I have with fascination followed the Swedish debate on feminism. Here is the one country in the world with the highest rate of working mothers, superior childcare system, 18 months paid maternity leave which can be shared with the father, and with women earning closest to a man’s salary (a whooping 88%). And still there appears to be a need for a feminist party, feminist organisations, laws etc etc. It’s perhaps not unlikely that gender equality is taken so seriously given all these initiatives, but as a Swede with a foreign mentality it often appears on the brink of absurd. To the point where I really wonder if women want to be treated in all aspects of life, the same as a man. And how does that impact the role of the man? I have this perception of the Swedish man being utterly confused if not in denial. At home, he is expected to share everything with his partner. Whether it’s the dishes, the ironing, cooking, cleaning, you name it. In contrast, how many women takes care of the car and garden?

I can see the rationale though, as women are becoming a major breadwinner in the family, and often has to come home to a second job. Still I can’t help but wonder if men can be pushed into a new role by public opinion. Will we see a backlash?

At the same time, I wish some of the things Swedes take for granted would be part of our Dutch reality. Although on the surface Holland is an emancipated society it has it’s short-comings (from a female perspective).

First of all most women with children (and a good percentage of women without), work part-time. It’s not uncommon for a mother of two to work 2 days a week or not at all. Although I’m not an expert I believe this derives from primarily two reasons, legacy and social structure. Legacy, as until a few decades ago it was expected of the woman to stop working when she got married. Social structure because of the poor childcare facilities. It’s difficult to get childcare in Holland and if you do you pay a fortune. It’s not uncommon with a bill of EUR 1000 for full time childcare. I believe in Sweden you pay about 10% of that. With the average woman’s net income of about EUR 2000 a month, is it really worth working for?

I would say yes, in the long run it is. Not only to be able to earn some money, but I think in contrast to many Dutch men and women, that children will be better off seeing both their parents working rather than one. It paints a more accurate picture of how society really is, and that both parents has to take a responsibility towards the family. Second of all with the mother at home portraits men and women and their qualities in an unequal light which is then carried on the child until adulthood.

In fact from a historical perspective, women have always worked, unless they were from the upper classes. Therefore it cannot be seen as a legitimate reason to argue that it has always been this way.

But this set aside, there are other “news” that would make the most liberal Swede to choke on his morning coffee. Take prostitution. In Sweden prostitution is illegal to “buy”. They are now even considering a law which will make it a criminal act to go to a prostitute abroad. Here in Holland, whilst they are closing down Red Light Districts, we are nowhere in sight of banning prostitution. Perhaps it should be seen as a woman’s explicit right to sell herself, and a man’s right to buy. No matter what values we put on it. I’m painting of course a very simplified picture to a complex problem. I doubt we can ever find a way resolve these social dilemmas. But coming back to the basic point, do we really want to see men as female clones? Not for me thank you. But playing the devil’s advocate with my own arguments, I’d rather be tied up in bed than tied down with chores. Reinout you know what to do!