Outrage in Sweden as 2 women pressured to leave Nobel group
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Outrage and photos of blouses sprouted Friday across Swedish social media in support of the ousted female leader of the prestigious academy that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Many in gender-neutral Sweden are upset that two highly respected women are being forced out of top positions, effectively paying the price for the alleged sexual misconduct of a man, Jean-Claude Arnault, a major cultural figure in Sweden.
The departures came after a week of turmoil that has shredded the reputation of one of Sweden’s most famous cultural institutions and prompted both the Swedish king and the Stockholm-based Nobel Foundation to demand that the group get its act together before it tarnishes the reputation of the Nobel prizes.
“Feminist battles happen every day,” wrote Swedish Culture Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke, who posted a picture of herself Friday in a white high-necked blouse with a knot like those worn by the official, Sara Danius.
Other Swedish women also posted blouse pictures as anger grew over Danius’ departure, including Social Affairs Minister Annika Strandhall, actress Helena Bergstrom and fashion designer Camilla Thulin.
Danius, a 56-year-old literature professor, resigned from the Swedish Academy on Thursday night after a contentious three-hour meeting. Shortly afterward, the academy announced that another female member, poet and writer Katarina Frostenson, was “leaving.”
Members of the secretive academy are appointed for life and resignations are extremely rare.
Frostenson is Arnault’s wife, prompting some in Sweden to note that it is sexist to punish a wife for her husband’s alleged abuses.
In a statement to Sweden’s TT news agency, Danius said she had agreed to become the leader of the Swedish Academy “because I perceived a support for the ambition to cautiously but purposefully modernize the academy.”
“Caring for an inheritance must not mean arrogance and distance to society,” added Danius, who joined the academy in 2013.
“Ethics must be in the highest seat ... crimes and cheating must be reported to the law enforcement authority,” she said. “The academy should be a force that clearly acts against untimely power relations or women’s degradation.”
The prestigious academy has been in turmoil after the resignations last week of three men — Klas Ostergren, Kjell Espmark and Peter Englund — who quit after the 18-member academy voted not to remove Frostenson.
Arnault was banned in December by the Swedish Academy from attending a Nobel banquet after the Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter published allegations from 18 women claiming to have been assaulted or raped by him.
Arnault denies the alleged assaults, which reportedly occurred between 1996 and 2017. Swedish prosecutors said last month that an investigation into reported rape and sexual abuse by Arnault from 2013 to 2015 had been dropped, but a probe into other criminal acts would continue.
Earlier this week, academy member Horace Engdahl, reportedly a friend of Arnault’s, lashed out at Danius in a scathing editorial where he accused her of being the worst permanent secretary ever. It seems Engdahl got his supporters to go against Danius and all those who backed her have now left the academy.
Before the departures of Danius and Frostenson, seven of the academy’s 18 members were women.
On Wednesday, the Nobel Foundation sharply criticized the Swedish Academy, saying it had damaged its own reputation and was threatening to tarnish the reputation of the Nobel Prize itself.
Bah Kuhnke, the culture minister, said Friday she was following the crisis at the academy “with sorrow.”
“The conflicts obscure the important work of this independent (cultural) institution,” she said, vowing as culture minister that “I will do everything in my power to protect art and literature’s freedom and position.”
Since a wave of allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein started last fall, men in many fields have faced allegations ranging from inappropriate sexual behavior to rape.
Sweden itself saw thousands of sexual misconduct allegations surfacing.
“The aftermath of the autumn’s many calls from thousands of women continues. Now it is enough, we refuse to go back,” Bah Kuhnke said.
The academy commissioned lawyers to investigate the ties between the Nobel body, its members and the cultural center led by Arnault. It announced Friday that the report is ready and said a press release on it will be sent out next week.
Olsen reported from Copenhagen, Denmark.