Our friend Tom Johnsen

We’ve just lost our friend Tom, and when you lose a friend you’re forced to think about what loss means, about what friendship means, and the nature of what and who you’ve lost. Tom was not only a personal friend to both of us; he was also a friend to the women's liberation movement, and in particular to the movement to abolish sexualised violence against women and girls. Tom was a proud abolitionist and he supported his wife Agnete and all of us in our quest to end the global sex trade. Tom’s view of the matter was simple: that no man had a right to put a hand on any woman for any reason other than she wanted it there.

So often when Agnete travelled to attend feminist meetings and events, Tom was by her side. The fact that this woman - so respected for her activism - dared to introduce Tom to so many high profile, hard-working feminists spoke volumes. Not all women dare impose their male partner on such women, lest they somehow say or do the wrong thing. There was no chance of this happening with Tom.

Tom could not and never did deny the privilege he was afforded merely for being born male. But he was not allied to the sex class of men that oppress women. They were not his family, women were. Tom passionately and genuinely believed that patriarchy could be overthrown, and that women could be and should be liberated from our oppression.

Just in case you are imagining Tom as a humanist, sandal-wearing hippie type who trotted out mantras against other men, he was nothing of the sort; he was simply a living breathing human being with his own faults and failings, like us all. Agnete will no doubt tell us in which ways Tom was not perfect; but he was the perfect friend, a warm and generous host, great fun at the dinner table with a glass of red wine or a large whiskey. Fascinating to hold a conversation with, about all manner of topics, including feminism. Tom laughed a lot. He made others laugh. He made us laugh, and now he’s made us cry for the first time and in the only way he ever could have done.

Tom was as far from a stereotype of a pro-feminist man that you could imagine. There was no effort involved for Tom to be the right kind of man, and to support women's liberation. You didn't see him hesitating, scrunching the words up in his head until he trotted out something palatable. It was all genuine with Tom, he said what he believed, and what he believed was usually right. He wasn’t afraid to have a row either to stand over what he believed to be an important point. If he thought you were talking crap, you’d be the first to hear about it. 

Who knows how much of his moral fibre was always instinctive with Tom, and how much the women in his life educated him about what really matters; he had spent five decades, after all, with the finest feminist Norway has ever produced - but what is certain is that the women's liberation movement has lost one of its best and favourite allies. Other men could learn a lot from our friend Tom. They could learn how to respect, love, and care for women. They could learn how to raise generations of boys to reject the privilege afforded them at birth, and to care more about ending the tyranny of misogyny that blights the lives of women and girls.

Selfishly, we will miss Tom for who he was, as well as what he did. He was the loveliest of men, full of love, hugs, cuddles and kindness. His legacy will be an example to other men to be the best they can be, and to give the best of themselves to the world and the women in it. The simple truth is that if every man on earth was like him there’d be no need for our movement.

We cried together last night on the phone, for the loss of our friend Tom, and for the grief our dear friend Agnete must now go through, but it strikes us too that when you’ve got two hard-arsed working class feminists bawling down a phone line over the loss of a man, that’s as good a eulogy as any man is going to get.

We loved Tom, we still love him, and it says a lot, too, given the atrocities we’re immersed in all the time, that this piece has been so difficult to write.

So goodbye Tom. We promise to raise a glass to you every March in New York. We’ll buy a whiskey and drink it for you. 

We’ll have to pretend you’re there. It wouldn’t be the same without you.


Julie Bindel and Rachel Moran