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'Peeping Tom mural romanticizes harassment'

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16:33 CET+01:00
A 14-year-old student in northern Sweden who complained that her school's restroom art "romanticized peeping" and was sexist has won a partial victory as the principal agreed to remove it. Astrid Johansson is The Local's Swede of the Week.

Johansson made headlines earlier this week after an art project by ninth graders at the Tunaskolan school in Luleå ended up ruffling her feathers.

A door mural showed the customary his n' hers stick figures on the men's and ladies' rooms in a compromising situation – the male figure was latched onto the top of a dividing wall, allowing him to peep down on the female figure below.

“Women are always objectified,” Johansson told the regional Norrländska Socialdemokraten (NSD) newspaper this week.

“She's this thing that should be looked at. And that's the message they're projecting in a school with a lot of young children,” said Johansson about the installation at the school, where fourth to ninth graders study.

"And no one reacts when you point this out because there is so much sexism in everyday life."

Johansson had mulled over her upset feelings for several days before publicizing her critique in a Facebook post. At first there wasn't much feedback.

Yet, people eventually did react. Not only did Johansson hear rumours that several students were considering confronting her, without ever doing it in person, but the school's art teacher decided to survey the other children about how they felt about the picture.

“Ninety-nine percent of students don't find this picture offensive and don't want it removed,” a note entitled “pupil democracy” and posted near the restroom door read.

The principal, meanwhile, commented to NSD that she chose to interpret the artwork “with humour”.

And thus the fracas seemed to die down, until social media users and the national press caught whiff of the story.

Several heavyweight commentators lined up to defend and applaud the 14-year-old for standing up against her blazé peers, the morally relativistic art teacher and the “fun-loving” principal.

”What's more upsetting than the provocative mural is how the school reacted to her criticism and how they treated Astrid,” wrote journalist Malin Michea in the Sourze.se online magazine about the bullying that ensued.

Alongside the “pupil democracy” note, several printouts of negative online reactions to Johansson's discontent were posted by the mural:

“How can you feel violated by this? How is that psychologically possible? Don't people have real problems in their lives?” read one of the printouts.

Johansson says that even some of the teachers giggled behind her back.

“No one has talked to me about it,” she told Michea. “Neither the staff nor other students. They're just silent.”

The school did respond, however, online in a written statement.

"We have chosen not to give voice to any value judgements in the debate that our mural has caused."

Commentator Malin Michea was not impressed by the school's official line of reasoning:

"In a society inundated with sexist stereotypes... the school shouldn't hesitate to promote values of equality and justice and not accept a picture that trivializes sexual crimes," she wrote.

Finally, on Thursday, news broke that the principal had ordered the removal of the mural.

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And Johansson herself has underlined that she thinks the school skirting responsibility is unacceptable, because the teachers are there to teach the students about right and wrong.

She welcomed the mural's removal but said that the principal, Agneta Hedenström, still didn't seem to understand the problem.

“I don't feel like they've taken the criticism on board,” Johansson told the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

“They have to admit to being wrong and they need to shape up.”

The Local/at

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RELATED: A list of The Local's past Swedes of the Week

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