Feminism exists as a counter to different forms of authoritarianism. Borgen was a reminder that just because women occupy positions of power, the world doesn’t necessarily come closer to being ideal
A still from Borgen - Power & Glory
Despite not having watched the first three seasons of the Danish series, Borgen, I relished each instalment of the final, Power & Glory. Had I done my homework I’m sure each minute would have been filled with a deeper intensity, and the suspense would have felt even more high stakes. But we wrongly assumed that Netflix had only the new season, and we decided to dive in. I’d heard a bit about the show that derives its title from the Danish word that refers to The Castle, the term used informally for the Christiansborg Palace, which is apparently where the Parliament, Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court are located. It’s a reference to power, to a place where decisions are made.
Season 4 takes us into the world of the lead protagonist, Birgitte Nyborg, who was Denmark’s first female Prime Minister, as she navigates her role as foreign minister. But the season really begins with Greenland, an overseas territory of Denmark, discovering oil. Given that the party founded by Nyborg, which is in coalition with the government, came to power because of its climate activism, her initial stance is one of opposition. She is sure that exploiting the oil will have catastrophic consequences in a world where ice caps are already melting. But when the world’s big players begin to get involved, she feels arm-twisted into changing her position. The choice she makes to back the drilling for oil goes directly against her party’s mandate, but she makes it from a space of fear and insecurity, afraid as she is of losing power. She’s divorced and has grown up kids who’ve flown the nest and cannot fathom what her life might look like if she was no longer politically relevant. Everything spirals here onward and what unfolds makes for really compelling viewing.
What’s wonderful is how the show depicts and critiques women in power, especially cis-white female patriarchs who conveniently appropriate feminist mantras to profit from their perceived oppression. It serves to remind us of what Audre Lorde said, that the master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house. The season also subtly reminds us of the many imperfections that lie at the heart of ‘democracy’, how nations that identify as democratic are often hypocritical when it comes to the rights of those living in territories that are claimed by them, and the struggles of indigenous people to assert their sovereignty. The scriptwriting allows us to witness first hand how indigenous people are patronised by the powers that be, how their high rates of suicide and alcoholism are used against them to over-enunciate their need for dependency without acknowledging that their structural subjugation feeds their alienation from their own relational systems. I’m so keen to discuss how the plot advances, but I won’t, because I don’t want to spoil it for you.
What I would like to think about, though, is what it means to remain idealistic, especially as one progresses from one’s 30s to one’s 50s. How do you bear witness to all that you have seen and still cling to a coherent set of beliefs that you are convinced can make the world a better place? Feminism is a form of idealism, because it dares to imagine radical forms of equality, and not limited to one set of people. At its core is the conviction that one is not free unless everyone is free, and the governing subtext here is that the boundaries that determine the ‘one’ and the ‘every’ are fluid, so we are not limited to the human species but think of equality as a dismantling of hierarchies, thus undoing the supremacy of the human and re-orienting our thinking to imagine cross-species harmony. The end goal is not the victory of one sex over another, but of co-existence that allows the planet to thrive.
I suppose that until this recent viewing of Borgen, I had stopped thinking of myself as an idealist, or had possibly fallen prey to the misogynist tendency to ridicule it as childish. I had been thinking a lot about hope as a radical act, a form of prayer in a hyper-capitalist world, but I had lost touch with this characteristic—idealism. It is a word that has been usurped by fundamentalist ideologies that prescribe rigid understandings of the roles various categories of people must play in the version of utopia they imagine, and every version of utopia imagined by a religion is always premised on exclusion. Feminism exists as a counter to such forms of authoritarianism, because it is invested in the collective, not the individual, and because it has always occupied a marginal space. Borgen was a reminder that just because women occupy positions of power, the world doesn’t necessarily come closer to being ideal. As long as the definition of power remains obstinately bound to oppression, the status quo remains as is, irrespective what sex is at the helm.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.