The term ‘travel metaphor’ was first introduced in 2005 by Norwegian professor Hege Skjeie, who is active in the field of political science, citizenship and feminism. She presented her theory during the 2005 Budapest ECPR (European Consortium for Political Research) conference On travel metaphors and duties to yield ECPR Budapest September 2005 presentation: http://folk.uio.no/hegesk/pdf/ecpr-versjon.pdf and it was published in the Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research Political Constructions of Gender Equality: Travelling Towards … a Gender Balanced Society? – NORA Volume 13 Issue 3, 2005: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a743922780. The conception is now acclaimed as a thorough critique of state-led gender equality policies, especially in Scandinavia and the whole of Europe.
Nordic gender critique
The travel metaphor or ‘incrementalism’ illustrates the way state feminists focus on the road towards gender equality rather than gender equality itself. By idealising this journey towards the goal, with its progress and occasional setbacks, gender activists try to stress the importance of the separate issues for the broad public. However by doing so, they create an illusion of a ‘common national journey’, of something that will evolve neutrally and naturally if we all work hard enough. This leaves no political will to actually work on large comprehensive gender equality bills (for instance an elaborated citizenship project that comprises these various separate issues), as inter alia the failed Gender Equality Bill in Poland showsGender Equality Leglisation in Poland: http://www.wikigender.org/index.php/Gender_Equality_in_Poland#Legislation.
The problem with this travel metaphor is its vagueness and its reducing the gender category to a measurable, statistical value. The travel metaphor discourse suggest that we have to be patient – but it is absolutely not clear when exactly we will achieve gender equality, or how many and which steps have to still be taken in order to get to that common goal. It is ‘the debate of almost there’. Skjeie claims that especially in Norway and the other Scandinavian countries the travel metaphor is incorporated deeply into the gender equality discourse because those countries have a longer tradition of state feminism and because their gender equality discourse is dominated by the quest for the ‘perfect democracy’. It then becomes easy to think that these societies have already achieved full equality because other countries have not taken the same steps as they have. This approach easily leads to pragmatism and nationalism in gender equality, considering gender inequality as ineffective and harmful for the nation’s economy and democracy rather than specifically for women’s own empowerment. Hege Skjeie and Anette Borchorst call it ‘profitability talk’Changing the Patterns of Gender and Power in Society – Nordic Gender Institute: http://www.nikk.no/?module=Articles;action=Article.publicShow;ID=1156.
The travel metaphor shows that there can be a latent construction of hierarchy-based power and democracy in these gender equality discourses. Following the travel metaphor analysis and other similar critiques, feminists have come to demand a more dynamic approach to gender equality and to implementing gender rights in state policies, leaving the traditional power dichotomy and possibly nationalist point of view behind.