The "Battle of the Sexes," Swedish style.
When the world thinks about Sweden, one of the first things that comes to mind is the socially and politically progressive policies, laws and general attitudes. Wrapped within this is the perception, and perhaps the reality, that Sweden is a world leader when it comes to equalizing the genders.
Let’s take a closer look, based on one foreigner’s observations and a bit of informal research….
*One of the first things foreigners notice when walking around Sweden is the number of men pushing strollers.
*Married or not, your tax form is exactly the same and you will file individually (Swedes would be interested to know that a couple filing their tax forms together in the U.S. receive certain benefits).
*The term (and, I assume, the position) “Ombudsman” was first coined in Sweden…..
*All foreign men learn early and often not to open that door, pay for that meal or make any assumption on a date or in any social circumstance that she cannot take care of herself…
*When a couple has maternity/paternity leave, he almost always goes back to work sooner, because he almost always has the higher paying job (among other reasons).
*Inevitably, CEOs, Board members, high ranking officials and other positions of power are heavily male-dominated in Sweden.
*There is no expectation or assumption that, when a Swedish couple gets married, they will take his last name. Sometimes it is her last name that is taken or even an entirely new last name is made up.
Sweden has a cultural head-start in gender equality because of the high social value placed on self-sufficiency. A woman is expected to provide for herself and if a man so chooses to help out in the typical family model, well then, great, but….
While you are hard pressed to find any laws or social policies that are not gender equal or neutral, it doesn’t take too long to find social attitudes, usually unconscious or unspoken, that betray a certain bias toward the one in the majority or with the power, in this case, the men. "Old Boys Clubs" are still alive and well in Sweden, perhaps even more than other countries (even though those Old Boys are arguably more conscious of and educated about their own natural prejudices than their peers in other countries and societies).
My conclusion upon observation from the outside is that Sweden’s population is indeed very sensitive to gender equality and expects a general attitude of self-sufficiency and equality among the sexes. Yet as with most societies, certain unconscious and subtle forms of discrimination are easy to find.
Not surprisingly, Sweden, while ahead of most if not all other countries in the quest for gender equality, still has a ways to go, something most Swedish women would probably tend to agree with, but you might have to really probe her in your questioning to get past the initial national pride of being a "world leader" in this area...