Fredrik Skavlan, whose Friday night chat show on Swedish and Norwegian television pulls in as many as 3m viewers, was sharply criticised earlier this year for asking swimmer Sarah Sjöström in January whether she had a cleaner, with one critic calling the interview “a sexist train wreck”.
The 51-year-old host hit back at the criticism for the first time on Friday in an interview on entertainment journalist Alex Schulman’s podcast.
“My feeling here is that people in Sweden, I’m sorry to say, are almost obsessed with gender in a way that I am not,” he told Schulman. “What’s important to me is to interview people based on who they are, not based on which gender they have.”
Skavlan pointed out that Sjöström has herself stressed that she had not found the question sexist or bullying.
“She herself is being deprived of the power of self-definition because she feels she has not been violated,” he complained. “Then it becomes a bit like ‘Oh, you poor thing, you do not understand how violated you are’. I'm surprised by that. It's a way to ignore her values.”
Asked about the longstanding criticism that he is bad at interviewing women, Skavlan defended himself.
“What do they mean by 'women',” he asked. “Are you talking about Emma Thompson, Malala or Sarah Sjöström. They're just individuals. Should you interview them in some special way? In my book, you shouldn't.”
The Skavlan chatshow is broadcast in Sweden, Norway and Finland, and is frequently shot in London. When English-speaking guests are interviewed, which is often the entire studio discussion switches to English, with Swedish and Norwegian celebrities engaging in English repartee.
When Fredrik Skavlan interviews Swedish-speaking celebrities, he speaks in his native Norwegian, and they reply in Swedish, underlining the close similarity of the two languages.
By pooling audiences in three Scandinavian countries, Skavlan has managed to secure interviews with some of the biggest international politicians, including former US President Bill Clinton, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, pop stars such as Bruno Mars, Kanye West and Taylor Swift, and writers such as Malcolm Gladwell, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Paul Auster.
Although Skavlan said he struggled to see why his Sjöström interview had generated such outrage, he admitted that there had been a “blokey atmosphere” in the studio, with the swimmer coming on alongside two male guests.