When Swedish men trivialise the problem

Metoo

Sweden is the country that brands itself on gender equality. So good is the Swedish PR  machine that people outside of Sweden believe it and even the Swedes have bought into themselves. It’s hardly astounding then that when the global #MeToo movement accelerated in Sweden, it exploded in society like a molotov cocktail. In all walks of life, in all professions, Swedish women are coming out with testimonies of physical abuse, mental terror, sexual misconduct, rape, harassment, assault, abuse of power – at the hands of men. And it is sending shock waves through the whole of the country.

Today, a piece of research carried out on behalf of Sweden’s largest news channel was released. Over a thousand people were asked questions in relation to the #MeToo phenomena. In answer to the question, ‘I feel that it is over-exaggerated’, 45% of the men answered ‘yes’. In other words, almost half of Swedish men (in this survey) think that the #MeToo movement is exaggerated!

What is this about? Why are there so many men who think that just because they haven’t experienced the problem, the problem doesn’t exist. Is it self preservation? Arrogance?  Have they bought in to the Swedish illusion of gender equality? Whatever it is, it would seem that these men lack the ability to empathise with any other perspective on life than their own. They cannot see the situation from another perspective – or relate to the female experience and point of view.

I think it’s a case of minimisation. In psychology, and in cultural awareness training, this is a term that we use to describe people’s behaviour when full denial isn’t an option. In the case of #MeToo, I would guess these men do not deny it. But they do question its legitimacy and frequency. Classic minimisation.

Minimisation can be defined as the downplaying of the significance of an event or emotion. It is a common strategy in dealing with feelings of guilt. Minimisation manifests itself in all sorts of ways, such as saying that a hurtful comment was only a joke or reducing somebody’s feelings by saying ‘it’s no big deal’ or ‘what’s the problem?’.

In this case, minimisation is happening on a society level. It is suggesting that there are just a few bad apples or rogues in an organization when in reality problems are widespread and systemic throughout society. Minimisation in this form is a conscious or subconscious tactic used to manipulate others, and ourselves. Perhaps for the subconscious guilt we men feel for being a part of the system.

Trivialising the experiences of the women is distasteful. I get it that it is scary when people are angry and when information that has been hidden for a long time starts to surface. But playing it down will only undermine the validity of the movement. And this movement needs to last.

A societal change is essential. And we men have an important role in it. We should stop suggesting that the #MeToo movement is over-exaggerated, or that women are using it as revenge, or it is a witch hunt against men. Instead, we should listen to the testimonies. We should be shocked by them. We should not accept it. And we should work to change attitudes towards women in Sweden.

Swedish men – get it together!

If equality is something you are proud of in Sweden – then start by believing what you hear. And be an example to men all over the world – ‘In Sweden, we don’t stand for this. In Sweden, we listen. In Sweden we will change.’

How Sweden’s population stacks up

 

sweden-population-pyramid-2016

One way of understanding the present and future challenges a society is facing is to look at their demographic and an interesting method of presenting this information is in the form of a population pyramid.

According to ‘The World Factbook’ which is information gathered by America’s CIA, the population pyramid, related to age, for Sweden looks as above.

In a socialised society like Sweden, this picture can tell us several things:

  • Women in Sweden seem to live longer than men.
  • There are more men than women in their 20’s in Sweden. So if you are attracted to men, Sweden could be a great place to visit!
  • For the last 10 years there has been an increase in births in Sweden. This is good as these citizens are future workers whose tax contributions will support the pressured welfare state!
  • A potential problem may arise for Sweden in 10-15 years when the largest population group (currently 50-54) will retire and start taking out their pensions. A smaller group of workers will be left to support the growing number of pensioners. This suggests birth rates and immigration need to increase!

Any other conclusions you can draw from this information?

Please share below…

 

 

 

What a discovery in a grave tells us about Swedish equality

female viking

Outside of Stockholm, there is an island called Björkö. On this island is a former Viking settlement called Birka. It is well worth a visit and is an active, on-going archeological site where new discoveries are constantly being made.  The area contains 3000 Viking graves, many containing high ranking warriors. Until recently, the presumption has been that these hold male remains but Swedish scientists have now revealed that the body of a warrior long presumed to be male is, in fact, female.

Scientists have assumed the skeleton to be male due to the status symbols buried along side it. However, after carrying out a DNA analysis, researchers from Stockholm University announced that the 10th Century skeleton is the first confirmed female high-ranking Viking warrior.

According to the researchers, this finding  “provides a new understanding of the Viking society, the social constructions and also norms in the Viking Age.”

“Our results – that the high-status grave on Birka was the burial of a high ranking female Viking warrior – suggest that women, indeed, were able to be full members of male dominated spheres.”

So it seems that gender equality in Sweden is not a new-found invention. It is something that stretches back, in its way, over many decades. Today, Sweden is amongst the top countries in the world to lead the Gender Equality Report. All cultural behaviour we see today stems from history and often from how we needed to survive as a society. Maybe today’s gender equality in Sweden started with the Vikings?

Segregation on a Swedish school bus

school bus

In Sweden, the school system contains many independant schools run with a specific focus such as music, sport, art or specific religions. They should all follow the national curriculum and, in the case of religious schools, they should teach but not preach.

Yesterday, it was revealed that a Stockholm junior school with an islamic orientation has been segregating children on the school bus – boys go through the front entrance and sit at the front, girls go in the rear entrance and sit at the back of the bus. The headmaster of the school has claimed to be unaware of this. This act of segregation has caused a hot debate in Sweden about the ‘islamifying of Sweden’, ‘gender apartheid’ and comments such as it being ‘unSwedish’.

The Swedish Schools Inspectorate are planning on investigating the school further to see if any other ‘undemocratic activities’ are taking place. The Inspectorate has previously allowed segregated classrooms and gender-separated sport lessons.

What can we learn from this?

When this kind of occurance happens in society, it is a great opportunity to reflect on what we learn from it. What is our immediate reaction when we hear examples like this?

  • Do we run straight to the barracades and start defending our cultural heritage?
  • Do we condemn the occurance as, for example, undemocratic or unacceptable?
  • Do we weigh up the pros and cons and try to arrive at a balanced conclusion?
  • Do we think people are allowed to do whatever they want, so anything goes?

All of these are perfectly normal reactions, and one is not better than the other. Obviously, we react in different ways.

I think that these occurances in society provide us with a great opportunity to discuss intercultural competence. Being interculturally competent is generally defined as having an open mindset and the cultural sensitivity to see different perspectives so that one is able to flexibly adapt ones behaviours accordingly. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about accepting that anything is ok. Intercultural competence can also mean balancing up the various perspectives and standing up for what one thinks is acceptable.

Intercultural competence differs significantly from racism and nationalism. Racism and nationalism focus on others being of lower value than myself or the place I come from. Intercultural competence is about accepting everybody’s perspectives are equally as valid – no matter how tough they are and even if I personally don’t agree with some of them.

So how do we arrive at this place of understanding that all perspectives are equally as valid? We can ask ourselves a simple, but complex, question:

‘What do they think is good about segregating boys and girls on a school bus?’

If we can arrive at the answer(s) to that question, we are becoming more interculturally aware and more interculturally competent. We are seeing the situation from their perspective and not only our own. We are presuming they have a good reason, from their perspective, for their behaviour, rather than immediately judging or condemning it.

Once we have reflected over that, we can decide what we personally think. Does it change our point of view? Can we accept their behaviour more easily? Or does it make me hold my view even more stongly? In that situation, we can say something like:

‘I understand why you think it’s good to segregate boys and girls. I understand your perspective. However, I disagree with it. And here in Sweden, we believe in equal treatment of all regardless of their gender, which is why that behaviour is not something we as a society can accept.’

Compared this to the more reactionary ‘the Islamists are trying to take over Sweden!’ and ‘this country is going down the drain’, you see how the ability to perspectives-take creates a more open, less fearful debate.

It is my belief that if we approach occurances like this in a more interculturally competent way, and try to perspectives-take, we can create a society built on mutual understanding and respect for prevailing values rather than a society built on fear and suspicion.

And that has to be a good thing moving forward, doesn’t it?