Author: Dr. philos. Dagrunn Grønbech, Nordic Women´s University. Norway.

Berit Ås

Berit Ås, the mother of the Suppression Techniques and the Women´s University, is turning 90 years.

Feminist Berit Ås was born April 10 in 1928 and educated as a social psychologist. She is known for the five suppression techniques that men may use to keep women out from position of power. She was the first female leader of a political party in Norway, namely the Democratic Socialists. Berit Ås is called the mother of the Women´s University with the purpose to encourage women in education and research. She was founding Women for Peace in Norway in 1980 (Graae 1980).

Childhood and student days

Berit Skarpaas was born and raised in Fredrikstad in Norway, in a city where both her parents were teachers. Berit was the oldest of four siblings and showed early her talent to organize. In her childhood she tried to have the sparrows in the front yard to line up and she arranged bazaar for the benefit of the Federation for Animal Protection, according to what she herself has told (Haslund 2008). During her time as a student, she began reading about leadership. She joined several feminist organizations like Norsk Kvinnesaksforening, Norsk Husmorforbund and the International Women´s League for Peace. The purpose was to get insight into how these organizations were governed to develop theories about women´s and men´s different ways to rule. Later Berit Ås introduced the concept of women´s culture. In the student days she married sociologist Dagfinn Ås, and this became a lifelong marriage. At the University of Oslo, after having got her first child, Berit Ås began to work for kindergarten expansion, as the first leader for a committee to investigate day-care centre to support young women as students. Two months after the second child was born, Berit took her Master´s degree in psychology, and she was the first student who was granted a breastfeeding brake during the examination.

Research and academic work

As a research assistant Berit Ås, cooperated with another feminist pioneer, social economist Harriet Holter. Together they worked out a survey with focus on why 50 % of the mothers with academic education and young children, chose to remain a housewife. It was not to many kindergartens or other kinds of public children care, in the year of the 1950- and the 1960-ties. These two feminist research pioneers found that the mother´s role became a hindrance to a professional career for women. Similarly there was not the same kind of barrier for a man who became father to use his education and competence to have a professional career. To investigate in depth of these social imbalances why the women´s and men´s society looked differently, a project application was submitted to Norges almenvitenskapelige forskningsråd in 1959. Their application was turned down based on the view that this was not social science, but a feminist matter that was unsuitable for research.

Social psychologist Berit Ås, started then to work as a scholarly assistant. One of her first published works, Kjønnsroller og ulykker in 1961, attracted attention. In the 1960-ties, urban planning faced great challenges in designing safe outdoor environment for children´s games and play. At this time Berit Ås was a member of the social board in Asker municipality council, but did not get support for her ideas about investments in safeguarding childhood environment. When she later became member of the executive committee in Asker municipality council, the work on road safety in the local environment was focused on. With background in Asker municipality, a more comprehensive rapport on children and road safety was prepared. The report was published by Transportøkonomisk institutt and was given importance not least when the leader of Trygg Trafikk, in the beginning of the 1960-ties, said that is should be possible to teach 4 years old children how to behave in the traffic. Implicit it was said and understood that the children´s safety, first of all was the housewife´s responsibility.

The political scene

On the political arena Berit Ås is known for being behind the “female coup” in 1971 in Asker, with purpose to get more women elected to the municipality council (Mårdalen 1998). This campaign resulted in that women now were involved in the local politics with a clear majority. Berit Ås belonged to the left wing of the Labour party. She was against the European Economical Community (EEC) and established across party lines, a network of women against EEC. This action was not seen as positive within the Labour party with the consequence that the radical wing left the Labour party (Winther 1973). The dissenters established the Democratic Socialist party in 1973, where Berit Ås became the first female leader ever, of a political party in Norway. The Democratic Socialists united with other political forces and established Sosialistisk valgforbund that got 16 representatives in the Parliament in 1973. Later, when these political movements joined together in the Socialistic Left, Sosialistisk Venstreparti in 1975, Berit Ås was elected as a party leader. In Sosialistisk Venstreparti she has been both leader and vice-leader, and she was a member of the Parliament from 1973 to 1977. This political party was the first in Norway to introduce a standard that 40 % of women should be representative in every political committee. Together with, among others, fellow party members Torild Skard and Hanna Kvanmo, it was forwarded a proposal to change the Constitution to establish by law that at least 50 % of the members of Parliament should be women. The proposal was turned down.

The five Suppression Techniques

Because of the comprehensive political experience, both on national and international level, Berit Ås could observe the nonverbal communication that took place in meetings or other arenas where she often was the only woman. As a social psychologist she gathered this practical knowledge in a theory about the five suppression techniques that men use to dominate and to obtain control over women (Ås 1979). The five suppression techniques are referenced to as:

Making Invisible occurs when women are left out, overlooked or ignored.

Ridiculing occurs when women´s are scorned, made fun of or likened to animals, like being stupid as a goose.

Withholding Information occurs when men deliberately neglect to inform and involve women in plans and decisions at work or in politics.

Damn If You Do And Damn If You Don´t (Double Bind) occurs when it is wrong if a woman does something – and wrong if she does not, and it gives a woman a constant guilty conscience and a feeling of inadequacy.

Blaming And Shaming is inflicted through ridicule and double punishment. It occurs when women are told that they are not good enough even if the reason is that they in novel ways think and behave differently from men, and that they have been left out from information that men have controlled.

Included in the suppression techniques, is concealing of case information, excluding and co-opting of loyal members. Women may be exposed for situations whereby they can be pitted up against each other in a “divide and rule” kind of conflict. In particular within the private life threats and use of physical violence, may be used to discipline women´s behaviour. The suppression techniques are generally valid and everyone may be exposed. Still it is mostly men in powerful positions. Consequently mostly women are exposed, and in particular those who want to participate in the public debate and on the political arena on equal terms with men. The suppression techniques are translated into several languages and are taught in Sami, Japanese and Tibetan, to disclose concealed ways of behaviour. In this lies an element of consciousness-raising and a political force for mobilising against discrimination and unfairness, not least in subordinate relations as we find in patriarchal societies.

Mother of the Women ´s University

In the end of the 1970-ties Berit Ås had plans to realise a women´s university that should bring feminist theories and results of female research on to women. The target group was women without higher education, whom through courses and knowledge transfer could strengthen their own situation and self-esteem. In 1983 the Women´s University at Løten in Norway, was established as a private foundation, for two years later being formally inaugurated by the minister of the Ministry of Family and Consumer affairs. By then the Committee of Church Affairs and Education in the Parliament, had decided to establish a dedicated budget line for the Women´s University. A dedicated curriculum including subjects like female culture, general health care, alternative economy and ecology was compiled. Women were offered opportunities to take up and complete secondary school and it was offered training for female leaders. The Women´s University aroused both national and international interest. The prime minister at that time, Gro Harlem Brundtland with her famous female government (1986-1989), showed interest in pedagogical methods and educational principles whereby women could strengthen each other in an educational process based on democratic rule and participation. Delegations from countries like Japan, China and USA came to study a different kind of organisation. That the Women´s University was ridiculed and referred to as a “kitchen university” was also an experience (Haslund 2008).

In the 1990-ties the Women´s University in Løten had challenges to recruit personnel together with economical problems when other institutions offered training in related topics. The operations ended with a settlement of depth, and in 2006 the mansion Rosenlund was offered for sale. Later an equal opportunity centre was established in Hamar city, and the governmental funding the Women´s University had received earlier was transferred to this centre. The founder of the feminist university, Berit Ås, got legal support for the view that the decision to change the statutes of the foundation was against the law. By an amicable arrangement with the ministry one million Norwegian kroner was allocated to establish a new women´s university.

Nordic Women´s University

In the spring of 2011, Berit Ås opened the new women´s university at the Høyskolen i Nesna, to day University of Nordland (Grønbech 2013). The Nordic Women´s University is a foundation and is a place for studies on feministic values and perspective to strengthen women´s position in family and society. Through seminar activities women will be given insight and self-confidence by making visible their contribution in social work and professional life.

The Nordic Women´s University is working across party lines with women in the other Nordic countries. Priority is given to show and problematize the fact that it still is a salary-gap between women and men. Women are paid lower than men, even when they have the same educational background. The discrimination becomes evident through an imbalance when it comes to social welfare arrangements and pension rights for women. The fight for equal pay is important to prevent women from becoming income losers because of their role as a caring person for children, sick persons and older people. In the family, women carry out caring work that is not shown in payment statistics. If their unpaid work had been recorded in the gross national domestic product, estimates show that it would have increased significantly (Koren 2012).

The Nordic Women´s University aims at developing new economical models for an alternative understanding of how we define profitability (Aslaksen 2014). In the work to establish a feministic economy, ecological considerations and a more just distribution of the global water and food resources is important. Another important area of interest is to fight violence against women and children. Violence against women in close relationships hurt family life and creates unstable childhood circumstances. It is prepared a dedicated a university course with main theme violence against women in close relationships, aimed at teachers in the schools and kindergartens, social workers and the police. The course is competence rewarding, but with difficulties to get public funding.

Berit Ås became professor in social psychology at the University of Oslo with emerita status. She is honorary doctor at several universities in Canada and the Nordic countries and internationally honoured for her contribution in the struggle for women´s rights, peace work, safety for non-motorists and in consumer research (1966). Berit Ås was one of the founders of the Nordic branch of the organization Women´s Strike for Peace (WISP) in 1961. In 2014 she got lifelong and honorary membership in the organization Grandmothers for Peace. Berit Ås got in 2015 honorary membership in the organization No to the European Union. In Norway she has been appointed knight of class 1 of the order St. Olav. Berit Ås is honourable member of Norsk Kvinnesaksforening for her lifelong international work for feminism and women´s liberation.

Thanks to Berit Ås for information and inspiring conversations.

 

Literature:

Aslaksen, Iulie/ Garnåsjordet, Per A. (2014): Hvorfor trenger vi bærekraftindikatorer? I: Samfunnsøkonomen. Årgang 128, nr. 9, pp. 4-11.

Graae, Bodil (1980): Kvinderne for freden. Århus: Aros forlag.

Grønbech, Dagrunn (2013): Kvinneuniversitetets og hersketeknikkenes mor. Tidsskrift for kjønnsforskning nr. 2. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Haslund, Ebba (2008): Ild fra Asker. Et portrett av Berit Ås. Oslo: Pax forlag.

Koren, Charlotte (2012): Kvinnenes rolle i norsk økonomi. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Mårdalen, Irene (1998): Kvinnekuppet i Asker. Hønefoss: I. Mårdalen forlag.

Winther, Lise (1973): Da partipisken smalt i Asker. Oslo: Pax forlag.

Ås, Berit (1966): Forbrukeren i det moderne samfunn. En orientering om psykologisk og sosiologisk forbrukerforskning. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Ås, Berit (1979): De fem hersketeknikker, om å ufarliggjøre fiendens våpen. Art. Årbog for kvinderet. København: Juristforbundets forlag.

Ås, Berit (1981): Kvinner i alle land. Håndbok i frigjøring. Oslo: Aschehoug.