I think it is fair to say that Feminism in English is a word with many different connotations, most of them not very positive. Many younger women have had a hard time taking on this word to describe themselves because it has been connected with radicalism, an idea that women’s rights supercede everything, and that feminists are ugly women who don’t shave and hate men.
I know, I know, this is a silly picture and an untrue one. But even Madonna, when asked in an interview if she was a feminist, responded that she was a humanist.
The opposite is true in Sweden. Everyone and their mother seems to self identify as a feminist. OK, maybe not everyone, but a majority of the political parties on the right and left consider themselves inline with feminist ideals. And despite these feminist friendly overtones, a Feminist party was started a few years back whose main focus was feminism.
In Sweden, Feminism doesn’t seem to have the same negative baggage as it does in the US. Maybe it is because, according to many studies, Sweden is the most gender equal country in the world, or the most ‘feminized’ country in the world, depending on the study.
It’s hard to say why, but the truth is, Sweden’s feminist policies have been pretty good for the menfolk as well. Here are a few things I believe men have gained from the feminist movement in Sweden.
1) Paternity leave – Swedish fathers are eligible for over 400 days of paid paternity leave (a majority of those days at 80% salary). Many Americans I know complain that maternity leave is sexist so there shouldn’t be any. Here in Sweden they took that away by making it available for every parent. Great solution I think! Fathers have the same rights to parental leave as mothers.
2) Joint custody – In divorces joint custody is always awarded unless there is proof of serious problems – abuse, drugs, etc. from the other parent. And single custody is a rare bird indeed. While I sometimes question the common practice of children switching homes every week to live with both parents, many families seem to make this work well.
3) No alimony – In Swedish divorce you don’t have to pay alimony unless in specific cases where there is extreme discrepencies and an agreement where one party wouldn’t work for the sake of the other party. Stay at home Moms or Full time wives are rare here, so in most cases there is no alimony.
4) Men can be capable of taking care of children too – Unlike the US where many people believe a man playing with a child is a predator, in Sweden you often see men taking care of their children early in the afternoon. I know many men at work who leave at 4:30 saying ‘Sorry I can’t stay, I have daycare pick up’ and everyone nods. No one makes a comment about you leaving your children with your husband (I swear I got this in the US once when I ran into someone while out ‘Where is little Swede?’ ‘Oh, home with Pappa’ ‘What? And you are OK with that?’ ‘Um yeah, I’m actually happy to have some time on my own.’)
So there are many plusses for both men and women in a gender equal society. It isn’t all bad if you let the ladies have a few things they need, it could end up there is something in it for you, too.