This article appeared in the Norwegian daily newspaper Dagbladet on November 30, 2005. I translated it into English for the Norseman.
“I wish I were a virgin. But it’s too late now.”
In multicultural Norway, Norwegian girls are learning new values from their Muslim classmates.
By Astrid Meland
“I never wear thin summer dresses or miniskirts, and I don’t show my navel as it’s modern to do now. I try to look decent in a Muslim way because I know what Muslim boys and girls think.”
The girl who is speaking is an ethnic Norwegian girl who goes to a school on the east side of Oslo. At the school, ethnic Norwegians are in a clear minority. And the ethnic Norwegian girls have begun to reject the Norwegian ideals of equality and tolerance in favor of honor.
“I wish I were a virgin,” says another Norwegian girl. “But it’s too late now. In my next life I want to be a Muslim and behave like a Pakistani girl. Maybe they’ll respect me more.”
In Oslo schools, burka and Britney have become the extremes. Norwegian students, especially girls, have adapted to Eastern ways of thinking. During recess and after school, the girls conduct themselves in accordance with the immigrant groups’ honor codes to avoid bad reputations.
noticed that some Norwegian girls had a Pakistani complex,” says social
anthropologist Inger-Lise Lien, who from 1999 to 2002 did field work in
east Oslo schools where ethnic Norwegians were a minority. “They
were obsessed with ideals of chastity. During this period it was common to
show your belly, but these girls didn’t do that. They were obsessed
with covering themselves. They went around dressed in the least
challenging way possible.
girls were traditionalized and corrected,” Lien says. “In the
multicultural community, the woman’s role is under attack. Old
feudal ideals are back…. Some struggles are having to be
refought. In another context where a Norwegian girl had kissed a
boy, she wouldn’t be judged to be a whore.”
the Oslo schools Lien visited, many of the girls faced a dilemma.
They lived between the labels whore and madonna, were torn
between two ideals. On the one hand was the sexualized Britney
Spears girl, on the other the girl who is covered up in a hijab. So
as not to stand out, some Norwegian girls leaned toward
was a pattern I saw among Norwegian girls,” says Lien. “But they
were also ambivalent. They had boyfriends, and some of them had had sex.
At the same time, they wished they were more chaste. They identified with
Muslim values, but they had a two-way stand. They felt that the
Pakistani girls with hijab were too chaste. Yet they were glad they
themselves were decent.”
new book, New Sexualities, sociology professor Willy
Pedersen brings together many of Lien’s results. This comprehensive
study of young people’s sexuality during the last ten years concludes that
minorities’ sexual patterns are influencing ethnic Norwegians’
sexuality. Norwegian young people, too, are behaving in accordance
with the new value norms. In some places, the idea of equal rights
is coming under pressure.
Pedersen writes that minority boys, mostly Muslims, are not
much influenced by their religion, while the girls are. Muslim girls
interviewed by Pedersen had not had sex, while Muslim boys were likely to
have had many partners. The girls they choose as partners are, by
necessity, Norwegian, but these girls are not marriage material.
“Hamaz,” who is Norwegian-Pakistani, says he wants to marry a girl
brought over from Pakistan: “The chance is much greater that they’re
virgins…When your body has been here and there, you’re cheap.”
discovered that the Norwegian boys at the Oslo schools were the least
popular among the girls. They were viewed as cowards because they
avoided conflicts. They didn’t fight to protect girls’ honor and
were seen as unmanly. The Somali boys were the most popular, because
they did fight. Norwegian boys told Lien that they had to go to
other parts of Oslo to find girls who were attracted to them. They
criticized the foreign boys for being obsessed with honor, and saw the
girls as their equals, not as people who had to be controlled.
the girls there were other ways to be popular. The Pakistani girls
attained respect by being unavailable. Many were dressed in Muslim
fashion, strictly controlled by their parents. At school they were
regarded as pure and chaste. The girls won a good reputation because they
were unobtainable, and the boys who tried to get near these girls risked
being beat up by their brothers.
found out that the Norwegian girls who had begun to draw back said that
they had developed a better reputation. Some Norwegian girls were
envious. “We Norwegians are fit for use as girlfriends, but not good
enough for marriage,” said one Norwegian girl.
of the girls were preoccupied with decency,” says Lien. ”They
compared themselves with Norwegian girls in other places and believed that
if they had gone to school in those places, they would likely have been
more ’whorish.’ They felt that they picked up positive values from
the immigrants, and looked up to their outlook and morality, for example
the fact that they looked after their families and had a sense of
the Oslo schools Lien visited, norms of honor predominated, while the
older norms of equality and tolerance were less in evidence. It was
the teachers in particular who stood for the old values of personal
dignity. But many of the students expressed the opinion that sexual
equality was stupid. A male teacher who said that he had to hurry
home to make dinner for his wife told Lien: “You should have heard
them. They laughed loudly and said they found it totally
unbelievable that I, a man who weighs two hundred pounds, let myself be
dominated by my wife, who is so small. I could easily beat her up,
they said. It was she who should be giving me dinner,
and not the other way around. Then I explained that in Norway we
think differently. That women and men should be equal and be able to
do the same things.”
researcher observed that some of these teachers changed at school because
the honor code was so prevalent. “I saw that some of them tried to
gain respect,” says Lien. “They thought it was good to be feared. It
was an advantage to have a dangerous reputation. Some of the teachers
became very macho.” In the classroom there was also a lot of macho
display. It was hard to get the tough boys to make food in these
classes because they thought it was woman’s work. “If we’re going to talk
about cultural conflicts between our society and others, it centers on the
view of the sexes.”
Løvseth is currently working on her master’s thesis in sociology, in which
she looks at relations between young people in areas where Norwegians are
an ethnic minority. The school where she has done her fieldwork is also in
Oslo. Ten percent of the students are Norwegian; Muslim students from
various countries are the largest group at the school. Løvseth is
still working on the results, and the analysis is not ready.
Nevertheless she recognizes several of the findings from the two
other studies. “The Norwegian students identify in large part with
the foreign majority. They’re obsessed with distancing themselves
from ’the snobs,’ that is, those on the west side of Oslo.”
Løvseth has heard from some of the Norwegian girls that the Norwegian boys are copying the foreign ones. “They say that they’re becoming like them, that they call girls ’whores’ if they wear short skirts,” says Løvseth. “This is the kind of comment the girls get both from the Norwegian and the foreign students. Some Norwegian girls say that they don’t wear skirts so much anymore, and those who still dress in such defiant ways say that they feel somewhat excluded for that reason. Some have learned to overlook the comments. But they also say that they wear skirts less often.”
Translated by Bruce Bawer