How a sex assault scandal has rocked the Nobel Prize-awarding Swedish Academy

Few people outside Swedish cultural circles have heard of the Swedish Academy, but it's now in the global spotlight after the body, which awards the Nobel Literature Prize, ousted its first female head following a sex assault scandal.

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards NewsMavens, Sweden
How a sex assault scandal has rocked the Nobel Prize-awarding Swedish Academy - NewsMavens
Sara Danius, Wikicommons.

Why this story matters:

The Swedish Academy is best known as the body that hands out the Nobel Prize in Literature, and otherwise has little relevance in everyday life in Sweden. But that's changed this week after its first ever female head, Sara Danius, was forced out following a scandal that came to light in the wake of the MeToo movement.

In November, 18 women accused a man with close links to the Academy of sex assaults dating back as far as 1996.

Though police investigations were dropped and the man -- Jean-Claude Arnault -- protests his innocence, a can of worms had been opened and the man was also accused of conflicts of interest (he was married to Academy member and poet Katarina Frostenson, and directs a cultural center partly funded by the Academy), and of leaking Nobel Prize winners' names.

Since these allegations emerged, the prestigious body has struggled with how to deal with them, starting by cutting all ties with the man and reviewing its own procedures. Reports suggest members were reluctant to oust Frostenson over her husband's actions, but when Danius was forced out, she left only on the condition that the poet also leave her post.

Following Danius's resignation, many were angered by the fact that a woman should have to step down because of a man's misconduct. Her supporters, including ministers and the former member head of the Academy, have donned pussy-bow blouses in a nod to her signature look -- another example of fashion as a form of protest in a year that has seen all-black outfits at the Golden Globes and white roses at the Grammys used in support of gender equality.

Details from the story:

  • The Swedish Academy was founded in 1786 by King Gustav III and was modelled after France's  Académie française, tasked with protecting and promoting the Swedish language
  • Traditionally it has 18 members, each elected for life, and exclusions or resignations are highly unusual
  • Currently, just 11 members remain. As well as Danius and Frostenson, three other members had already resigned (technically, they became "inactive members") due to the growing divide caused by the crisis, while two others left their positions several years ago for separate reasons.
  • The Academy is left with too few members to officially vote in new members.
  • Danius is the first permanent secretary to leave the body in its long history, and had been its first ever female head
  • In a statement after her resignation, she said: "Not all traditions are worth preserving."
  • Sweden's king, who has previously praised the Me Too movement, has even said he's considering reforms to help bring the body out of its crisis.


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