Mette-Marit’s role stirs new debate

By embracing a jet-set lifestyle and fondness for the luxury it offers, Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit has shown how Norwegian society in general has become “nouveau riche” at the expense of long-held traditional values. So claims a sociologist and college instructor from Telemark, who was making waves this week for some rather sharp criticism of the former party girl and single mother who will be Norway’s next queen.

Crown Princess Mette-Mette doesn't provide a relevant role model for women in Norway today, according to a Norwegian sociologist. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Crown Princess Mette-Mette doesn’t provide a relevant role model for women in Norway today, according to a Norwegian sociologist. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Hedvig Skonhoft Johannesen appeared on national television Monday night, just before public release on Tuesday of her contribution to an ongoing series of pamphlets being published this year by respected literary firm Aschehoug. One pamphlet is being published each month during 2013 in connection with the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in Norway.

The series, entitled Aschehoug Stemmer (Aschehoug Voices) is being written by 12 women who want to contribute to the public debate. The aim is to provide a public arena for social issues and “what’s happening” among women in 2013, according to Aschehoug. “This isn’t about what it means to be a woman,” writes Aschehoug in presenting the series, “but what women mean.”

Crown Princess Mette-Marit in an official palace portrait. PHOTO: Sølve Sundsbø/Det kongelige hoff

Crown Princess Mette-Marit in an official palace portrait. PHOTO: Sølve Sundsbø/Det kongelige hoff

Johannesen is keen to spark debate over the monarchy and the crown princess as a role model. Johannesen thinks a political discussion over the role of the monarchy in modern Norway has failed to materialize largely because politicians are reluctant to bring it up. An attempt was made just recently, but didn’t get very far.

Johannesen believes Crown Princess Mette-Marit reflects a newly affluent Norway that’s no longer reluctant to flaunt its wealth. By marrying the crown prince, the former Mette-Marit Tjessem-Høiby greatly increased her social status and the couple “views charitable work as important penance, while solidarity, modesty and equality no longer are on the agenda.” Rather like how Norway itself has grown wealthy, increased its status among nations and offered billions in foreign aid over the years while adopting protectionist policies at home.

Mette-Marit, notes Johannesen, is in a unique position as the crown prince’s wife. “Everything she does, says and wears become topics of discussion,” Johannesen contends, examining the crown princess’ role as “an icon, as a woman, as a role model and reflection of the nation she represents.”

The problem, according to Johannesen, is that Crown Princess Mette-Marit isn’t a good role model in traditional Norwegian terms. Rather, claims Johannesen, she seems to revert back to the 1950s, when women rarely had careers of their own, had little financial independence and were meant to bear children.

Sociologist Hedvig Johannesen thinks Mette-Marit had taken on a role more reminiscent of the 1950s than today. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Sociologist Hedvig Skonhoft Johannesen appearing on NRK’s debate program “Aktuelt” Monday night. She thinks Mette-Marit had taken on a role more reminiscent of the 1950s than today. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“Her entire status hinges on her marriage to a prince,” Johannesen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “That’s the sole basis for her leap in class.”

Johannesen criticizes Mette-Marit’s lack of higher education and the role of dependent wife she has taken on. “According to the way she’s portrayed in the media, she’s most concerned with showing strong feelings, wearing glamourous gowns and dealing with children and family,” Johannesen said.

Asked what else a princess should do, Johannesen responded that “in our modern, democratic society, a woman who has married into her position and is preoccupied with children, glamorous clothes and travels around Africa with a Prada handbag on her arm to perform charitable work isn’t a very interesting role model.”

The sociologist went on to say that Mette-Marit’s use of a professional make-up artist during official trips “reinforces the ideal that we women shall be perfect icons and looking good at all times.” Given Mette-Marit’s background and lack of higher education at the time of her marriage, Johannesen suggests public expectations of her role were low, leading to an indifference that may be another reason as to why she hasn’t been the subject of an academic study before.

Carl-Erik Grimstad, a media researcher and former palace official, said Mette-Marit “has gone into the traditional role of a rich man’s wife. She has commitment on the one hand and an expensive bag on the other.” He stresses, though, that her job as a member of the royal family is simply to be an icon, “and you can’t complain about someone for doing their job.”

Johannesen, who earlier has commented on the crown couple’s ever-widening circle of celebrity friends and acquaintances, complains most about the job done by Norwegian media, which “let themselves be directed and edited by the royal family’s strict media strategy.” Grimstad responded that there’s “no tradition in Norway for criticism of the monarchy.” Some media, including newspaper Aftenposten, have vastly reduced their coverage of the royal family. Grimstad noted that such indifference can be both the royal family’s best friend and worst enemy.

Crown Princess Mette-Marit was invited to join Johannesen on NRK’s live debate programs Monday evening, but declined. Officials at the Royal Palace had no comment on Johannesen’s work.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001296245534 Dennis van Vliet

    Hahaha look at Hedvig. A hater if I ever seen one. Leave MM alone!

  • Emily

    Did Hedvig put on some makeup before appearing on the show….. I suspect she did!!! Seriously, there are plenty of other, more serious, womens issues that can be raised. She clearly has been the benifactor of Norwegian affluence if this is her big bugbear!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001296245534 Dennis van Vliet

      hahaha Emily. No you didn’t! Hedvig looks like a clown. On the real how would they get media attention if they didn’t attack MM. Easy target.

  • http://profiles.google.com/kiwi.robbie Robert Cumming

    does she have a role other than breed a heir, travel, look pretty (I don’ think she is) and spend lots of taxpayer money on clothes and accessories. Nice life for someone who really wasn’t going to amount to much.

  • Brian

    This is an unfair attack on the Crown Princess. As a former single mother and partyer who has cleaned up her life and taken on a number of important and difficult charitable initiatives, she is a role model for women not just in Norway but around the world.

    • Charles_Frobisher

      You have got to be kidding! Young girls should look up to people who work hard to make something of themselves, not party bimbos who marry into wealth and then travel the world showing off their Prada bags. How about a female Mark Zuckerberg sometime this century? Oh, but that would involve studying geeky stuff, shock horror.

    • GBCD

      It’s great she cleaned up her life and that she got lucky. I doubt her recovery and change would be long term without the vast amount of resources at the disposal of the prince.

      And until those same resources are given to everyone who needs to get their act together, its a bit obcene to suggest that people who clean up their act will be as “successful” as she is. In fact there are many much more qualified persons- immigrant doctors from Pakistan etc, who do not have the access or means to take on important work- which they would be much more qualified to do- because they cant find real jobs and are reduced to driving taxis around Norway.
      Simply having a royal alight upon an AIDS patient in Africa will not cure them of HIV. Having a qualified bioengineer working in a well funded lab, might.

  • David

    MM is not a hard worker. She enjoys her status, socializing with Hollywood celebrities, shopping and spending, and carries out a few engagements in return for all privileges.

  • GBCD

    Everyone should see Doug Stanhope’s show in oslo where he rips into the monarchy (around minute 10-15 ) and how the logic used to justify the Norwegian monarchy is ridiculous…the magical thinking of the arguments used to sustain the monarchy:

    Basically they dont do anything, they are figureheads, but we are bowing down too much and throwing too much tax payer money. Tradition is important only if its useful etc.

    here’s the link. http://vimeo.com/30179672

    On top of that, I’d add thatthe figurehead argument that could be convincingly used by the UK monarchists since they are actually KNOWN and generate interest in the country. Here they are too low key and barely known even within Europe. The italians dont spend too much time thinking about Mette Marit etc. The Norwegian crownprince doesnt generate interest in Norway in the same way William does.

    And really no serious politician would meet with the royal family…they’d rather meet with the PM or someone with real power to affect change if you are gonna talk bilateral negotiations. Otherwise its a head ache and a waste of time, but out of respect for Norway, you have to sit down, feed these people and put on a show for them, even though you cant accomplish anything meaningful. However if you dont treat these “figureheads” with respect, there’s the downside that the Norwegian people might feel slighted. Its not only a burden for the taxpayers, but for those they visit outside too.

  • Grayel

    You could say exactly the same thing about Mary, Crown princess of Denmark…

    • http://profiles.google.com/kiwi.robbie Robert Cumming

      Except Mary is an intelligent educated carrier women, not a solo mum party girl living on the benefit with no real prospects of getting ahead in life. Mary is clearly several steps above MM in every respect.

      • Grayel

        Mary a carrier woman? Haha. She hardly showed up at Navision in Denmark when she was dating Frederik and hopped from job to job in Australia before that.

        • http://profiles.google.com/kiwi.robbie Robert Cumming

          I think you must agree that she is a big step up on MM.

          • Grayel

            On that I agree, yes.