up for adoption in Sweden.  As in the Netherlands, it seems that Swedish gays are not always encouraged to adopt abroad, given that the source countries often object.  There is now a Swedish film comedy about gay adoption.

You can find the essay in this unorthodox and stimulating book.  

david February 24, 2011 at 3:06 am

Economic forces driving culture, or is it just culture here?

Karl February 24, 2011 at 3:31 am

I believe they are right. However they should have mentioned that in marriage is not a big deal in Sweden. We are not a very religious people.

The government is very much involved in raising our children so that could very well be the reason why it's not seen as a right.

indregard February 24, 2011 at 3:52 am

I can confirm this from Norway. The exact same thing could be said about Norway.

I do believe that marriage has a lower status in Scandinavia than the rest of the world, probably owing to a combination of feminism, which reduces men's incentive to safeguard the institution of marriage, and legal measures for a long time equalizing cohabitation with marriage in matters such as adoption, taxes, inheritance etc.

erik February 24, 2011 at 3:56 am

Sweden was the first country to outlaw Corporal Punishment of Children (and if you would ask Swedes, I guess that at least 90 % would support it)- while it is still leagal in e.g. the US(which, according to same poll a couple of years ago, apparently is the way US citizens want it)

There also is a specific “ombudsman” for children, whose main duty is to promote the rights and interests of children.

So yes – I think it is safe to say that the Swedish society certainly don’t see a child as the property of his/her parents.

Rahul February 24, 2011 at 4:32 am

Since most children don't have free will at the age they are adopted, the state is trying to look after their best interests. I don't mean to imply that being adopted by a gay couple is bad; just that it may not be everyones cup of tea.

I think it is far more rational than the US approach. Gay marriage is fine. Both parties are consenting adults. Not so with the adoptees.

Oskar February 24, 2011 at 5:15 am

By the way, if you're reading a book of essays on Swedish culture and one of the subjects is architecture, I'm assuming they're talking about the Million programme. I would love to hear your comments on it, it's in my opinion one of the most fascinating experiments in large scale social engineering I've ever heard of (then again, I'm Swedish, so I guess I'm biased).

dave February 24, 2011 at 5:39 am

To the Swedes,

Are parents in Sweden very involved in their child's upbringing? Obviously it varies greatly person to person, but parental duty to children is traditionally seen of intense importance by American parents. They feel personally responsible for every aspect of a child's upbringing. Education, values, etc. Even amongst those that take a more hands off approach the believe is that such an approach is in the best interest of their development plan.

dearieme February 24, 2011 at 6:06 am

"parental duty to children is traditionally seen of intense importance by American parents": I've learnt this by reading American blogs. It seems to be uncritically accepted, for instance, that parents should help their children with their homework, which seems a mild form of abuse to me: how are the children to learn to struggle through demanding work if Ma or Pa keeps intruding? Similarly, I see parents boasting of large-scale cheating on "science projects" that their children will purportedly do, but are in fact done by the parents. All very odd. No doubt someone will explain to me that the end justifies the means.

el February 24, 2011 at 6:41 am

I have to say, I find the frequent assumption by some commenters above that gay couples are inherently worse parents than straight couples to be kind of repulsive. Having read enough articles where a child's straight, biological parents have been incredibly abusive, I've concluded that the average adoptive parents (who have generally gone through extensive screening processes) are more likely to be loving, caring parents than the average biological parents (who pretty much just need to have "an accident").

I'm really more interested by the statistic that only 16 children were put up for adoption in an entire year in Sweden. Is it a cultural thing where giving a child up for adoption is almost unthinkable, even if the parent(s) are unable (or shouldn't be able) to care for a child? Is it that Swedes are much less likely to have unwanted children due to better birth control education etc? Or is it that support systems are so extensive that people who might consider putting a child up for adoption in the US can comfortably take care of the child in Sweden?

Veridical Driver February 24, 2011 at 9:45 am

Since most children don't have free will at the age they are adopted, the state is trying to look after their best interests.

Most people would say that growing up in a less-than-perfect family would be far superior than growing up in a state-institution… and so it would be in the best interests of the children to be more permissive with adoptions.

Most parents have made mistakes… but most people are happy that they where raised by their parents and where not an orphan.

Corporal punishment has been illegal for more than 40 years now, and for Swedes it is a reviled practice (people basically see corporal punishment as domestic abuse). The law also close to universal support (there's eight parties in the Swedish parliament, ranging from far left to the christian right to the blatantly xenophobic, and not a single one wants to repeal it).

This is very interesting, and I think it has more to do with Swedes reverence of the state, that it does for any concern for children. I mean, the very basis of all state power is force… people try to abstract the force, to make layers of legal procedure and civil interaction before outright violence is necessary, but all laws are backed up by an armed police/military who will ultimately (upon the failure of non-violence legal procedure) kill you for disobedience. All states are, at their core, simply a monopoly system of violence.

So the folks who support more of a liberal-democracy, as opposed to a Swedish style social-democracy, see Swedish society as one where the threat of violence is implicit in everything. We see the Swedish state taking an active role in child-raising, and we recognize the implicit threats of violence necessary (to both parents and children) in order to give the state that authority. In essence, we see Sweden as a country where violence against children has not been eliminated, but has been nationalized and universalized by the state. The taboo against corporal punishment against children is less a taboo against violence against children, and more a taboo against individual parents trying to usurp the sacred authority of the state.

Baphomet February 24, 2011 at 10:01 am

Regarding the low number of Swedes put up for adoption: Adoption of Swedish citizens is practically never allowed by the authorities.

KM February 24, 2011 at 11:45 am

To Marcus Linder: You write: "One interest result of that is that schools are increasingly expected to be responsible for the socialization of children (ie. to teach them manners"

– I think you need to study some more history of the schooling system. This has been a core issue in schools for more than 200 years. In the 19th century, when schooling was starting to include children also from families with less favorable socioeconomics, this was clearly one of the main goals of schooling (socialization / learning manners). Even at higher levels, look at the old Anglo-saxon universities, it was also very much about non-cognitive skills.

It is a big mistake to believe this is something that started to happen in the 1960s.

Johan February 24, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Comments from yet another Swede.

1. I agree that this is the case. I would also speculate that this very public view of children might be another artifact of Swedish (state-supported) individualism, in which the child ought to be able to develop independently of its parents.

2. I sense that there is a shift towards putting more emphasis on Family rather than State. Perhaps not a strong shift, but still.

jorod February 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm

At one time in history it was believed that every child had a right to a mother and a father.

Old Whig February 25, 2011 at 4:10 am

As a Swede living in the US I want to share this little tidbit about the cultural influence of Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstockings author and world renowned director Ingmar Bergman. 

Very few young Swedes and nearly no foreigners now that in 1974 Ingmar Bergman was arrested for tax evasion on the stage of the Royal National Theatre.  He wrote a Farewell Letter to Sweden in a leading daily newspaper denouncing the IRS as Nazi thugs. He left Sweden and didn't come back for 10 years. He was completely exonerated by the courts. 

At the same time Astrid Lindgren being self-employed paid 102 % of her income in tax on writing her books on Pippi Longstocking et al. 

She wrote a famous article in the same leading Swedish daily. The article was "Pomperipossa in Monismania. A "free" translation available in English hereÂ&nbsp ;http://everestlancaster.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/pomperipossa-in-monismania. 

These to incidents and subsequent articles led to the political revolution in Sweden that culminated 1993 and has made Sweden the most neoliberal of all old EU 15 countries. It has also led to Sweden's recovery in after the Great Recession is the fastest within the OECD.  Cut government spending by 25 %, halved the highest marginal taxation rate, more than halved corporate tax rates, privatized social security, school vouchers, privatized on a massive scale as well as massive deregulation. 

Don't take my word for it. Read it on her homepage. 

" Astrid Lindgren influencing public opinion" 
http://www.astridlindgren.se/en/person/influencin

Luís February 26, 2011 at 2:53 am

Portuguese here.

Gay marriage has been legalized last year, with little uproar about it, mostly people did not care that much and we have other issues to be worried about.

Gay adoption is definitely another matter, much much more controversial and very far away from being allowed, I think.

So, same as Sweden, I guess.

PeterT February 28, 2011 at 4:00 am

Another Swede here.

I would add only this:

1) Sweden is actually a very individualist society. There is an emphasis on self-realisation. I recall a left wing politician advocating the state paying for young people to take a year out; and if the young wanted to spend the year at home playing the guitar, then so be it.

2) One of the reasons that the welfare state is supported is that it transfers certain burdens from the individual to society. For example, the state provides care for the elderly, which means that you don't have to look after your parents when they get old.

3) Sweden is also a very moralistic society, which I think is probably connected to its fairly hard core protestant background. It is a conundrum that some controversial activities such as pornography are permitted, whereas others, such as prostitution, are not. However, it would be a mistake to think that pornography is considered socially acceptable in Sweden. It is not the same as in Denmark or the Netherlands. The pretty black and white freedom of expression provisions of the constitution is probably the main reason that pornography has been freely available. If I recall correctly they actually had to change the constitution to ban child pornography. Anyway, whatever the set of acceptable mores happens to be at any point in time, you shouldn't deviate too much from it. For example, questioning the right of the state to keep tabs on you would be frowned upon. Its probably fair to say though that the 'set of acceptable mores' has not just changed but also expanded.

4) An interesting piece of trivia about Ingmar Bergman (mentioned above) is that the prime minister of Sweden actually had to call him to apologise (very un-Swedish) before he agreed to come back.

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