I’ve lived in Sweden on and off for about six years, and this experience allowed me to hear about women whose lives I’d probably know nothing about had I stayed in my home country on the other side of the Atlantic ocean.
One of them is Tove Jansson, a Swedish-speaking Finnish author, painter and illustrator who created a series of books and comic strips about the adorable and incredibly nuanced and subliminal Moomins.
When visiting bookshops in Malmö, I remember often seeing the hippopotamus-like-but-not-quite creatures on paper without having any idea of what exactly they were or meant.
Recently, upon researching documentaries about childless women for the Empty Uterus Youtube Channel, I came across Moominland Tales: The Life of Tove Jansson directed by Eleanor Yule. Having recognized the characters, I clicked on play. And how happy I’m that I did so, as it was a great pleasure to learn so much about Tove’s life in just under an hour.
I’d have watched the documentary regardless of her marital or reproductive status, but to my greater pleasure, it turns out that she was childless.
At some point, the documentary features a scene where the narrator reads out a passage of a letter that Tove wrote to her friend, Eva Konikoff, in 1941, when she was 27 years old. It was just a little paragraph, but the letter looked so exciting that I searched online for her correspondence and found a more significant piece.
Here are some of her thoughts on marriage and having children:
All the reasons I don’t want to get married came up. One man after another, and Pappa, Faffan, came first. The whole male solidarity and protective pedestal of privileges, their weaknesses, inviolable and fenced in by slogans, their inconsistency and charming disregard for the feeling of others proclaimed with no trace of nuance as they beat a big drum from morning to evening from the safety of their boys’ network and connections. I can’t afford it, I haven’t time to marry any of them! I’m no good at admiring and comforting. Of course I’m sorry for them and of course I like them, but I’ve no intention of devoting my whole life to a performance I’ve seen through. I see how Faffan [father], the most helpless and instinctive of men, tyrannises over us all, how Ham [mother] is unhappy because she has always said yes, smoothed over problems, given in and sacrificed her life, receiving nothing in return except children war can kill or destroy with negativity. A men’s war!
I can see what would happen to my work if I married. It’s no use; I have all these feminine instincts to comfort, admire, submit, sacrifice myself. I would either be a bad painter or a bad wife. And I refuse to give birth to children who can be killed in some future war . . . Can we not be together without making demands on each other’s work, life and ideas, continue to be free beings without either one having to give way?
And here is the documentary.