How Sweden made me a feminist.

Feminism. What was your first association to this word? To me for a long time when thinking about feminism those images of angry women popped up in my head. Those women with big bushes of hair under their armpits who’d put out bras on the streets to protest. I had seen pictures of them, in my history books. What would you need feminism these days for, I wondered? Correct or not, growing up in The Netherlands I was never under the impression of unequal opportunities for men or women. We could all go to school, choose career paths we found interesting and would be allowed to vote one day, right?

“”You fucking WOMEN, you are so slow!”, he would rage at me and – by the way – at his wife.”

In the years that followed I started noting some ‘small things‘ that seemed a little odd, but I never paid too much attention to. No, the real eye opener came, when I went on a working holiday in New Zealand. When I got accepted for an amazing horse job I was absolutely delighted. Though soon enough I realized that the guy I worked for treated women without any respect. I had been shouted at before, but never because of my gender. “You fucking WOMEN, you are so slow!”, he would rage at me and – by the way – at his wife. I did not stay long. Nor did I in the next two horse stables, where a similar situation simply seemed to reoccur. However something had awakened in me, and it never went back to sleep.

“Is it normal that men I respect and know well, do not want their girlfriends to be seen in a public sauna?”

Back in the Netherlands I started looking at things in a different perspective. Was it really that more equal, I wondered? Thoughts I had not given much attention to before, kept popping into my head. About teachers who would never take me serious in class, so I’d ask my male classmates to ask the question for me. Or why had it automatically been assumed I would become a cashier and not a shelf stacker, when I applied for my first job at the local supermarket? How about all these sexist jokes my friends from uni seemed to consider very funny, were they really that innocent? Is it normal that men I respect and know well, do not want their girlfriends to be seen in a public sauna?

Toilet signs at SLU are gender neutral

I didn’t stay for a long time at home, as my master studies in Sweden followed shortly after my gap year. I am not saying Sweden is perfect in terms of gender equality, but it comes pretty damn close. Construction workers apologizing for the inconvenience, instead off making sexist jokes while a woman passes by. Fathers having the same, very long, paternity leave as mothers when their babies are born. Boys working as cashiers, while girls are stocking shelves. I’ll never forget the first guy that introduced himself to me as a feminist – I almost spilled my drink back then, but I got used to it now. Did you know that they even introduced a new word to their language, to express themselves without indicating someone’s gender?

“An equality that – they are aware of very well – has not been reached yet.”

Most importantly, people find it simply normal to talk about how to overcome the gender pay gap, the lack of women leaders or the stereotype that sensitive men are seen as weak. Here, feminists are not put in a corner as attention-seeking man haters, feminists are those people (let’s put no gender discrimination of the subject here 😉 ) that speak up for gender equality. An equality that – they are aware of very well – has not been reached yet. An inequality that I learned not to overlook any longer and am now willing to fight for.  Tack sÃ¥ mycket, Sweden, for changing me into a feminist.

Rest me to say: Happy International Women’s Day 😀

Rosan

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