Mmm… POWER! (2012)

30 days until the election! ⏳ As an election special, I thought I’d pull some gender-fails involving Swedish politicians from my gender archive every other day. And by gender-fail I mean: an image that can be aesthetically skilled, funny and creative, but which (often unconsciously) cements narrow gender roles – for example by diminishing the authority of female politicians, and the humanity of male ones.

First up: the magazine Vi’s cover depicting former party leaders Maria Wetterstrand, Gudrun Schyman and Mona Sahlin cuddling under a royal robe.

Former party leaders in Sweden, or BFF:s sharing an apartment? Photo: Thron Ullberg

I’m finding at least five fails:

1. The picture! 🤯 It’s completely unthinkable that three male former party leaders – for example Fredrik Reinfeldt, Jan Björklund and Göran Hägglund – would be asked to pose tightly curled up under an overgrown masquerade cloak.

2. The heading. “Mmm… POWER! How good did it really taste?” Alludes to a certain classic advertising slogan for chocolate (“Mmm… Marabou”). Media researcher Gunilla Jarlbro has written about this cover in her book Gender-conscious journalism:

“Three prominent politicians and the power and influence they actually had during a certain time in Swedish politics are equated here with the ephemeral like eating chocolate.”

Also, the suggestion that they wanted to usurp power for their own gain and pleasure, not that they might have become party leaders because they have political visions and want to change society.

3. The intimacy. The media has a tendency to demand intimacy from female politicians; questions about privacy, mention by first name, warm eye-contact and unreserved body language. While male politicians are usually portrayed with more distance, integrity, coldness and a killer look. (Which I’m not saying is better. Just that it’s a pattern.)

4. The non-rivalry. Men are often portrayed as competitive, women as cooperative. Although MP, F! and S all are on the left side of the scale, they are after all competitors (for our votes). To quote a photographer colleague of mine, who reacted like this to the image:

“They’re standing too close under the mantle, that’s exactly what I’m worried about. They belong to different parties but you might think they’re best friends and kind of share an apartment!”

5. Are Maria Wetterstrand and Mona Sahlin even wearing clothes? Of course, but visually unclear, since they are wrapped from head to toe. One solution would have been to let them have the mantle slung over their shoulders – as monarchs usually do? – power posing underneath. But then the picture wouldn’t be as cute.