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The Last Things Birgitta Stenberg Told Me

"If there's something a woman should do, it's to hiss at men".

Birgitta Stenberg. Photo by Elisabeth Ohlsson Wallin

Almost a week ago, on August 23, acclaimed feminist author Birgitta Stenberg passed away. To many Swedes her death marks a shift in a generation of proud feminists, myself included. Birgitta wrote tons of feminist books and was famous for distancing herself from traditional ideas of relationships and gender roles. She was one of Sweden's most iconic and prominent female writers, who I personally looked up to and was inspired by. She never under any circumstances shut her mouth, and wasn't afraid of sharing her opinions with anyone.


She was in short, a really cool lady.

Last week her wife Kerstin Bjärkstedt announced Birgitta's last words: ”Nu är det här och ALLES IST GUT”. That's Swedish and German and means, "It is here now and EVERYTHING IS GOOD". Even the very last words on her lips were awesome (and now I want to get a tattoo).

I had my only conversation with her almost two years ago, in November 2012, when Swedish Princess Madeleine and her American boyfriend, Chris O’Neill, announced that they were getting married. Following their announcement, the constant feminist debate in Sweden took an unexpected turn. Because, in the very end of the couple's announcement video, Madeleine giggles out a tiny, almost indistinct, “tihi”. Immediately, the internet went crazy. Naturally, the "tihi"-debate – which instantly turned silly – disappeared pretty quickly. Phew.

But thinking about Birgitta's passing, I remembered that one of the most prominent of critical voices in #tihigate came from her. At the time, I got in touch with Birgitta to get to the bottom of the "debate" (and obviously because I wanted to have an excuse to speak with a hero). Her opinions turned out to be more profound than what people seemed to be thinking.

Here are the things she told me – published as a tiny attempt to honour her life and work: VICE: Hello, Birgitta! Why have you become such an important voice regarding Princess Madeleine's "tihi?"
Birgitta Stenberg: Ha ha. I don't really care about her "tihi" in particular. OK. I read several articles saying that you "raged about Madeleine's tihi".
Well, people have completely misunderstood my point. I'm concerned about all girls and women, adult women. When they appear on radio and TV, and are asked about their names, they giggle! If their name is Kajsa Larsson for instance, they say: "My name is Kajsa Larsson, tihihihi." Tihihi. What is it that makes you so concerned about that?
That makes me wonder if they know what they are doing when they do that. Because it becomes a sign that they are at someone's service. As if they want to make the world nice for the person talking to them. And doing that at men you don't know, for example, is absurd. They don't want you anything good. Men have the power in society and if they wanted the good for women, they would have made sure that our wages became equal a long time ago. Men feel comfortable having women a step below them, and women giggle at that? That makes me crazy. I feel a bit embarrassed now because I just giggled. This is only a problem when women giggle in the company of men, right?
Yes and no. When girls say their names, they giggle! "Tihihi." As for Princess Madeleine's "tihi," I mean it's a strange thing to say and do after announcing an engagement, isn't it? So I was asked if I believe that the princess will continue to do that. And yes, I'm sure she will continue because she has probably been taught through TV and radio that this is the way girls do. In what way has women's giggling become a matter of politics?
It's because women want to be nice and honey-tongued and show that they are nice people. And you should obviously not do that in this patriarch order of society that we are living in. If there's something a woman should do, it's to hiss at men. They should tell men in power that they want equal wages! And if men we're the slightest interested in giving us that, they would had sorted it out already. But they haven't, so women shouldn't stand around and be cute about it. So the bottom line of "tihi" is really that girls should stop acting cute around men?
Absolutely. If there's no other reason to giggle except for the fact that they are women. I giggle a lot, but I consider that to be something I do because I'm positive rather than acting cute.
Well, it's an attitude. And why should you have that kind of attitude towards people you don't know and towards people of the sex that makes sure you are below them? Men don't go around giggle. You're probably right about that. So what you really wanted to underline in this tihi-storm is that girls should stop giggling unless there's actually something funny to giggle about?
Exactly. We've come far in the fight for women's right, but not as far as we could have. We are at least moving forward. This is an old pattern, a habit showing that you are nice, willing to get married and able to raise his kids, or whatever it is you want to prove. But it's completely unnecessary and I think it should stop. Next time you watch TV, pay attention to girls saying their names. I sure will! Thanks, Birgitta. 



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