In Sweden, equality between the sexes has almost universal acceptance as a policy goal. To most outsiders, the term “gender mainstreaming” sounds like a policy of equality between the sexes — but with extra “umph”. This has also been the view of the Swedish government.
What Ivar Arpi and Anna Karin Wyndhamn show in their recently published Genusdoktrinen (The Gender Doctrine) is that the implementation of such policies has been completely taken over by university bureaucrats inspired by post-modern thought and academics specialised in gender studies. They have re-defined the term “gender” to fit the social constructivist understanding of human nature and, thus, have been able to turn “gender mainstreaming” into a powerful tool for the politicisation and radicalisation of our universities.
For the better part of a millennium, universities have been the western world’s producers and stores of knowledge. Their role has been to produce tentatively true (but falsifiable) theories and contribute to the personal and intellectual development of their students. Universities long ago accepted the fact that science could not produce “absolute truth” and offered up instead the search for “knowledge approximating truth” as an ideal.
The ideal of the open-minded scholar — more often honoured in the breach than in the observance — was the distinguishing characteristic of the academy. Although they did not know the results of their efforts in advance, academics thus groped their way towards a possible truth by working within the traditions, using the accepted methods of inquiry of their disciplines (often in conflict and competition with others).
But a mere glance at the higher education institutions of today points to the challenge of combining the incentives of academic life with an open-ended and exploratory approach to research. As the quest for research funding has become more competitive, scholars have increasingly become torn between their former idealism and pragmatism.
As a result, a subset of academics have begun conducting research in the way it is done by advocacy groups. On the surface, research by activists may look like academic research. But when the process has a predetermined outcome, then the choice of methodology, the gathering and interpretation of data, and the syntheses of knowledge do not produce “evidence-based science” but instead create a narrative of “factoids”. This narrative may well be useful for pushing an advocacy group’s particular program and steering the public policy debate in a specific direction — but it is not a path to “the truth” in the traditional sense.
This shift is partly the result of the incentives and daily pressures faced by universities. But a more important reason for academics getting “lost” is intellectual: the dominance of postmodernist thought in recent decades has entirely undermined the traditional idea of how to carry out research.
Postmodernists fundamentally challenge the very concept of “truth”. Their truth is that there is no truth. Once someone accepts the premise that no such thing as truth exists — and believes that everything is merely a struggle for power, and that truth (or untruth) is just a matter of personal perspective — then the very ideal of scholarship as “a quest for truth” makes no sense. It becomes a waste of time.
These scholars-in-name-only are, in fact, activists. And once these activist-scholars have abandoned the pursuit of truth, they cease to work within constraints or remain grounded. They are thus free to pursue their ideological goals in all sorts of ways — and begin to assist their preferred group (or groups) in their struggle to achieve power within their departments, and at their institutions and universities.
Descriptions of the malign influence that postmodern thought has had on the academy, as outlined above, abound and are not new. But Genusdoktrinen is particularly interesting because, relying on a number of detailed case studies, it illustrates just how the postmodern pursuit of power within the academy is operationalised — even in the smallest “capillaries” of the university system.
The book focuses on how postmodernist activists have systematically corrupted universities. They began their takeover, the authors assert, in the wake of the Swedish government’s pursuit of a policy to “gender mainstream” all universities, through the creation of a new institution called the “Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research”. (Anna Karin Wyndhamn, one of the book’s co-authors, worked for this Secretariat, while writing Genusdoktrinen.)
The administrators at the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research interpreted this policy of “gender mainstreaming” — whose purported aim was to increase equality between the sexes — as giving them a mandate to instruct, incentivise, coach, and coerce universities into integrating postmodern thought across all disciplines. This, of course, included imposing the ideology of “intersectional theory” on all areas of academic life. This created a monstrous, self-reinforcing, dynamic process that has had — and will continue to have — a devastating impact on Swedish academia.
Arpi and Wyndhamn show how the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research established an “unholy alliance” between academics and self-interested university administrators. Some gained immediate power and influence as their preferred theories were imposed, while others benefitted from promotions and an increase in resources. Many local administrators’ jobs were created solely for the implementation of the “gender mainstreaming” policy — thus becoming wholly dependent on its continuation for their livelihoods.
Astonishingly, the Secretariat and its local agencies refused to research if — and to what extent — actual gender discrimination occurred in Swedish universities. They also avoided any open discussion of their approach, condemning it as “discrimination” and “sexism”. They thus created a vicious cycle of recriminations, fear, and fraud, thereby undermining a program that could have created — had they been less ideological about it — a virtuous cycle of encouraging women in academia, while rooting out real discrimination.
Implementation of the new policy created a self-reinforcing dynamic at all levels of Swedish universities and across inter-organisational arrangements. The book’s authors, relying on all sorts of documentation, demonstrate how the “gender ideology” has influenced everything — from over-arching issues like academic hiring practices and applications for research grants to internal regulations, curricula, and syllabi. Even the seemingly insignificant and mundane — such as how a specific scientific fact is expressed in words by a medical professor giving a lecture — has come under the toxic influence of the gender ideology.
Above all, the book illustrates with a plethora of examples how academics and administrators were complicit in ensuring that their preferred theory became the established norm — and that anyone who dissented from this was punished. In one example, the authors describe how one student — elected to the municipal council for the “Feministiskt Initiativ” party — had complained about a course on the philosophy and thinking of 19th century European fascists. The student, asserting her power as a student council representative, forced the course’s lecturer to also include a book by Judith Butler — the American gender theorist whose work focuses on “third-wave feminism” and “queer literary theory” — even though her work had absolutely no relevance to the course’s subject matter.
The madness has continued in other ways. Chalmers University of Technology and KTH Royal Institute of Technology — the two most prestigious engineering schools in Sweden — have each introduced “Equality Offices”. Their task is to ensure that all students — that is, those who have applied to study engineering — will also be taught postmodern theory, and specifically gender and intersectionality theory.
At the same time, male professors are being paid to leave their posts in order to make room for more women professors. Needless to say, female researchers are to be aggressively recruited with especially attractive offers.
The last time I read about professors being paid to leave because of their personal attributes was in Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 dystopian novel, Submission, which imagines a situation in which an Islamist party wins the French presidential election with the support of the Socialist Party. In that case, it was the professors who were non-believers and Jews that were given special offers to leave their posts. The purpose in both Houellebecq’s novel and in the real case of Sweden is to turn the traditional role of the university on its head — and transform them into veritable madrasas for radical, non-western thought.
The problem is not just limited to “gender mainstreaming” — or even Swedish universities. At the time of this writing, following protests over the brutal death of George Floyd in the U.S., Oxford University urged all staff to “reach out to any black students who may be experiencing difficulty” and who may be feeling the “traumatic effect” of Floyd’s death. Students who did poorly on recent exams can even apply for consideration of “mitigating circumstances” if they “feel their performance has been affected” by Floyd’s death.
Furthermore, Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor has vowed to ensure its students are educated on colonialism. Oxford has thus begun work aimed at making its curriculum in the social sciences “more inclusive” — by adding what they have called “diverse voices”, and by integrating topics such as race and gender, colonialism and empire, into its course offerings.
Reading lists will necessarily be altered so as to include “issues of concern” to the global South. And the departments of mathematical, physical, and life sciences have all been given grants to increase the “diversity” of their syllabi.
Genusdoktrinen is a highly relevant and topical new book for our time. I hope it will soon be translated into English because the warning it contains — and all the examples it provides — is important if universities in the West are to continue to be the bedrock of our societies in the future.
However, the book can also be read as a stern admonition to policymakers to not pursue a policy of “gender mainstreaming”. Already, as I write these closing lines, I note that the European Parliament is considering implementing “gender mainstreaming” across all aspects of the EU’s foreign policy work. The forced march continues undeterred.
Genusdoktrinen (The Gender Doctrine)
by Ivar Arpi & Anna Karin Wyndhamn
Fri Tanke, 2020, 376pp