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Gender debate sparks UK-Sweden media spat

Published: 03 Dec 2012 16:27 GMT+01:00

"Boys will be girls, as they say in Sweden," finance writer Thomas Pascoe wrote in a post published last week in the blog section of The Telegraph's website.

He went on to argue that Sweden's anti-discrimination laws are "insane" and lead to "bizarre" outcomes which do little to improve the status of women in Swedish society, citing figures showing a persistent wage gap between men and women.

"The result of stripping women of their social roles as mothers has not been the development of a new balance in society which still respects women, but rather a sexual nihilism with which most women are instinctively uncomfortable," he wrote.

The sideswipe against Sweden's gender-equality efforts came on the heels of reports that Toys"R"Us had produced a "gender neutral" toy catalogue for consumers in Sweden which features images of boys offering dolls a toy bottle, as well as little girls taking aim with plastic rifles.

"No boy grows up dreaming of being a princess. I find it hard to believe many little girls grow up wanting to shoot people," wrote Pascoe.

The article prompted a stinging reply published on Saturday in Swedish tabloid Expressen by columnist Jenny Strömstedt.

She explained she was addressing her open letter to "Fred Flinstone", because Pascoe "seems convinced that we still live in caves".

The Expressen columnist then rips Pascoe for connecting images of boy playing with toy vacuums to Swedish women's "sexual nihilism", asking why he thinks femininity "needs to be affirmed through sexuality in the absence of clear mothering".

Surveys have shown that men who share housework with their wives have sex more often, adds Strömstedt, going on to promote the benefits of Swedish laws which provide incentives for fathers to take parental leave.

Refusing to take Strömstedt's critique lying down, Pascoe on Monday published his own "open letter to the women of Sweden" emblazoned with an image of the Swedish Bikini Team.

"I am struck by the fact that both genders in your country seem to have lost a role and not yet found an argument to justify the fact," he wrote.

According to Pascoe's, the Swedish columnist's decision to compare him to Fred Flinstone is equivalent to likening Strömstedt to Elin Nordegren, the Swedish ex-wife of star golfer Tiger Woods, because "you appear to have blonde hair, blue eyes and an attitude which would make you dangerous with a golf club".

The Telegraph blogger explains that whether Swedish "women are driven into an erotic frenzy by the sight of men with feather dusters" is beside the point.

"Sweden's approach to gender differences has been to attempt to legislate them away. It hasn't worked," he concludes.

"A society which views female liberation as liberation solely from the bounds of sexual shame is misogynist, not feminist."

Despite the heated exchange, the two writers did manage a more cordial exchange on Twitter, with Strömstedt offering to buy lunch for Pascoe, who accepted, but insisted he pay for the "over-taxed drinks from the state alcohol monopoly".

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Your comments about this article

21:31 December 3, 2012 by byke
When Jenny Strömstedt, started to try and throw insults and references to Fred Flintstone she lost the argument. She obviously cant compete with Thomas Pascoe.

Jenny Strömstedt, obviously has her place.

But its not with the big boys in terms of professional journalism or academic writing. As using such name slinging is not very lady like, nor does it have a place in such a discussion.

She would be better suited using such energy in other areas, such as beating dust from carpets.
21:38 December 3, 2012 by omash kavash
he gave her true words surely swedes are totally wrong about this trying to make the boyz to be gays n the girls lesbians n making them feel its alright
22:06 December 3, 2012 by kanjo
I agree with Pascoe that the gender experiment in Sweden is about to show all of us something....either good or bad. It is driven by hardcore extreme feminists whose fuel is rage and anger about previous inequalities by 'bigoted' men. But in all their endeavors, they have succumbed to the trap which these bigoted men fell into ie they think that gender roles are a weakness. Many foolish men (some feminists inclusive) in the world confuse femininity with weakness and this is wrong.

Women are mothers, and they are prepared for that role socially and physiologically. If you think that these preparations serve no purpose and that they are a weakness then you need help. On the other hand, the in equality stemmed from the fact that some of these roles were not remunerated and this should be the focus of feminists. otherwise, i will also not be surprised if the there is gender identity loss and its consquencies in Sweden. But am glad, no man will ever host a uterus in the near future and no man will therefore ever know what it actually means to be a woman.

To all women, I thank you for being our mothers even in times when society didn't recognize what you did , i think your femininity was the strength that built most civilisations. I also beg you to bring up your female children as independent but most of all as mothers like you.
23:02 December 3, 2012 by Carbarrister
Regardless of attempts at advertising social engineering directed at parents I found with my children that at a very young age boys and girls determined which toys they liked. Even before he could walk my son gravitated towards bats, balls, trucks and showed no interest in dolls despite my wife's efforts to interest him in her favorite childhood doll. On the other hand our daughter loved dolls and also loved balls and sports.

Most of the gender specific toys appear to appeal to the genetics of millions of years of development. Let kids be kids. Young men can be trained to perform household tasks later in life. Hey, I learned. Women can do what ever they are capable and are not limited by the toys they played with as a child.
01:02 December 4, 2012 by Migga
Jenny Strömstedt described Thomas Pascoe as Fred Flintstone based on his views, he called her Elin Nordegren based on her looks. It`s clear he is the ignorant and shallow one.

If one reads Pascoes article it`s clear that he lies or have no idea about anything going on in Sweden. But if one ignores all the false things he lists the point he has is that he actually thinks Sweden is trying to destroy the differences between male and female. This is simply not true.

Sweden wants to give everyone, no matter their gender, equal oppurtunity to do and have any role they want. It`s not about destroying diffrences, it`s about equal oppurtunity. If you are so insecure that you can`t see that it`s your problem.
01:33 December 4, 2012 by DAVID T
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
09:07 December 4, 2012 by 77sjuksköterskorpåsjukhuset
British culture's socialization of girls and boys to assigned gender roles is insane. Boys and girls should learn how to do housework and cooking while also learning about not only how to operate a vehicle, but also its mechanics as well. Those who feel that Sweden is "trying to make boys gays and girls lesbians" should have their heads examined. Better yet, move to that fog-shrouded island where nothing ever seems to be in the clear. I am proud of Sweden's advocation of gender neutrality. The middle way and the neutral way have always been what Sweden stands for.
10:29 December 4, 2012 by StockholmSam
There is nothing wrong with showing little boys pushing vacuum cleaners in a toy catalog. This is a good initiative as we should not assign gender roles to children before they have a chance to decide for themselves. But there is something very wrong with showing children of any gender holding toy machine guns. And it is downright despicable that Mr. Pascoe would write in his blog that little boys wanting to grow up to "shoot people" is an appropriate marker of male identity.

Though both are two wealthy first-world nations, at this point in time, I would say that Sweden is in far better shape than England economically, socially and culturally by a long shot. Point is, Sweden has spent many decades innovating its culture to a point that Sweden is often held up as a model society. Imagine how Sweden went from the Viking culture to the culture of neutrality. That takes a tremendous shift in culture, and is the result of cultural innovations that certainly were criticized from within and without. I have never, ever seen England held up as a model society or culture. Very rarely do I see England or English cities mentioned in standard-of-living rankings. I just do not see how an Englishman can justify pointing a finger at Sweden and saying we are doing something wrong when we do so many things right compared to England. A bit ironic, I think. Mr. Pascoe should spend his energies focusing on the morass of England's problems and let us all just see how this toy catalog initiative plays out. My ten years in Sweden have shown me that Sweden is an extremely egalitarian society and while gaps still persist, women seem to be intelligent and empowered here. Swedish men are not emasculated but are rather willing to take on roles traditionally seen as feminine in nature. I find this refreshing and balancing. A lot of the problems I saw in my home country that were rooted in the pressures of gender roles do not exist here, thankfully.
10:45 December 4, 2012 by Emerentia
Taking care of your own child, ironing your clothes or cooking has nothing to do with "dreaming of being a princess". Usually those people have staff who do that for them. And do little boys really grow up, wanting to shoot people? Probably not, but both girls and boys can play that they are soldiers or bank robbers or something like that, that doesn't mean that they dream of shooting people for real.

If you get upset by seeing a little boy wearing a chefs hat, cooking, are you then upset that there are a lot of male chefs? Are chefs like Gordon Ramsey for example feminine, cause he cook? I think that both little girls and little boys should be able to play with whatever toy they like, and dream of being a chef, a parent, a soldier or whatever they want and not be judged by adults.
11:00 December 4, 2012 by Scambaiter
It's "Fred Flintstone", :))

And the Torygraph is an ultra-conservative rag so nobody cares what they think except a few blue rinses, islamophobes and retired colonels.
11:12 December 4, 2012 by DAVID T
Jenny Strömstedt needs to spend more time in the kitchen :-)
11:16 December 4, 2012 by Victor Meldrew
What's wrong with being Fred Flintstone? There is a place for women
09:37 December 5, 2012 by the fonz
Comment #7 fails miserably because to resort to insult throwing almost always shows a lack of logic, much like the article itself.

There is of course a place for men and women and believe it or not - we are different and we like different things. Fact!

Furthermore, who would look at page 3 if there were a bloke on it?

:D)
23:44 December 5, 2012 by Emerentia
@ the fonz

Yes, there are differences, like there are things a lot of women/girls like, that men like less, and things a lot of men/boys like, that women like less, but people are individuals and just because a lot of women like something doesn't make the woman who don't less woman and the man who doesn't like what most men like less man. A lot of things are biological, and there are differences between men and women, but there is also a lot of diffrences on a individial level. A lot of differences are not biological, but learned, if we are expected to like something and get approval for that from a early age, we often start to like that.

I think I have more in common with my brother and my boyfriend for example, than some random woman. The differences between her and me are bigger than the differences between me and the men I spend my life with, I believe.

We should be able to choose what we like, and not be held down by what's expected of us, based on your sex. Let people be free to make their own choices. People who are afraid of this things seem to be people who like to control and judge other people. People who like to make their own minds up about what they like and think outside the box and don't like are considered dangerous. - "Stop! Get back into this mold, all women should like the same things, and all men should like the same things!" But if most people don't? Should we pretend, just to please, just to fit in?

What so scary about a man who takes care of his children, are you afraid he is a better father, that you can't compete with that, so you call him less of a man? Whats so scary of a woman who has a good career, are you afraid he is a better co-worker, that you can't compete with that, so you call her less of a woman? Why is it so important for some people to judge and deside for others?
06:49 December 6, 2012 by salescopy
You Swedes should see yourselves as we foreigners see you!

You'd be schocked.

You people have completely gone off the deep end.

A society so effeminated and populated by whimps has no future whatsoever.

Goodby Sweden, it has been nice knowing you.
09:14 December 6, 2012 by sushipeas
Jenny Strömstedt probably makes rubbish sandwiches
18:20 December 7, 2012 by HorstRadisch
I lived in the UK for 30 years. Anyone who reads the Telegraph has some serious problems.

I've now lived in Sweden for 20 years. I don't think I'm "schocked" by society here, and I don't think I know any "whimps", but I do know plenty of people who've been through the school system here and have learned how to spell.

Goodby (sic) Telegraph readers. Enjoy your narrow lives in Little England, where the economy is doing so well and society is clearly functioning so well (a few riots last year notwithstanding).
03:48 December 8, 2012 by Garry Jones
I moved to Sweden in 1988. Married and had kids in 89, 92 and 96.

I have had periods when I have been unemployed/worked evenings and weekends/worked from home. Consequently I was at home a lot during the years my kids were small. My wife was very content in her roll as mother and actually wanted to be at home with the kids as long as possible. Not something the Swedish feminists understood when they successfully lobbyed for a change in the rules.

1st kid 1989. My wife was entitled to 270 of 360 days maternity leave and 90 days at a lower guarantee amount. In additon I was given 90 days. I was entitled to hand her these 90 days. At five days a week that gave her 18 weeks more maternity leave.

2st kid 1992. Same as above except I was forced to take 30 of my 90 days. We appealed because I had been at home most of the first 18 months during a period of weekend and evening work. We thought they would see the individual circumstances but they didn't and forced my wife back to work 6 weeks early.

3rd kid 1996. Same as 2nd kid except I was now forced to keep 60 days denying my wife 3 months at home with the kid.

It really is terrible that these feminists have forced their changes on to the multitudes. Who better to decide who stays at home than the actual parents? How dare they think they know more what is better for us and our kids than us.

All too often these feminists are lesbians who don't have children and can not identify with how my wife felt when she was forced back into work earlier than she wanted. Nothing wrong with lesbians per se but sometimes the people pushing for changes are not in synch with people outside of their spheres.

Just let each to his own. Yes boys doing housework is a good thing so I agree with the hoover aspect but there are some toys that are gender specific. The way it will always be. We don't allow women into the front-line so there will always be defined roles in society.
15:51 December 8, 2012 by theobserver
I have lived in 12 different countries and it is only in Sweden where a man's dressing and behaving in effeminate manners is considered a virtue.

Come on Swedes, can't you see that the whole world is laughing at you?
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