Barbro Backberger was a well-known and well-publicised author, journalist, and feminist polemicist.
Barbro Backberger was born in 1932. She grew up in Kungälv as one of six children during the lean years of the Second World War. Her father, who had grown up and attended school in Uppsala, was initially the manager of Systembolaget (state alcohol monopoly) in Marstrand, and subsequently a functionary for the ABC-factory which produced sports gear in Kungälv. Her mother fulfilled the role of what was then called a housewife. After completing her basic education, Barbro Backberger continued studying first at a girls’ school and then at a high school in Uppsala. She lived with her paternal uncle and aunt on Ärna farm. Her paternal uncle, an accountant at Ärna airport, ran the farm and kept a lot of horses, which became one of Barbro Backberger’s lifelong interests.
Barbro Backberger continued studying after she had gained her school-leaving certificate, reading sociology and literary science at Uppsala University. After gaining her Bachelor’s degree she considered writing a Master’s thesis on Agnes von Krusenstierna. While she was at university she met the toponymist Thorsten Andersson. They entered into a short-lived marriage, which lasted from 1957 to 1958. Barbro took the surname Backberger after her divorce. For a short time she worked as a nurse within psychiatric care at Ulleråker hospital.
In 1965 Barbro Backberger made her debut with a collection of poems entitled Goddag, yxskaft, published by Albert Bonnier publishing house. This was a collection of riotous and sarcastic feminist poems. She had already established herself as a writer and polemicist through her articles on the stereotyping of teenage sexuality published in Dagens Nyheter and other titles. She also published an essay in the journal Ord & Bild entitled “Det förkrympta kvinnoidealet”, which was a critique of the patriarchal worldview as presented in textbooks, literature, and, particularly, in the coloured weekly press. Her poetry collection garnered favourable reviews and several of the reviewers noted undertones of poets such as Sonja Åkesson, Elsa Grave, and Majken Johansson. However, many people felt that Barbro Backberger was more talented as a polemicist within the format of the daily press. She would receive similar feedback on her later literary publications.
The debate format became Barbro Backberger’s trademark. Through it she gained a reputation that extended beyond Sweden. On Christmas Eve in 1965, the same year as her literary debute, Dagens Nyheter published a piece by her entitled “Den heliga familjen” in the paper’s cultural section. This text was an angry attack on bourgeois society’s institution of marriage and its view of women. Her piece generated both heated discussion and a wide response from the growing second wave of the women’s movement. From 1966 to 1968 Barbro Backberger was a member of Grupp 222, an early Swedish network and lobbying group for issues of gender equality. Members included Eva Moberg, Rita Liljeström, and Gertrud Sigurdsen. The group was named after the street address of the building in which Annika Baude, the woman who had held the first group meeting, lived.
In 1966 Barbro Backberger re-published her essay entitled “Det förkrympta kvinnoidealet”, this time in book format. She began increasingly to appear as a public debater and speaker and was often interviewed for her opinions by the daily press. The following year she helped to establish the non-profit association Författarcentrum (authors’ centre) whilst also serving as a guest editor for Ord & Bild. She edited a special edition of Ord & Bild covering what she described as society’s most disadvantaged areas, namely mental healthcare, the correctional system, and drug rehabilitation. Barbro Backberger continued working to improve the correctional system in later years and also became active in issues such as increased support for developing nations, keeping Sweden out of the EU, and a ban on further nuclear weapon testing.
While studying in Uppsala Barbro Backberger had become acquainted with Karin Westman Berg, who had defended a doctoral thesis entitled Studier i C J L Almqvists kvinnouppfattning in 1962. When Karin Westman Berg set up the first seminar on gender roles at Kursverksamheten in Uppsala in the autumn of 1967, Barbro Backberger was one of the first to support it and contributed with a lecture on her own research on Krusenstjerna. In the autumn of 1968 the seminar’s lectures were published as a book called Könsroller i litteratur från antiken till 1960-talet. This book has become a classic on reading lists for gender studies. Another notable outcome of the programme was that Barbro Backberger and seven other participants set up the feminist network known as Grupp 8 in the spring of 1968.
Barbro Backberger moved from Uppsala to Hässelby on the outskirts of Stockholm in 1968. She wrote articles criticising the new suburbs describing them as “the concentration camps of the welfare state”, using a concept she had borrowed from the American author and debater Betty Friedan. Friedan had used it when describing the housewife-syndrome in her book The Feminine Mystique, which had just been released in a Swedish translation. Barbro Backberger argued that society promoted commercialism and expansive shopping centres at the expense of day nurseries and work places, resulting in depressed, frigid and secretly alcoholic women. However, the women of Skärholm lashed out against this negative portrayal. In 1971 Barbro Backberger joined what was then VPK (today Vänsterpartiet), and from 1973 to 1979 she served as a substitute in the parliamentary group, whilst also serving as a member of the party executive from 1975 to 1980. She then resigned from the party citing authoritarianism and its fear of strong women as her reasons for doing so.
In 1977 Barbro Backberger released the partly autobiographical coming-of-age novel Inga träd växer in i himlen to very favourable reviews. It also won Tidningen Vi’s literary prize. In 1983 Barbro Backberger published the historical story Sagan om grobladens rike, and in 1990 she published another poetry collection, entitled Vilda drömmars land, aimed at children and young adults. Neither of these two publications garnered major attention.
During the 1970s Barbro Backberger collaborated with Bruksteatern, an independent theatre group based in Malmö. She supplied them with two plays: Fattig och dessutom kvinna, 1975, and Hick! Eller Mordet på ölstugan, 1978, which told the story of a female alcoholic. Barbro Backberger’s children’s play Susanna och draken was aired on TV in 1981.
Barbro Backberger died in Hässelby in 1999.