- -  Day # 349  + +

EU > Denmark > Roskilde

Gender issues

Roskilde, DK (View on map)

Only sixteen more days of Us Europeans left. I slowly getting used to the horizon coming closer. As much as the first of August of last year was a horizon-beyond-which-the unknown, this first of August will be similar in many ways. The end of a rhythm, a habit, a version of myself. No wining about that though, there`s still 1000 km left to cover. Today`s subject: gender equality in Denmark. Pretty much the opposite of stories I wrote earlier in Southern Italy, Greece and, more recently, Poland.

Eline (22):

`I don`t see any problem in same-sex couples adopting children`
While many European counties claim to strive for equal chances for men and women, only the Nordic countries seem to get close to that ideal. Danish families are usually composed of two working adults, both of whom are encouraged to take maternity leave when they get a baby. They both return to work when maternity leave runs out. Preschool takes care of the children when they grow older. Working hours of primary schools correspond to regular working hours, which means that the parents do not need to improvise too much for bringing young children to school and collecting them at the end of the day.

Genders at work
Eline (22, photo) thinks that children are not as much of a career-breaker as they are in other European countries. `Still, some employers may be weary of hiring people in their late 20s if they suspect that they are going to have children soon. Some jobs within competitive business do not really allow people to spend too much time on their private lives. Jobs that include night shifts, overtime work, travelling or simply a lot of personal input may be less suitable for people who have too much of a private life ? including people with children but regardless of whether it`s men or women. Any environment other than that of top business positions is likely to be quite considerate when it comes to family matters. Either way, companies can`t possibly fire employees for being pregnant or for taking maternity leave.`

Eline does not think that just about any job is as suitable for men as it is for women and vice versa: `Some jobs require physical power, others require typical feminine qualities like taking care and nurturing. But if a woman would want to work on a construction site or as a carpenter, I think she can count on a lot of sympathy and encouragement. In Denmark, personality matters more than gender. We first look at the qualities of the individual.`

Eline works as a manager in a cultural caf?: `My boss is a man, and we combine very well. We see different things and we see things in different ways. I think we make a powerful combination, and I think that women make valuable contributions in all areas of society. My own team in the caf? also makes a nice balance gender-wise. I like it that way, but what matters most is that everybody is motivated to make his or her contribution.`

At home
Eline continues: `Men and women are not the same and they shouldn`t be. Still, I embrace the idea that they should have equal opportunities to make their dreams come true. I am perfectly fine with same-sex partnerships. As long as couples consist of two people who love each other, why would an outsider have the right to disagree with that? I don`t see any problems in gay or lesbian couples adopting children either. What matters is that they have caring parents. A same-sex couple may have more to offer to a child than a mixed-gender marriage that doesn`t work. Better have gay parents who love each other than a father and a mother who are unable to properly raise a child. Apart from that, the procedures for adopting children are very strict so I think that bad parents will probably be filtered out anyway.`

Jakob (30) has roughly the same opinion as Eline. He considers men and women equal and thinks that the rights of gay couples should not be different from those of man-woman relations. `I am not even proud that we have laws supporting that view, I think it`s just normal. Looking at countries who think about gender role patterns in a traditional way, I would hold those for slightly medieval. In Denmark, each couple decides for itself how it divides domestic tasks. There is no such thing as standard rules that prescribe who does what. Both probably work full-time, and whoever cooks will depend on practical considerations. Who is the best cook? Who`s turn is it? Who gets home from work first? Not: who is the woman or who is supposed to take care of this?`

Jakob would be happy to see more women becoming computer engineers and more men working as nurses. `Male hair dressers are gay, that`s usually quite obvious. But in any other case, it would be nice if we could get rid of the stereotypes. A girl studying computer science can still be very feminine, while a guy working as a nurse should not be treated as a sissy. But those negative connections are also eroding. I myself work as a sound technician. It`s quite a male world, with rough language and all. But if I found myself working with a female colleague, I would think of her as quite cool.`

Emil (25) does not think that Danish girls are becoming more masculine and he doesn`t see Danish boys get more feminine. `Some behaviour is getting more alike though. Girls drink as much alcohol as boys do. They tend to smoke more than boys do. They can be equally bad at cooking as boys are supposed to be.`

Simone (17) thinks that girls talk about sex as openly as guys do. `Not in the exact same way, but it`s equally discussable. Not even between girls-only, also in mixed company. I know for most of my friends with how many people they have slept in their lives. You don`t know whether everybody is as honest about it. The rule is that the real number of bed partners for women is two more than what they say, while for men it`s three fewer. It`s definitely something young people talk about, almost regardless of who`s sitting in.`

Safe sex
Simone explains that she frequently has male friends coming over to sleep at her place, but nothing in that decision should make them expect that something will happen. She also tells about a case where she slept at a boy`s place. `We were going to have sex and I suggested we use a condom. He refused and even got mad. He told me that I could just take a morning-after pill the next day and didn`t see any problem in that. Then I just went home, end of the story. In most cases, using condoms just something you talk about and it doesn`t make much difference who of the two brings up the subject.`

Simone thinks the liberal abortion laws in Denmark may be a bit too liberal. `I know some girls who had abortions and I wonder hoe necessary that all was. I wouldn`t want to see it prohibited, but I know that some people just take it too easily. They should ask themselves more questions before taking such a dramatic decision.`

Soheil (20) thinks that sexual education in Denmark can hardly be blamed for the high number of teenage pregnancies. `You will be typically taught in school, not so much by the parents. Then after that, your father may once ask you whether you know about condoms and if you say yes for an answer, he`ll be fine with it. I think unwanted pregnancy mostly result from negligence, not from ignorance.`

Going out
Peter (19) tells me that he will not feel intimidated if a girl walks up to him to chat him up in a bar. `That`s quite common in Denmark. Girls have the same rights as boys when it comes to that. It can even give them a bit of status if they do it in an elegant way. Having sex with to many boys is not likely to be good for her reputation, but the talking part is not a problem. If she knows you, maybe just by the face, she might just as easily propose you a beer. Assuming that you`ll end up in her bed that night would most probably to be too quick a conclusion. Something might happen, but that`s really the highest expectation you can derive from being offered a beer.`

Peter then explains that Danish youngsters may be surprisingly and collectively liberal when the occasion is right: `At the end of secondary school, many classes first organise a gala to celebrate the end of the final exam period. We did that too in my school and when the entire year was really over, we organised a big nightly beach party for our classmates. Everybody was wearing their graduation hats. Whoever joined the skinny dipping got a wave-shaped cut from his/her hat. Drinking a certain number of beers would entitle people to a square shaped cut. Having sex with the hat on during that night was the supreme deed: it was celebrated with a lightning-shaped pattern cut out of the hat.`

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