For the first time since 1949, the Nobel Prize Academy won’t be awarding its prestigious prize in literature this year. As the illustrious academy battles a sexual misconduct scandal and its aftermath which led to the resignation of former Permanent Secretary Sara Danius, it is taking some time to recover the public’s confidence has lost. The interim Permanent Secretary Anders Olsson released a statement yesterday, which declared that the academy would not hand out its prize in literature this year, but would announce two laureates in the year 2019 instead.
While the scandal exhibits how pervasive the problem of sexual harassment is, the committee’s decision to show commitment towards gaining back the public’s respect is commendable.
Cleaning out the system
The #MeToo movement in Hollywood has prompted every institution across the world to take sexual harassment seriously. Just a year ago it would have been easy to get away with such a scandal. But increased awareness and empathy among people for survivors of sexual misconduct has prompted the likes of Nobel academy to clean out its dirt, instead of sweeping it under the carpet.
The man at the centre of this scandal Jean-Claude Arnault. Nearly 18 women accused Arnault, who is a photographer and a Swedish cultural figure, of sexual harassment and physical abuse over a period of more than 20 years. Arnault is the husband of prominent poet and academy member Katarina Frostenson. Some of these incidences allegedly happened on properties owned by the academy. Arnault is also accused of leaking the names of as many as seven Nobel Laureates in the past. Apparently in 1996 a young textile artist had written to the then Permanent Secretary Sture Allén, denouncing Arnault for sexual assault. However, the academy decided to ignore these allegations.
The Nobel academy is a patriarchal outfit with a handful of women on the table.
When it came to light that the academy men have been ignoring allegations of sexual harassment against Arnault for almost two decades, its misogyny lay exposed in front of the public. The similarities with Hollywood’s rich and powerful brotherhood are quite evident here.
These men have jeopardized the standing of an eminent institute out of either sheer obliviousness or arrogance. They allowed a sexual predator to keep harassing women, despite complaints. However, public backlash broke down the bitter news to them.
No one is immune to public scrutiny now, when it comes to the well-being of women.
As the saner voices inside the academy are gaining control they have decided to put the literary award on hold, till the prize committee is able to purge itself of its sexism. After all, it is the reputation of the academy in both literary world and public that is stake here. No author would want to have an award steeped in so much controversy in his hands.
As for us, this move is step one in the restoration of the academy’s standing. Mere cancellation of the award is not a sign of actual change in the institution’s mentality. It will take more a lot more than accepting the blame for the scandal to win back our trust. The inclusion of more women and assuring diversity in the committee will be a good start though.
Photo credit: DNA INDIA
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own