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‘Instagram slut shaming riot was healthy’

Swedish journalist and lecturer Sofia Mirjamsdotter thinks the Instagram riot says little about the modern age, and everything about ancient structures of bullying and sexual hypocrisy. But it could also herald change.

'Instagram slut shaming riot was healthy'

When I was a teenager in the 80s, it was common to find sexist graffiti in the bathrooms at my schools. It wasn’t rare to find that someone had called a girl a whore or a slut. Or that people left comments about their appearance for all to see.

As I recall, none of the adults ever commented on these public messages left on the school walls. I can’t remember a single teacher addressing the content of the scribbles, nor discuss what they said about dignity and respect and how we treat each other.

What I did sometimes hear was a mumbled complaint about the graffiti per se, the actual act of vandalism, and whether that was acceptable.

The content, however, never came up. It didn’t matter if the pencil marks spelled out insults or cuss words, or whether they instead formed a sketched outline of a heart containing the name of a loved one.

I was reminded of all this when local Gothenburg politician Robert Hammarstrand asked, in the wake of the Instagram ‘slut shaming’ riot, if the schools in Sweden’s second biggest city ever discuss values with their pupils?

Because what happened in Gothenburg isn’t a story about Instagram. It isn’t a story about the internet. It’s the story of how people treat one another.

We’re talking about ancient social structures where a few try to gain popularity by making others feel bad.

This is a story about bullying, which existed long before the internet.

Of course, the internet plays its part. Rumours can spread in the blink of an eye with the internet, in this case setting of a demonstration that turned riotous in part. But let’s remember that the internet is not the cause, it’s a mere tool.

The internet mirrors what is going on in society at large. In a way, the internet helps us to detect, and hopefully to deal with, problems that we never acknowledged before, or that we somehow thought were beyond our control, or some sort of given.

When I was a teenage girl in the 80s, I never once thought to protest those scribbles on the bathroom wall. I never thought to question that someone had scrawled “the school’s biggest boobs” across the dining hall door, with my name written beside it.

It didn’t matter that every time I saw those words I wanted to hide, to hide my breasts.

The riot in Gothenburg is a healthy expression of teenagers refusing to accept that others have the right to name, shame, and abuse them.

Of course, we have to question how they decided to stand up and say it, but protests are in and of themselves good. In this case, they hopefully signal the start of something new.

But in order for it to be the start of something new, us adults cannot fear the internet because that is not the underlying problem – dignity and respect for your fellow human beings, that’s where the key lies.

And we must question ourselves and how we, even as adults, address each other. What signals we are sending to today’s teenagers and to our children.

We won’t achieve that by spinning into a moral panic about the big bad internet.

We need to understand what our youth get up to online but also offline.

And one more thing, and an important thing, to remember….

To turn around and point our fingers accusingly at young girls and tell them not to upload “provocative” pictures of themselves is not helpful. It is the equivalent of telling a rape victim that she has herself to blame because she wore a short skirt.

The solution is not to ask our teenagers to adapt to the rules of the games written by their abusers, the solution is to change the rules of the games by questioning the abusers’ values.

Sofia Mirjamsdotter

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SWEDISH HISTORY

Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s ‘Little London’?

With ties to Britain dating back more than 200 years, the city of Gothenburg has long been known as Sweden’s Little London.

Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s 'Little London'?

Grey skies, rainy days, a wide-mouthed river, and a love for English pubs. At first glance, it’s no wonder that Gothenburg has long held the nickname of Sweden’s own “Little London”, or Lilla London

But what are the origins of this British title?

“The nickname ‘Little London’ was first used in a newspaper in 1766,” explains Håkan Strömberg, educational officer at the Museum of Gothenburg.

“The Brits were the largest immigration group during the 1700s and early 1800s, mainly because Sweden was a country close by, it was economically underdeveloped compared to England and Scotland and had a lot of raw materials. To put it simply, could make some money here.”

The city’s reputation as a British enclave dates back to the 1700s when trade brought many foreign influences to the Västra Götaland region.

As merchants and shipbuilders like Charles Chapman, David Carnegie, and James Dickson moved to the area, local residents began to notice a growing list of similarities between the Swedish port city and the British capital.

Indeed, even one of Sweden’s most renowned scientists, Carl Von Linné, is said to have commented on the similarities between the two cities when he visited Gothenburg in the 1700s.

 “Being a group of upper-class immigrants, the British merchants made sure they had access to all the good things from their home country. But the feeling of Gothenburg as a Little London was most likely something the Swedish citizens had, rather than the Brits,” adds Strömberg. 

The historical roots that connect the UK and Gothenburg are still evident today, with many spots in the city still alluding to British names, like Chalmers University – founded by the son of a wealthy Scottish industrialist, or Chapmans Torgnamed after a family of sailors and shipbuilders once well-established in the area. 

Catriona Chaplin, a British expat turned Gothenburger, only began to see the similarities and know of the nickname after relocating to the region for work. Growing up in Leicestershire, central England, she’d never heard of London’s Swedish sibling city.

“We came to Gothenburg 17 years ago. We’d never heard about [the nickname] until we moved here, but there is a bar on Avenyn called Lilla London, so that’s when we started to know about it,” she says.

Today, as the membership secretary of the British Club of Gothenburg, she brings a taste of the British Isles to life in Gothenburg.

The Club, which organises social events like concerts, quiz nights, and theatre performances, has a membership base of nearly 200 families. And although less than 0.5 percent of Gothenburg’s population today was born in the UK, the club welcomes members from a range of nationalities.

In fact, the only membership requirement is having some kind of interest in the UK, be it from a cultural standpoint, a past tourist experience, or a love of the language. 

“People come to the British Club just to socialise in their native language. It’s also about the culture, like the banter, the jokes and playing on words,” she says. 

Although the city’s British roots run deep, questions remain about modern-day Gothenburg’s status as “Little London”.

To some, the west-coast maritime hub’s industrial legacy, strong working-class culture, and amiable nature are reminiscent of a different English city. “They ought to call it ‘Little Liverpool’!” says Chaplin, with a smile. 

Lasting Landmarks

Evidence of Gothenburg’s British connections can be found in many of its landmarks, shops, and of course, pubs. Some of the historical hotspots still apparent today include:

Haga – The British ‘hood 

The area of Haga, just outside the old city, was once considered a slum, but changed character thanks to British philanthropist Robert Dickson (1782-1858), who built public baths, a library, and other landmarks with the typical red bricks found in Britain at the time.

St Andrew’s Church 

A key part of the British community is the Anglican church of Saint Andrew’s, also in Haga. Dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland, it was built and to date funded by ‘The British Factory’, a British society founded in the 1700s to help expats in Gothenburg that remains active even today.

The Victorian gothic style of the church is in line with the architectural trend in Britain at the time. 

John Scott – a legend among Gothenburgers

One of Gothenburg’s most well-loved establishments is John Scott’s, a local pub chain named after Pastor John Henry Scott, an Englishman and prominent landowner in 18th century Gothenburg. 

The “English quarter”

The square of buildings delineated by Teatergatan, Storgatan, Kungsportsavenyn and Vasagatan was once known as the city’s English Quarter. The buildings in this neighbourhood are influenced by British design, and the original landowners were in fact English pastor John Henry Scott and his wife, Jacobina.

By Alexander Maxia, Lisa Ostrowski and Sanna Sailer

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