With a feminist backbone
Cathrine Linn Kristiansen is the spokesperson and election candidate for the political party Feminist Initiative. She is also a board member and on the labour committee in the feminist organization Women's Front, and her political articles have been published in several Norwegian magazines and newspapers, like Tidsskriftet Manifest, Dagsavisen and Radikal Portal. Kristiansen has for years been at the forefront of the women’s rights movement, including the fight against rape. Last year, she was one of the main organizers behind the demonstration in connection with the Hemsedal case*, demanding security under the rule of law for women in rape cases. Thousands of people of all genders joined the demonstrations across the country. Definitely the kind of woman we wanted to have a chat with.
How did you get the idea of starting a chapter of Feminist Initiative (FI) in Norway?
It didn’t happen overnight: FI was founded in Sweden in 2005, and in 2014, they became the first feminist party in Europe to have a representative in the European Parliament. FI did not get a seat in the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag), but was voted into the municipal councils in 13 different municipalities. Just before these elections, I was at a feminist conference in Sweden, where many of the Swedish FI women also were, including Gudrun Schyman, Victoria Kawesa and Soraya Post. Very many were inspired by what they these women had managed: even though they had been working outside the system, they had acted as a watchdog and put many important issues on the agenda, including violence against women and equal pay. The local elections in Norway was coming up, and as I knew someone in Bergen who wanted to start a feminist party, we decided to collaborate, and started Feminist Initiative both in Oslo and in Bergen!
You had already been active within the field of feminist politics for a long time?
Yes, I had been active in the Women's Front for a long time, and already had a strong feminist backbone in that sense. I had previously been active in other political parties as well, but didn’t think feminism was given enough priority there. I think that gender has to be the basis of all analysis in politics, along with class. What is often forgotten in traditional classroom analysis is that women as a whole, still is a class that has lower status than that of men. If that isn’t always included in the analysis, women lose out.
What’s your background when it comes to work and studies, is it related to your engagement in FI?
I’ve studied political science and have always been active in other organizations, such as in the Red Cross and in political parties. It was in the Women's Front that I finally got a feminist, separatist room to discuss these issues, instead of always working uphill in other organizations. That was the biggest inspiration to start FI.
Which women do you look up to?
That’s a long list, and it becomes longer the more people I meet! But I’d have to mention those who made me more radical in my opinions as feminist - American feminists like Catharine MacKinnon, Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis. I'm half American, so I got a lot of inspiration from there! In Norway, it ranges from Kim Friele to older female friends who have been active in politics and have done a brilliant job! Line Schou is one of my best friends and one of my great inspirations in everyday life as well, she is also in FI now. Tina Skotnes and the rest of my female friends are also awesome women! It's hard to mention just one or two, but internationally, some of the women I really pay attention to is Meghan Murphy in Canada and Ruchira Gupta in India.
Do you have any tips for reading material for future feminists?
For a nice introduction, I would like to say 60 women you should have met by Marta Breen, or The F-word by Marta Breen, Madeleine Schultz and Jenny Jordahl. I'm also very fond of Andrea Dworkin, she has written a very controversial book called Intercourse. And really, all of Gloria Steinem’s works! Also, a book that really made an impression on me when I was younger, is Are Women Human? by Catharine MacKinnon. It's about the legal issues on being a woman, for example the legislation concerning rape cases and the injustices in the judicial system.
As mentioned, you are also involved in the Women's Front and in other feminist organizations, can you tell us a bit about what you do there?
In the Women's Front, I have been on the labour committee and on the board for four years now. The labour committee is the executive body, one example on what we do there is that we write responses to hearings in cases we think the Women's Front should have an opinion on. That can be anything from cases concerning single parents to violence against women, to suggestions on wording in laws that are to be changed. We have arranged demonstrations, conferences and festivals. I was one of the organizers behind the demonstration for security under the rule of law for women last year, in connection with the Hemsedal case.*
"We’re taught to stay in the background. When you realize that the system is like that, you just have to politicize the situation, say “fuck that!”, and do it anyway! "
You mentioned equal pay earlier, what’s your opinion on how we can increase gender equality in the labour market in Norway?
There are a lot of things we can do: I'm a fan of the six hour day, which I think is a way to get rid of the problem with part-time jobs, which is common in many professions with mostly women. For example, if you are working in a store or in cleaning; part-time is almost the norm. This is a huge problem, because if women don’t have economic independence, they aren’t free either! Economic independence is essential for women's liberation. Wage equality has been at a standstill since the 90's, I think the pay gap only has decreased by 1% since 1995... Women are still only earning around 87 NOK for every 100 NOK a man makes, and nothing has been done to change it! There is a lack of political will, it is about traditional women's jobs having a lower status than traditional men’s jobs. In addition, men have to take on a bigger role at home - I think we need different welfare measures, for example when it comes to parental leave… We need a better family policy! Everything is connected, there are many things that need to be done.
What’s your advice to women who want to make an idea become reality, whether it's to start a political party or a business, or just engage in something they have a passion for?
The most important thing for me was that I had a very good network in several circles when I started FI. I knew women in all kinds of organizations that would be interested in such an initiative. It takes a while to get such a large network, and you just have to dare to use it! You might worry that you’re pestering someone or being a nag or stuff like that ... But the best thing you can do is actually to nag sometimes: motivate others and make them believe in themselves and get up! For example, there are many in FI who haven’t been active in parties before, and saying "you can do it!" can actually make them want to join panel debates, hold appeals and write opinion pieces, as these are things you might have a high threshold for doing without encouragement.
In building an organization or a party, it is also very important to take action as soon as something happens! That’s what the Women’s Front did with the Hemsedal case: there was so much dissatisfaction everywhere, and a need to somehow channel what many women felt: the incredible injustice women experience when they have been raped. To have this demonstration nationally became a gathering place, and the result was that we got over 150 more members, because many women saw the benefit of being part of an organization.
Other than that, I'm not very fond of the "believe in yourself and you can do anything!" catchphrase, but if you as a woman want to start a business, but think it’s going to be too difficult, the most important thing is to politicize your own life a little: why do I feel this way, compared to a man who might be less qualified for the job? Because that's how we are socialized, the world tells us that women should be quiet and caring and taking care of others, and not necessarily leading the way themselves. We’re taught to stay in the background. When you realize that the system is like that, you just have to politicize the situation, say “fuck that!”, and do it anyway!
*Editor’s note: the Hemsedal case was a high publicity rape case in Norway in 2016, where three men were on trial for drugging and raping a young woman. The men were not convicted for rape, and many questioned if this was due to prejudice against women in rape cases.