Kjønnrollebytte hos Ibsen

Tarantella, a popu­lar dan­ce in 1879

(After an intro­duc­tion in Norwegian, the article in English follows.)

Hvordan vil­le det sett ut om Nora var en mann? Jeg ten­ker på Nora i Ibsens skue­spill Et dukke­hjem, som har gått sin sei­ers­gang over ver­den som sym­bol på det moder­ne kvinne­opp­rør. Verden har imid­ler­tid end­ret seg siden urpre­mie­ren i 1879 og mulig­he­ten for å se styk­ket fra mot­satt kjønns­ret­ning er blant de spørs­mål som drøf­tes i den­ne artik­ke­len. Samtidig dis­ku­te­res Hedda Gabler, en annen Ibsen-skik­kel­se. Gir hun et mer rele­vant bil­de av dagens kvin­ne? Jeg tar utgangs­punkt i Ibsens fram­stil­ling av de to kvin­ne­ne og dess­uten doku­men­tar­se­ri­en Ibsens dra­ma­tis­ke kvin­ner vist i NRK nylig. For å kun­ne nå fle­re, er artik­ke­len skre­vet på engelsk , men jeg håper vårt nors­ke pub­li­kum også vil ha inter­es­se av å lese den.

Renewing Ibsen’s Gender Roles

In this coun­try Nora is more famous than Ibsen him­self, the pro­fes­sor of Nanjing University in China, He Chengzhou, said when inter­viewed by The Norwegian Broadcast Corporation (NRK) recent­ly. Nora is known as the Ibsen cha­rac­ter embo­dy­ing the arche­type modern woman dis­pos­ing of her oppres­si­ve chains. She is the pro­ta­go­nist in Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House which was first shown in 1879. Is The Dolls’s House, how­e­ver, a rele­vant play on gen­der roles to-day? Yes, pro­bab­ly in cer­tain non-Western areas of the world. But in our part of the world? My answer is yes, but my full answer might sur­pri­se any­way...

The abo­ve men­tio­ned inter­view occurs in a broad­cast ducu­men­ta­ry cal­led Ibsen’s Dramatic Women. Besides Nora, the series pre­sents the cha­rac­ter Hedda Gabler from the Ibsen play named after her. Unike Nora, Hedda is not a cele­brated heroi­ne, rat­her an anti-heroi­ne. In the following I shall pre­sent the two plays and some of the com­ments given in the docu­men­ta­ries, as well as my own view on the cha­rac­ters and their rele­van­ce in con­tem­po­ra­ry socie­ty.

Nora’s altruistic forgery

The plot of A Doll’s House brie­fly goes as follows: Nora and her hus­band Torvald, who is a bank direc­tor, live with their two child­ren in a house in a small city. However Nora has done somet­hing ille­gal in the past. In order to save the life of her hus­band when struck by ill­ness, she once raised money by for­ging her father’s sig­na­tu­re. No one knows about this, and the money has been repaid. But a soli­ci­tor, who works at the bank, has found out about the for­ge­ry. For some rea­son the direc­tor (Torvald) wants to dis­miss this soli­ci­tor, who then black­mails Nora to influ­en­ce her hus­band to wit­hdraw the dis­mis­sal. Nora fails, how­e­ver, to chan­ge her husband’s mind, and the soli­ci­tor reveals her secret to Torvald in a let­ter. Nora per­forms a dan­ce (taran­tel­la) and thus delays Torvald’s ope­ning the let­ter. But ulti­mate­ly Torvald reads the let­ter, and is shocked becau­se of the pro­s­pec­ti­ve pub­lic scan­dal. He wants to break the rela­tion­ship to Nora, but also wants them to stay in the same house and refrain from a for­mal divor­ce thus mini­mi­zing the scan­dal. Now Nora is shocked. She had hoped her hus­band would stand with her in spi­te of the scan­dal. However, a moment later anot­her mes­sa­ge from the soli­ci­tor arri­ves. Due to for­tu­na­te cir­cums­tan­ces he has changed his mind, and will not make the secret pub­lic any­way. Torvald is relie­ved, and expects eve­rything to return to nor­mal. For Nora, how­e­ver, not­hing is like before. She rea­li­ses she has lived a life lead by others, and that she now has to find her own way. With a view to this ambition, Torvald has become an obsta­cle rat­her than a bene­fit. So Nora lea­ves Torvald — and also the child­ren.

A too celebrated rebel?

To-day Nora is not only a success, she is embraced. Or is she rat­her abu­sed? When the play was first shown, it was seen as a scan­dal. To-day, how­e­ver,  the play tours the world on first class. In my opi­nion the­re is somet­hing sus­pi­cious about an allegedly “rebel­lious” play tou­ring the world on first class.

Admittedly some steps have been taken to moder­nize the play. Such as replacing the 19th cen­tury out­fits with today’s. However, this makes me ask even more urgent­ly if the play real­ly is about to-day.

What was par­ti­cu­lar­ly hard to accept for the audien­ce in 1879, was Nora lea­ving her child­ren. This point has also been moder­nized in cer­tain pro­duc­tions, as this sacri­fice now seems qui­te super­fluous. In modern ver­sions Nora lea­ves and takes the child­ren. In one Arabic pro­duc­tion she even does so in spi­te of the law, unlike her Western sis­ters who have not­hing to fear from to-day’s law on this point. The Norwegian direc­tor Terje Mærli, who is inter­viewed in the broad­cast docu­men­ta­ry, alert­ly points out that to-day it is actual­ly men who end up loo­s­ing their child­ren when a mar­riage bre­aks.

By a pro­duc­tion in 2003 the German direc­tor Thomas Ostermeier wan­ted to stir up the end of the play in order to achie­ve the sen­se of dra­ma which Nora’s exit ori­gi­nal­ly did. He gave Nora a gun. In the last sce­ne from a van­ta­ge position she kills her hus­band with seve­r­al shots in a row. Undoubtedly dra­ma­tic, but what’s the point? One may sus­pect this hyper-dra­ma­ti­zing covers up an under­ly­ing uncer­tain­ty as to whether the play is still rele­vant. Or could this con­spi­cuous kil­ling be inten­ded to open men’s eyes?

A human’s got to do what a human’s got to do

A Doll’s House could be a dated play on gen­der jus­tice in our part of the world. However, some com­men­ta­tors, e.g. the respec­ted actress Lise Fjeldstad (having play­ed Nora, of cour­se),  when inter­viewed by NRK refers to Nora as a human being rat­her than spec­i­fi­cal­ly as a woman. The play could be about somet­hing more gene­ral than women’s libe­ra­tion.

In this per­s­pec­ti­ve Nora’s dis­covery of her respon­s­i­bi­li­ty towards her­self may be impor­tant. This point is part of her final argu­ment with Torvald. Nora ranks this respon­s­i­bi­li­ty over any other. The con­tent of a con­tem­po­ra­ry person’s respon­s­i­bi­li­ty towards her/himself may, how­e­ver, be qui­te dif­fe­rent from Nora’s in 1879.

What is counte­red by Nora in Ibsen’s play, when adhe­ring to the dee­pest respon­s­i­bi­li­ty (the respon­s­i­bi­li­ty towards yours­elf) is soci­al con­ven­tion. This is whe­re Torvald fails com­plete­ly. So the play, in my opi­nion, can also be seen as put­ting mar­riage and the accom­pany­ing love before soci­al con­ven­tion.

Social con­ven­tion can have an open aspect and a covert aspect. Some con­ven­tions are out­spo­ken such as refrai­ning from adulte­ry and being a dut­i­ful citizen on election day. Other con­ven­tions are, how­e­ver, not out­spo­ken, nor are they direct­ly pro­moted or defen­ded by any­body as norms, but still they are adhe­red to and sanc­tio­ned if bro­ken. What we call poli­ti­cal cor­rect­ness would be an examp­le of covert con­ven­tions.

The other spouse’s choice

In the pro­duc­tions of A Doll’s house which I have seen, Torvald’s fai­lu­re seems ine­vi­tab­le. In fact, Nora is the only one who is sur­prised when he sticks to con­ven­tion. We, the audien­ce, are not. However, I would love to see a pro­duc­tion whe­re also Torvald’s choi­ce occurs as a choi­ce, and not as ine­vi­tab­le and embed­ded in his per­son in before­hand.

I belie­ve mar­riage is basi­cal­ly co-living and inclu­des co-choo­s­ing. Marriage is in my opi­nion under­es­ti­mated as a an are­na whe­re peop­le con­ti­nuous­ly crea­te, and, from time to time, re-crea­te, them­sel­ves and each other. Also when a mar­riage ends in divor­ce, the par­ti­ci­pants are sustai­ned or changed in the accom­pany­ing process, for good and for bad.

A woman killer ...

Turning to the play Hedda Gabler, the pro­ta­go­nist Hedda is a com­plex per­so­na­li­ty. But she com­mits evil acts that are cle­ar enough as evil acts.

Hedda is mar­ried to a pro­fes­sor named Jørgen Tesmann. Hedda mar­ried this man for safety rat­her than for love, and she is qui­te unsa­tis­fied. Their fri­ends Ejlert Løvborg and Thea Elvsted, how­e­ver, have a fer­ti­le rela­tion. Thea inspi­res and helps Ejlert to wri­te a book manus­cript, which when finis­hed seems very promi­sing. Hedda is envious. She also have rea­son to fear that Ejlert may out­race her hus­band to have a position as a pro­fes­sor, which she and he have ban­ked on him get­ting. Hedda lures Ejlert to get so drunk he loo­ses the manus­cript. Hedda gets hold of the manus­cript and burns it. I now burn Ejlert’s and Thea’s child, she says. When Ejlert rea­lizes his manus­cript is lost, Hedda gives him a gun sug­ge­s­ting he makes an hono­rab­le exit to life. Ejlert takes the gun, lea­ves, and not much later he is found in a brot­hel ble­e­ding from a wound cau­sed by Hedda’s gun, and dying. When Tesmann and Thea learn that Ejlert is dead, they start recon­struc­ting the lost manus­cript based on Thea’s notes. Hedda then sees that good­ness is not wiped out in spi­te of her effort. She also falls under the con­trol of a man, a jud­ge by pro­fes­sion, who knows about her involve­ment in Ejlerts death and black­mails her to be his mis­tress. She is a fai­lu­re in abso­lute­ly eve­ry sen­se. Logically she kills her­self.

... is an individual killer?

Unlike Nora, who is seen as a repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of women all over the world, Hedda Gabler is seen as strict­ly indi­vi­du­al by NRK’s broad­cast docu­men­ta­ry. Only one women could do like her.

But is that real­ly so? Women mar­ry­ing for safety rat­her than for love is a well known pat­tern. Certain gen­der theorists have sug­ge­sted that women to-day relate to govern­ment as a sub­sti­tute hus­band. The govern­ment of Norway is a well off, safe, but somewhat pre­dictab­le and boring “hus­band”, who exact­ly fits the descrip­tion of Jørgen Tesmann.

If the­re is an arche­type or col­lecti­ve Hedda out the­re, we should look out for her vicious acts. We should be awa­re of her envious desire to inter­fe­re in fruit­ful rela­tions betwe­en men and women. Moreover we should be awa­re of the pos­sib­le col­lecti­ve Hedda’s influx on men. Isn’t exact­ly kil­ling their own mas­cu­li­ni­ty what men for the time being are sedu­ced to do? Firmness, seclu­si­ve­ness, and even strength are to-day dis­coura­ged rat­her than encoura­ged. Ejlert Løvborg died ble­e­ding from a wound — in his abdo­men.

Nora representing men

Above I have sug­ge­sted that Nora seen as a human reveals some aspects of her devel­op­ment that may be rele­vant to-day and just as rele­vant to men as to women. However, one could chal­len­ge the gen­der aspect of Ibsen’s play even more radi­cal­ly by asking if Nora in the 21st cen­tury could be seen as repre­sen­ting men rat­her than women.

Soccer, a popu­lar sport in 2011

We can ela­bo­rate on this sugge­stion by rever­ting to the gen­der aspect of A Doll’s House and look for traits in Nora’s life that may seem rele­vant for men to-day. In 1879 Nora was caged up in a com­for­tab­le house whe­re eve­rything indi­cated hap­pi­ness. She was, how­e­ver, not her­self. And by her own words she was not happy, just mer­ry. Can we find simi­lar gol­den cages lock­ing up men in to-day’s socie­ty?

I think we can. Nora’s femi­ni­ni­ty was i 1879 not honored and used proper­ly (nor was her mas­cu­li­ni­ty). Rather it was used just in part, and con­fined to pri­va­te life. To the extent that a women’s efforts were actual­ly apprecia­ted, it may have been for it’s orna­men­tal effect rat­her than in a serious man­ner. In our own time — what is the position of say an inven­ti­ve and hard-wor­king engi­neer in Norway to-day? I would sug­gest he is fai­r­ly well off, but also sort of cut off, wor­king in a black box, so to speak. And are not the results of his work taken for gran­ted? His achieve­ments is not honoured and not seen as repre­sen­ting his gen­der and it’s mas­cu­li­ne values like clarity and con­trol.

I would also add that mas­cu­li­ni­ty may be honored, even worship­ped, if dis­play­ed in are­nas that are not real­ly impor­tant. Sports would be a com­pre­hen­si­ve examp­le. Great effort and great results are apprecia­ted when dis­play­ed in the Olympics as well as e.g. in the open Norwegian mass race Birkebeiner’n. Masculinity is cele­brated as long as it is enter­tain­ment! Moving on to a third examp­le, lea­dership can be seen as a mas­cu­li­ne task (how­e­ver, like most other aspects of masculinity/femininity it can be car­ried also by the non-typi­cal gen­der). I will sug­gest that in Norway lea­dership appears “allow­ed” rat­her than wan­ted, and any lea­der shall regu­lar­ly have to express some humi­li­ty remin­ding others and him/herself that he/she may well be the lea­der, but he/she is not neces­sa­ri­ly the boss. To a cer­tain extent this may be valid also to other western countries. One might ask furt­her if our socie­ty requi­res more humi­li­ty from male than from female lea­ders.

Last, but not least, Nora’s sacri­fi­cing her child­ren does not much resem­ble women i Norway and in the West in 2011, as alre­ady pointed out, whe­reas ris­king loss of child­ren to-day is part of men’s con­dition.

Nora representing fathers

Nora can be seen as aban­do­ning her child­ren becau­se she rea­lizes she can­not be the parent she should be. This is sug­ge­sted by Lise Fjeldstad in the broad­cast docu­men­ta­ry on Nora, and may be explai­ned by Nora having lived a life lead by others. Nora is imma­tu­re, how­e­ver she is matu­re enough to take respon­s­i­bi­li­ty for her imma­turity, and thus lea­ve.

Also the cir­cums­tan­ces under which Nora even­tual­ly would have to car­ry out her parent­hood, could be a pro­blem. I will sug­gest some men in the 21st cen­tury are facing a simi­lar situa­tion. After a divor­ce, and pos­sibly a child custody tri­al, a man may find he can­not be the parent he should be. Also in his case the devel­op­ment or maturity as a care­ta­ker might be a pro­blem, how­e­ver the soci­al and legal precon­ditions for exer­ci­sing his parent­hood would most cer­tain­ly be a pro­blem. Child custody tri­als deal with power and aut­hority. Unequal dis­tri­bu­tion is con­side­red best for the child. One of the parents, usu­al­ly the man, is rende­red a position so weak that the other parent can feel safe­ly pre­do­mi­nant. Should, and could, a man face his child­ren as a parent he does not belie­ve in him­self? Like for Nora in 1879, how­e­ver, exit pro­vo­kes soci­al reac­tion.

I think men could con­si­der revol­ting against a few things. Rewriting Ibsen’s Doll’s House inver­ting the gen­der aspect could be an inter­e­s­ting pro­ject! Perhaps the first show of such a ver­sion would also turn out a scan­dal. The form of a scan­dal, how­e­ver, may also have changed sin­ce 1879. In the nine­te­en­th cen­tury breaking fami­ly con­ven­tio­na­li­ty was condemned as scan­dalous. In the libe­ral socie­ty of the 21st cen­tury breaking soci­al con­ven­tion is rat­her ignored. A post­mo­dern scan­dal is silent rat­her than loud.

The man Nora does not represent

There is a type of fat­her­hood, or rat­her a stra­te­gy, which is spec­i­fic to men. In natu­re this is known as the exten­si­ve male bre­e­ding pat­tern. By some spec­ies only a few of the males make it to have off­spring. Other spec­ies con­sti­tute coup­les and are mono­gamous. The for­mer con­sti­tu­tes the exten­si­ve male bre­e­ding pat­tern and the lat­ter the oppo­si­te inten­si­ve pat­tern. Humans are by natu­re somewhe­re betwe­en the two extre­mes, how­e­ver may tend in both direc­tions (See e. g. Livets dans — Dance of Life, 2004, by Bjørn Vassnes, Norwegian scien­ce jour­na­list). The two stra­te­gic options for men are A) Having many child­ren for whom you lea­ve the upbrin­ging most­ly to the mot­hers (exten­si­ve) or B) Having fewer child­ren by whom you con­tri­bute more to the upbrin­ging (inten­si­ve). The com­plex­ity regar­ding stra­te­gies and tenden­cies among humans increa­ses when you also take into account women’s options.

Obviously our culture’s answer to this has been making the inten­si­ve pat­tern pre­do­mi­nant by devel­o­ping mono­ga­my. Our instincts are, how­e­ver, mixed. The mix can be found as an ambi­guity in an indi­vi­du­al man, but can also be found as a dis­tri­bu­tion of men to pre­do­mi­nant­ly inten­si­ve and pre­do­mi­nant­ly exten­si­ve types. In spi­te of espou­sed mono­ga­my both types are known in our cul­tu­re.

Returning to A Doll’s House, aban­do­ning your child­ren is not neces­sa­ri­ly a loss, but rat­her what you would pre­fer any­way, if you are the exten­si­ve type.  The pre­va­lence of the exten­sive type of man in our cul­ture adds some com­plex­ity to the gen­der-poli­­ti­­cal situa­tion. The poli­ti­cal claim of men regar­ding child­ren and gen­der equa­lity in parent­hood would be a more straight­for­ward case if the­re was no gen­der skew­ness as regards  poly­gamous beha­viour.


(Noralf would in Norwegian be male for Nora.) In any case I think men should take over A Doll’s House as a dra­ma on gen­der jus­tice. For a new ver­sion with the inverted gen­der per­s­pec­ti­ve to be trustwort­hy, how­e­ver, not only the mono­gamous type of man, but also the exten­si­ve type should be inclu­ded among the cha­rac­ters and inte­gra­ted into the story. What about making an inverted ver­sion with “Noralf” (mono­gamous) and Noralf’s brot­her (poly­gamous) as pro­ta­go­nists?

And what could be done to moder­nize Hedda Gabler? I would sug­gest a ver­sion in which Hedda does not occur as excep­tio­nal, but rat­her as repre­sen­ting somet­hing gene­ral­ly female.  This might be a mat­ter of arti­s­tic inter­pre­ta­tion (sta­ging) rat­her than rewri­ting.

Les også: Snørr, tårer og myke hen­der

Legg igjen en kommentar

Din e-postadresse vil ikke bli publisert. Obligatoriske felt er merket med *

Dette nettstedet bruker Akismet for å redusere spam. Lær om hvordan dine kommentar-data prosesseres.