Her rights! Money, power, autonomy explores the ways in which women’s economic equality and autonomy are connected to, dependent on, and a prerequisite for all other aspects of gender equality. It charts the history of Sweden’s efforts to strengthen gender equality through progressive policies and legal reforms and highlights the important role of the women’s movement in advancing women’s rights.
In this exhibition visitors will learn about women pioneers, business leaders and entrepreneurs, and discover how inventions like the bra enabled us to travel into outer space, why autonomous vehicles are the future of sustainable transportation and how a small key can protect your digital identity.
“The aim is to inspire and promote collaboration in order to find solutions to common challenges,” says Madeleine Sjöstedt, Director General for the Swedish Institute. “It also reminds us that female entrepreneurs and inventors, not least in fields such as science and technology, are needed to achieve a more sustainable future, to boost the global economy and to decrease the gender pay gap."
Her rights! Money, power, autonomy is produced by the Swedish Institute. It will be on display in House of Sweden until March 12, 2023.
With more girls in education, and not least within STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), the world gains a larger pool of talent, bringing new perspectives, experiences and issues, perhaps previously overseen. Everyone benefits, not just the girls and women, but also families, workplaces and societies. Careers in STEM help narrow the gender pay gap, bring greater economic security and prevent biases in these fields as well as in the resulting products and services. Meet some of these women and their innovations here!
With a proper place at the table, and not just a symbolic seat, and a voice which is listened to, women add new perspectives and needs as well as new solutions. With diversity comes more ideas and more opportunities. So, send a warm thought to your grandmother and her friends – to all those women who have raised their voices and marched for new policies and change. It is largely thanks to them and to all the individuals who keep fighting against inequalities, that a free, equal society for all will be possible. Here are some of them, and the changes they brought about.
"… The evidence shows that communities that give their daughters the same opportunities as their sons, they are more peaceful, they are more prosperous, they develop faster, they are more likely to succeed.”
- Barack Obama
It goes without saying that women have always been creative, but their craft has not always been visible to the world. Today, the visibility and the opportunity for women to create is greater than ever. Women compose music, sing, write books and plays, direct films, design fashion and create art in all its shapes and forms. They start lucrative businesses based on their creative talent, they win awards, and above all – they allow us to enter and share the lives and experiences of womanhood through great works of art and stories, previously often missing, hidden or ignored. Meet some of them right here!
Stockholms Kvinnohistoriska (The Stockholm Museum of Women’s History) is an innovative museum without a specific home. Instead, the museum operates in the public space, the digital sphere and in the locations of our partners. The museum arranges city tours, exhibitions, talks and other activities, all with the aim of exploring, sharing and documenting history and stories by and about women, to make it part of our common knowledge. The museum helps make this history available and accessible by creating opportunities for people around the city of Stockholm to meet,share and learn more about our heritage. After all, 87 percent of persons named in Swedish school texts on history are men. To share the life of women and their contributions to society throughout history is a question of human rights and democracy. The museum website invites the public to share their history by submitting stories and images of the history of women. By creating a digital archive and collection, everyone can share and help document history for the future.
The book Kvinnosaker (Women’s Things: A Century of Women’s History in 50 Objects) is published by Bonnier Fakta in partnership with The Stockholm Museum of Women’s History. It tells the history of Swedish women through fifty carefully selected objects from the turn of the century up until modern times, ranging from bicycles, bras and cigarettes to public toilets and the diaphragm. Through these objects, the historian Karin Carlsson shows how women’s lives and experiences, as well as their often limited space for movement and action, have changed over time. The book is illustrated by Amanda Berglund. Ph.D. Karin Carlsson is a historian and author whose research is primarily around social policies, urban studies and material culture. In 2021, Carlsson, in collaboration with the Stockholm City Museum, completed a major research project: “Gendered spaces: multidimensional walks in urban history.”
Sewing by hand is an art form that is over 20,000 years old. Throughout time, and in all cultures, it is primarily women who have been seamstresses. Not surprising then that the sewing machine, once it appeared in the mid-1800s, was also closely associated with the work of women. It enabled making money more efficiently as a seamstress, as well as saving money by sewing and mending the family’s clothes.
The sewing machine was one of the first mechanical and industrially produced machines to enter the home, and it quickly became immensely popular.
For seamstresses, working conditions were poor and wages low. In many parts of the world, those conditions remain. One exception was with the Swedish fashion designer Augusta Lundin (1840-1919) who paid her seamstresses well, gave them two weeks’ holiday every summer, and opened lunch canteens for her workers.
In 1967, Katherine Switzer was the first woman to run a marathon, in Boston. Even if women weren’t officially prohibited, it was taken for granted that the competition was exclusively open to men. Katherine signed up as K.V. Switzer to not reveal her gender. When one of the race managers realized that Switzer was a woman, he physically tried to pull her out of the event. But Switzer pursued and became the first woman to officially complete the Boston marathon. At this time there were no sports shoes of the right size available to women; Katherine had to order and have men’s shoes of a smaller size custom-made.
Women were excluded from competing in sports for a long time. In the 1930s, public health became more topical, and this opened for women to be more active. However, their form of exercise was often labelled as less strenuous and only for women, like for example “housewife gymnastics”. Women were not allowed to participate in the Olympics until 1900 in Paris, and then only for golf, sailing, tennis and croquet. The first time that women were allowed to run the marathon during the Olympics was in Los Angeles in 1984. Boxing for women was allowed in 2012 and ski jumping in 2014.
Women all over the world have had to fight hard to gain the right to vote, and this right is still not granted to all women. With the right to vote, women get the right to make their voices heard and to influence politics.
The first nation to introduce female voting rights was New Zealand in 1893. Sweden didn’t follow until 1919. After the election in 1921, five women took place in the Swedish parliament. However, female representation remained low for a long time – in 1945 women made up 5 percent of the Swedish parliament. Today that number is 50 percent while 11 out of 22 ministers in government are women. In 2021, Sweden has a female prime minister for the very first time, Magdalena Andersson.
The campaign for women’s suffrage in the US began decades before the Civil War, but it took activists and reformers nearly 100 years to win the right. Wyoming was the pioneering state introducing women’s right to vote, already in 1869.
On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified, declaring for the first time that American women, like men, deserve all rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
Ever since 1964, more women than men vote in the Presidential elections. Women now make up just over a quarter of all members of Congress – the highest percentage in US history. In the House of Representatives and the Senate combined, 27 percent of seats are held by women. That is a 50 percent increase from a decade ago.
In 1886, Swedish physician Hjalmar Öhrvall (1851-1929) introduced the diaphragm as a new form of contraception, which stirred up a lot of discussion as sex and intercourse were viewed as a marital affair with the aim of reproducing. The author and socialist Hinke Bergegren, like Öhrvall, promoted the diaphragm as a healthy solution to many women whose lives were both limited, financially vulnerable and unhealthy due to frequent childbirth. Bergegren was sent to prison, accused of encouraging sexual activity.
In 1911, a new Swedish law, Lex Hinke, prohibited information and ads about contraception, a law that lasted until 1938.
Norwegian-Swedish journalist Elise Ottesen-Jensen (1886 1973) became the primary sex educator in the Nordics. In 1933, she and several medical doctors and trade union representatives founded RFSU – the Swedish Association for Sexual Education. Ottesen-Jensen remained its President until 1956. Her personal motto was “I dream of the day when every newborn child is welcome, when men and women are equal, and when sexuality is an expression of intimacy, joy and tenderness.”
Throughout history, women’s bodies have been covered up, shaped and “kept in place” by everything from stays, corsets, girdles and bras. In 1914, American publisher and peace activist Mary Phelps Jacobs (1892-1970) applied for a patent for a new bra that was comfortable and allowed women to wear dresses cut low in the back. It separated the breasts, unlike the corset, which was stiff and uncomfortable, pushing the breast into a single bosom effect.
She wrote that her invention was “so efficient that it may be worn by women engaged in violent exercise like tennis.” Mary founded the Fashion Form Brassière Company, but in her later years wrote, “I can’t say the brassiere will ever take as great a place in history as the steamboat, but I did invent it.”
The bra has alternated between being a symbol of control and a symbol of liberation. In the 1970s, an anti-bra movement started around the time of the Miss America Pageant. Bras, makeup, girdles and corsets among other “feminine items” were tossed into trash cans to protest against “enforced femininity.”
In the late 1970s, Lisa Lindahl teamed up with designer Polly Palmer Smith and her colleague Hinda Miller to solve the absence of a supportive jogging bra. They deconstructed two men’s athletic supporters and sewed the pieces into a prototype sports bra that developed into the “Jogbra.”
For the longest time, bicycling was not seen as suitable for women, but rather an activity reserved for men. Doctors were even concerned about women’s sexual health in relation to bicycles. Among other things, they believed the saddle on bicycles could teach masturbation to women and girls.
Women protested and eventually started riding bikes. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 1902), the American writer and activist who was a leader of the women’s movement in the US, wrote that the bicycle was a tool that motivated women to gain strength and take on increased roles in society.
The American civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) wrote: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel ... It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammeled womanhood.”
Despite resistance against women cyclists, some producers designed bikes to suite women already in the late 19th century. The horizontal bar was lowered at an angle to enable women to bicycle with long skirts on, and that is still how women’s bikes are designed.
“The Pen is mightier than the sword” is a famous quote by the British author and politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803 1873), but women have not always had access to the pen. The British author Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) wrote her famous essay A Room of One’s Own in 1929, saying that as long as women do not have their own money or a room of their own, they will not be able to write.
This was especially true for working class women, who often lived in cramped spaces with their families, with little time, space or opportunity to write undisturbed.
A recent and collective sharing of “herstory” (history written from a feminist perspective) is the #metoo movement. It started with a tweet in 2017 from the American actress Alyssa Milano, although the expression “me too” was established already in 2006 by the American activist Tarana Burke. Alyssa Milano’s tweet encouraged women all over the world to tell their experience of sexual harassment with the hashtag #metoo. Within 48 hours, her tweet was shared 12 million times in 85 countries, and soon almost every country and professional category of women had joined the movement and shared their stories.
As early as 4000 B.C., Egyptians used various materials like clay, beetles or berries to color their eyes and lips. Over time, ingredients and beauty ideals have varied. In the 16th century, for example, women would paint their faces, necks and chests paler using a lead and vinegar mixture known as ceruse, which led to black teeth and loss of hair.
For a long time, the norm within the cosmetics industry was pale skin, and it is only in more recent years that powder and foundations come in many more nuances, for example through Rihanna’s make-up brand Fenty. A fore-runner could be said to be Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919) who created hair products for African American hair care and was one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire.
The cosmetics industry boomed in the 1950s and 60s. Since the late 1960s, using make-up has become more politicized, and the cosmetics industry has been criticized for objectifying women as well as creating limited beauty standards. Later on, the notion of “selfcare feminism” has considered spa visits and make-up more as a way of pampering oneself and through this try to break with a historical understanding of women as caretakers only for others.