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Being among the first

Women have largely been invisible figures in written history, in virtually all areas. The serious consequence of this is that subsequent generations have thought that women never played a part in, say, research, politics and culture.

The phenomenon has been studied and tackled through new research since the 1970s. Previously invisible, and therefore forgotten, women and their deeds have been rediscovered and described. History has had to be rewritten, with new interpretations of events that have revealed other meanings, priorities and consequences. But the phenomenon of invisible women is not yet completely a thing of the past; many research questions remain to be asked regarding women’s significance in different contexts.

The women who have been belatedly recognised are often described in terms of being pioneers, among the first in their respective fields. They are set against a background of male dominance, and described in relation to a male norm. Quite often, these women have turned away and preferred not to be seen as the first woman – or as a woman at all. In research this is called a gender-neutral strategy, which often indicates that the woman in question is too busy surviving as a disruptor and an exception to also have time for the tough responsibility of being a feminist and an agent for change. This is fully understandable, but nevertheless a problem since such behaviour affirms and normalises male dominance.

So it always feels hopeful to read about or meet women who are not only pioneers but also support feminism. It proves that it is now possible to be both, and that gender equality has increased.

KTH President Sigbritt Karlsson is one example: the first woman president, and one who has also been a firm advocate of gender equality. The recently deceased Harriet Ryd, the first woman professor at KTH, is another example. She was an early advocate of gender equality at KTH and in society generally. In 2018, she was unforgettable when she helped open Malvinas Väg at KTH Campus by sharing her experiences with later generations of students and researchers.