Monday, September 15, 2008

Gender Equality in Sweden

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...


Todd said...

Nice try Sean! You thought you'd be soooo sneaky and "forget" to tell me that you had once again started blogging after your summer hiatus! But I'm much more clever than you anticipated and I found you and you're silly little blog once again. And if it hadn’t been for 5 weeks of travel to 12 states, I would have found you a lot sooner.

So, I feel it is necessary to celebrate your continued life in the blogosphere with a top nine list. Why top 9? Because I think the number 9 is just as good and "equal" as the number 10. (Isn't that so Swedish of me?)


9. I get to hear Sean whine and complain about NBC's coverage of the Olympics (see Aug 11 entry) even though he couldn't even watch! I'll have you know that the Beijing Olympics on NBC Universal has gone down in history as the most watched broadcast event EVER! So...we didn't even need you're two ungrateful eyes.

8. I get to learn the origin of fun sounding words like Ombudsman (Sept 15th entry).

7. I get to hear Sean scream like a little girl. (see video on Aug 18)

6. I get to discover more places in Linkoping that Sean forgot to take me in April (Sep 7 entry - Abacka Cafe)

5. Go USA. We Rule. Still the dominant country in the medal count! (Just felt like advancing stereotypes further!) (Aug 11 entry)

4. We get to see Sean's creative side as he discovers new pretty colors and designs for his blog.

3. I remember how nice it is to have time in my schedule to read his blog.

2. We get to envision Sean, once again, screaming like a little girl as he runs away from seasonal insects. (Sept 1 entry)

1. Oh, never mind...all of these benefits don't outweigh the time and energy it takes to come up with these damn comments. Will this blog never end?

Much brotherly love,


Anonymous said...

Well, as a woman in Sweden I think we've come pretty far and to be honest, I don't care much about the salary differences or high positions and so on. There are biological differences between men and women, and maybe women in some ways are closer to their children than men. I would rather spend more time with my kids than have the highest position at a company and have a high salary. I think in those cases it's rather a discrimination against men, since they often have a higher pressure on having a career and so on. Maybe men would like to stay at home with ther children too? I don't think it's discrimination against women at all, but rather that many women don't WANT the high position and the work it takes to get there.

Anonymous said...

I'm a woman in Sweden too and I just have to comment on the other anonymous comment.

It's not about forcing women into high positions it's about having the possibility if you want that position. That is far from equal in the present time.

A lot of women don't want children but it's almost as if you're less of a woman if you don't. Talk about pressure!

And it's not just a salary difference on high positions. It's a huge difference between different types of work. The work places where women are the majority (day care for example) are not valued as highly and therefore the salaries are much lower than on male majority jobs (such as carpenters).

Men can stay home with their children but many times it's hard because he has the higher salary and the family will lose too much money if he stays home. So if womens work was valued higher the men could stay home with no economic loss to the family.

Sorry Sean for stealing your blogg for discussion but I couldn't let that go=) Great topic btw and I think Todd is annoyingly funny!

Ang said...

Hey, I too found you again ... may have taken a few weeks!

I experience this everyday in the US. It is very unfortunate and frustrating for any woman who is trying to build her career and being continually overstepped by under-qualified men, simply because they have a ... well I won't go there. The "BoysClub" is alive and well here in Olympia!

Anonymous said...

Pay me less and let me live longer.
There are many inequalities against men. Life expectancy is one that is always overlooked and one I think is far more important than salary difference. Many feminists respond to this with the "well if you had to live life as a woman you'd rather die earlier". Which is a bit pathetic as a response really. I do want salaries to be equal and some interesting research is showing many of the reasons why: negotiation style and responses to negotiation styles from different sexes are key to these differences. However, the continual demonisation of men by many segments of society is not helping solve these issues. Let's stop the man bashing that is just as prevalent in society (including swedish society).

Anonymous said...

The girls club is pretty much alive and well in society too. Let's not forget that.

Anonymous said...

Men that want to stay at home with their children are also looked down on by society in many cases. I think it's about time that they made the pappaledig and mammaledig time off equal for men and women and NOT optional. Many of the women feel it is their right to stay with the children longer and use the salary difference as an excuse.

Anonymous said...

Great blog you got here. It would be great to read something more about that topic. Thnx for giving this information.
Sexy Lady
Girls for companionship in London