Issues in 1912

Homosexuality in 1912

During 1912 there was a process in motion changing the way Swedes viewed homosexuality. Before this time homosexuality was not a concept, it was only a kind of action. During the later part of the 19th century the term “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” had started to be used. In the same moment these terms started to be used sexuality went from an action to becoming an identity. A row of public scandals made the common knowledge of “deviant” sexualities more spread. 1912 the views of homosexuality are torn, some see it is a criminal action, other as something you are born with, a disease that needed treatment. According to Swedish law it was a criminal action that led to up to 2 years of hard labor. It had no segment of its own in the law book but was covered by the same law text that covered beastiality and “Unnatural sexual activities”. The reason for this was a very conscious policy of silence that had been in practice during the 19th century, since it was believed that the knowledge of the existence of homosexual sexual acts might lead people to start to try it out themselves. Instead the approach was to try and keep any mentioning of these kind of sexual activities out of common knowledge. During 1912 this has started to change and there had been some very talked about public cases of homosexuals in the media during the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century. The discourse in Sweden shifted towards viewing homosexuality as a disease. Unlike in other parts of Europe the public discourse was aware of both male and female homosexuality, even if female homosexuality was mostly ignored. The male homosexuality was much more seen as a threat and also was the kind that mostly led to punishment in the court of law. Male homosexuality often led to homosexual men being viewed as feminine and this, to make these people as androgynous and different was a way for society to strongly make the view of gender and sex as something binary. Anything that was not “super manly” or “super female” was different, dangerous and deviant. The warm and sentimental friendship between men that earlier had been completely acceptable was now made dangerous and unacceptable.

Female friendship was, as all friendship in the end of the 19th century much more physical and emotional than we might imagine today. If two close female friends called each other darling, embraced or even kissed each other it would not raise an eyebrow. It was only a natural way for these emotional creatures to express their friendship. This made female homo-erotic relationships less noticable and they often could pass without noticing from the society at large. That upper class women had a sexuality to start with was basically unheard of in society. It was however quite a common thing. For example the movement for women’s right to vote had several examples of homoerotic relationships, and some of them were polyamorous. In a similar way it was not unheard of that women who married a man still had a close female friend in their life that in some instances even accompanied the couple on their honeymoon! How much of these arrangement that was open for everyone involved is hard for researchers to know today, especially when it comes to separate close friendships and romantic relationships. This said, of course there were lesbian couples, and if this was discovered it was seen as something horrible by society. In a famous book by Swedish author August Strindberg one of the main characters is talking about how his wife keep inviting her friends to come and stay with them, and how these female friends then seduce the house maid.

Immigration and Emigration in 1912

During 1912 Sweden was not a country that people moved to but that people moved from. Even if the big wave of emigrants to the States now had started to ebb out there was still an emigration of 3425 people during 1912. The reason for this was that Sweden still was a very poor country with few possibilities for the people in the working class to create a better life for themselves. Still this pattern was slowly starting to shift and during 1912 3115 people moved into Sweden, mostly from the surrounding countries. From Finland 623 people arrived during 1912, mostly it was a question of labor based immigration, since the Finnish migration workers accepted a lower salary than the Swedish counterparts. Because of the many years of immense migration of Swedes to countries like the US the last 40 years there actually was a lack of people to do hard labor in the countryside and in the factories in the still growing cities. The main bulk of the Finnish migrants therefor found employment in the farming communities but about 13% got work as servants in private homes. Over all this meant that more Swedes still migrated than new arrivals could make up for, even if it had started to even out. In Sweden there was a strange mixture of unemployment and lack of work force and many looked down on the foreign workforce migrants that stole the jobs from young Swedes and therefore “forced” them to move abroad to find work.