Swedish feminists push for Midsummer ‘mayhole’ revolution

While most Swedes look forward to dancing around a traditional maypole this Midsummer, one group of gender-conscious revellers is pushing Swedes to celebrate the holiday by gathering around a vagina instead, contributor Lina Sennevall discovers.

Swedish feminists push for Midsummer 'mayhole' revolution
Images courtesy of the Midsommarfitta Facebook page

With the cherished Midsummer holiday just around the corner, Swedes across the country are busy planning how they’ll spend this most traditional of holidays.

Among the most important parts of a traditional Midsummer celebration is the decoration and erection of a flower-adorned maypole, around which joyous Swedes, young and old, dance and sing merry tunes like “Små grodorna” (‘Little frogs’) in a rapturous celebration of the summer’s warmth and sunshine.

But this year, a growing chorus of voices rising up against Sweden’s traditional Midsummer celebrations, implore Swedes to break with tradition and dance around a vagina instead.

“In the future I want coming generations to say on their trips abroad that ‘In Sweden we celebrate midsummer by dancing around a vagina’,” says Alexander Alvina Chamberland, co-founder of the group Midsommarfitta (‘Midsummer Cunt’).

Chamberland, a self-proclaimed ‘femme genderqueer’ who launched the group on Facebook in 2008, believes the traditional Midsummer maypole is a sexist phallic symbol that should be replaced by something of a more feminine flavour.

Rather than erecting a maypole, he and other members in the group want Swedes to spend time fashioning ‘mayholes’ by digging a hole in the ground or arranging tree branches in the shape of a vagina.

“It could be all different sizes, laid on the ground, or erected into the sky. It could be built from flowers, fabric, leafs, stones or glass,” says Chamberland, who believes Sweden’s current Midsummer tradition is too “heteronormative”.

“It’s not just the pole,” he explains.

“The tradition of girls picking seven different flowers to put under their pillow to dream about their future man is also very heteronormative and patriarchal.”

As a femme genderqueer who feels neither like a man nor woman, but nevertheless chooses to act in a feminine manner, Chamberland says the goal of the Midsommarfitta initiative is to bring down the phallic symbols everywhere in society but also to get people to look at other holidays with a critical eye.

“Everything is politics,” says Alexander.

“Just look at Santa Claus. He’s working while Mrs Claus sits at home. And he has little slaves that make everything for him.”

However, some experts dispute Chamberland’s assertion that the Midsummer maypole is in fact a phallic symbol.

“The short answer is that the maypole is not really a phallic symbol. A person’s interpretation of the maypole is of course very individual but generally you could say that the pole symbolises party, summer and time off work,“ says Katarina Ek-Nilson, of Sweden’s Institute for Language and folklore (Institutet för språk och folkminnen).

“The maypole is in fact a German custom that came to Sweden around the 16th century, so it’s not an ancient tradition.”

Ek-Nilson adds that the shape of maypoles can vary, with some also being shaped like a cross.

“There are also indications that they used to look more like smaller poles or sceptres,” she explains.

Others suggest that the pole indeed represents a penis but that the earth symbolises the woman being fertilised by the pole, meaning that both sexes are actually being represented in the traditional symbol.

But such explanations fail to convince Chamberland, who has just finished his master degree in gender studies, that Midsummer celebrations don’t need changing.

“That still reflects the different gender roles and the view that there are only two genders and that sex should only be vaginal and between a man and a woman when in fact there are lots of different ways to have sex,” he argues.

Stina Svensson, a spokesperson for the feminist political party Feminist Initiative (Feministiskt Initiativ – FI), welcomes Chamberland’s efforts.

“I think it seems like a creative new way to celebrate Midsummer and I think it’s good when people celebrate the way they want to instead of how they should,” she says.

Chamberland hopes to utilise the Midsommarfitta Facebook group, which now boasts more than 3,000 members, to help spread awareness about how to create a Midsummer vagina by encouraging people to share pictures of their ‘mayholes’ with one another ahead of this year’s holiday.

So far, the response has been encouraging.

“I’m very surprised over the positive feedback and that so many people like this fun and political way of celebrating,” says Chamberland.

Although thousands have embraced the ‘Midsummer Cunt’ movement, the group has received its share of criticism, especially from anti-feminists.

But Chamberland shrugs off the negative reactions, arguing that detractors are simply taking the group too seriously.

“Feminists are often accused of not having any humour and then when we do, people complain that we’re ridiculous. I’d like to say though that most people have been positive,” he says.

Either way, Chamberland plans on spending his Midsummer holiday in Berlin this year.

And while he won’t be dancing around a vagina, he plans keep a close eye on the group’s Facebook page to monitor the expected flood of Midsummer ‘mayholes’ he expects to turn up.

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Midsummer: Why do Swedes like to pretend they’re little frogs?

One of the most bizarre yet commonly observed Midsummer traditions in Sweden is the frog dance around the maypole. The dance, which everyone living in Sweden sees all ages do each summer, has become a staple of Swedish culture.

Midsummer: Why do Swedes like to pretend they're little frogs?
Dancing around the Maypole is one of the biggest Midsummer traditions. Photo: Henrik Holmberg / TT

The song describes little frogs who are apparently amusing to look at, due to their lack of ears and tails, and is accompanied with dance moves to represent ears and tails. The song then mimics croaking and the dancers skip like frogs around the pole.

Maybe you saw Swedish actor Peter Stormare sing the song to Tom Cruise in the American action movie Minority Report, made by Steven Spielberg in 2002. Or maybe you have seen Swedish celebrities demonstrate the dance, such as Alicia Vikander in the clip below. Maybe you’ve simply been bewildered when the frog dance broke out at a Swedish Midsummer party.

Here’s how the song goes:

Små Grodorna lyrics

Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se.

Little frogs, little frogs, are funny to look at.

Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se.

Little frogs, little frogs, are funny to look at.

Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de.

No ears, no ears, no tails have they.

Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de.

No ears, no ears, no tails have they.

Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,

kou ack ack ack ack kaa.

Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,

kou ack ack ack ack kaa.

Where does it come from?

Despite being a pinnacle in Swedish culture, the song actually originates from France.

It borrows from the French military march La Chanson de l’Oignon (The Song of the Onion), which was sung by the Napoleon army. The onion was an important source of food for the French army, and the chorus, used for croaking in the Swedish version, goes “Au pas, camarade, au pas, camarade, au pas, au pas, au pas” (In step, comrade) in the French original.

As for how frogs became involved in the song, it is commonly believed to be due to a parody version sung by the English, who at the time were bitter enemies of France. The English referred disparagingly to the French as “frogs” or “frog-eaters” and rewrote the lyrics to “Au pas, grenouille” (In step, frog). 

How this song made its way into Swedish traditions is not known, but the first recorded instance of the “Little Frogs” was in woodwork and culture classes given at Nääs castle in the end of the 1800s. These courses were given to teachers where they could learn songs and traditions to pass onto school children. 

The song is also sung in Norway as “Små Rumpetroll” and in Denmark as “Små Frøer”. But it is relatively young in terms of Swedish children’s ballads. Some the other Midsummer classics, such as “Räven Raskar Över Isen” (The Fox Hurries Across the Ice) can be traced back to the middle ages, according to Mats Nilsson, professor of ethnology at Gothenburg University.