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What is a foreign spouse?

Challenging stereotypes: The reality of foreign spouses.

Photographs: Pexels

Text: Heather Storgaard

A foreign spouse is…

A freeloader. A burden.

A luxury. A woman?

Danish politicians have said or insinuated everything since I met my Danish husband seven years ago. While it's insulting, and much of it plain populism aimed at gaining nationalist maybe-voters to cross political lines, the most perplexing thing about it is that this picture painted of the imaginary 'foreign spouse' is usually a female one. A woman who has moved herself, battling with a new culture, yet only seems to be seen as a pariah by the people who have dreamt her up as a crude caricature. On the other hand, men moving to their female partner's country, why they are brave, novel, and modern! How generous of them to leave their families and careers for love.

Good, liberal, kind friends have told me they don't think it would be right if any random woman a Danish man fell in love with could just come and live here. I'm not sure a woman is random if she's important enough that her partner wants to bring her home with him, but sometimes I've stayed quiet in these arguments. I occasionally get backtracking, embarrassed replies a few minutes late – "We don't mean you - you're so well integrated, we forget you're not Danish! We treat you just as one of us!" The worst is when the statement hangs, and there's no retreat from the subtle, exclusionary nationalism. Then, my stuttering realisation that they don't really think I should be allowed here, alongside those hardworking, blonde, adonis-like Danes. Once, a not-so-kind one I hadn't really liked to start with went so far as to imply I would be muddying Danish blood by having half-Danish children. Thankfully, we've not seen or heard from him since.

"As we celebrate international women this month, it's a good time to reflect on our place in society and show that we're far more than stereotypes."

At university, I got to study an obscure, hardly-attended class on Scottish migrants in Northern Europe- here were my people, getting out there in the world, even if they'd lived hundreds of years ago! But most of the seminars placed the magnifying glass firmly on men- the military, ambassadors, and commercial dynasties controlling the Øresund (admittedly, I did find the idea of foreigners controlling Danish borders entertaining). But where were the women? Well, if you looked for them, they did dot about too. A Scottish woman was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in 18th century Copenhagen (let's be honest, that probably happened last week, too), letters from women who'd married Danish sailors and gone back to Jutland with them, and women who followed the Scottish army even when they ended up in far-flung regions of Sweden and Norway.

Clearly, female immigrants aren't just the blood-sucking foreign spouses the rags love to hate or the tragic 'we had to move to Malmø/Flensborg' stories in liberal newspapers. Yes, we are them too, or they are faces that are painted on to us. But women also choose to move and have migrated for as diverse reasons as men. Jobs, family, the pursuit of something new and happy- a woman might move on her own or actually be the one looking out for international transfer opportunities at work. I was undoubtedly dragging my husband to Munich when we made that move back in our increasingly distant early twenties. He never really integrated with the Germans and certainly missed the coast and the luxury of free healthcare in Denmark and Scotland, but he did perfect the language well enough to use it for jobs in both of his home countries.

Celebrating international women this month is a good time to reflect on our place in society and show that we're far more than stereotypes. That includes all of us following careers, spouses or a simple, innate lust for the new and exciting that draws people abroad. We're here, like generations of women who have found themselves in Scandinavia before and from whom we can take strength and accept belonging.

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