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'Sweden made me re-think affirmative action'

23 Nov 2011, 11:20

Published: 23 Nov 2011 11:20 GMT+01:00

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Reacting to my latest contribution on The Local, some readers questioned if I wanted to live in Sweden or whether it would not be better to move (back) to another country.

One commentator even “marvel(ed) at Mr. Brunsveld's almost neverending knitpicking of Sweden's endless flow of 'faults and inadequacies'’. So let me begin with stating the obvious: Sweden is a marvelous country in which to live!

So many important core values are anchored in society in a way that few other countries have managed. Transparency, equality, the rule of law, and many other human rights values are not only incorporated in the constitution but also woven deeply into the fabric of society.

And yes, sometimes I wonder if it doesn’t go too far.

For instance when a perfect stranger can find out my phone number in the middle of the night just from taking down the number plate on my car. But the bottom line is that when it comes to human rights, it is better to have a cup too much than a spoon too little.

And in one crucial area of human rights - gender policies - Sweden is one of the leading countries in the world, albeit with some work left to be done.

Despite the massive progress, the topic remains sensitive however, as demonstrated by the reactions to the article entitled "Men sue Swedish police for sexual discrimination" published on The Local on November 14th.

It reminded me of a negotiation I witnessed while working in Brussels over a decision to send an EU military peacekeeping mission to Africa.

The Swedish delegation delayed the vote because they could not accept a military mission that was so gender imbalanced.

At the time, Sweden's focus on gender equality seemed excessive to me, but since moving to Sweden, my views on gender-based affirmative action have changed.

I used to be against it (not in the least because of the effect it can have for the women that are seen to be chosen for the mere fact of being a woman).

And while I still fully agree that jobs should in principle be fulfilled on the basis of merit, if candidates are equally suitable, it can be a merit for an organization to increase the number of female employees and that affirmative action can be used as a positive tool.

What prompted my shift on the subject?

As a foreigner in Sweden, one quickly notices that almost every commercial for childcare products shows men, while every recruitment posters for the army, police, or rescue services features women.

In addition, gender sensitivity is emphasized to any new company trying to make it in the Swedish market and anyone working in the field of communication and marketing will tell you that making a faux pas within "gender" in Sweden is extremely damaging to your image.

Around 70-80 percent of the way we communicate and the way we see the world is defined at an unconscious level. It is not in "logos" but in "ethos" and "pathos". It is not in our brain but in our underbelly; our gut instinct which some say stems from that mysterious bundle of nerves known as the solar plexus.

It is the feeling we feel, not the knowledge we know, that defines to a large degree how we view the world around us.

So how did gender awareness become so rooted in Swedish society?

In order to change people's perceptions of what a gender equal society looks like, the image of that society needs to change first. In Sweden, the "instinct" of people has changed when it comes to gender. The picture of society they see in their minds is no longer shaped by traditional gender-based stereotypes.

Story continues below…

In some cases, quotas (explicit or otherwise) may be put in place to help shift the image presented by society. In other cases, more subtle measures may be applied such as a strong emphasis in media images. But they serve the same goal: to be a crowbar to the solar plexus to shift perceptions at an unconscious level.

They are a way of forcing the old image out and of getting people used to the new image of society. It is not until a society gets used to gender equal images that it will start to apply them in practice. A lesson Sweden understood early on.

Although Sweden’s emphasis on gender can seem like a bit much at times to a foreigner, I believe it has worked. By repeatedly showing gender equal images the norms have shifted, after which people start to apply it unconsciously.

So do I still secretly smile when I walk by an army recruitment poster that only features women? Do I still wonder if it is representative and functional?

Yes. But I’ll still take that cup too much any day of the week.

Ruben Brunsveld is the Director of the Stockholm Institute for Public Speaking (StIPS), which offers training in Intercultural Communication, Public Speaking & Negotiation Techniques

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Your comments about this article

12:42 November 23, 2011 by shinnam
The emphasis on gender egalitarianism is great . Wonder why Toys'r'us is struggling in Sweden, look at the catalog. There are 35 pages in a row with only males pictured with stereotypical male toys and 42 pages of females with "girl toys" i except for one one lone boy in the background on one page.

I like Sweden's gender equality too, I always wanted to get trucks for Christmas, when my stocking was full of baby dolls.
15:26 November 23, 2011 by Central European
There is only one , but big, problem of affirmative action.

It is its triumph over plain common sense in some areas of society.

So for examle that in some schools in sweden now woman sue couse due to equality they admit 50 percent of man to areas where normally has been admitted 75 percent of woman, womans with better results but over quotas of their gender are not accepted.

Or in prison the ladies transports man killers and they are killed to be just pure victims of equality of right to be warder.

Or the ladies in army who are in combat conditions refusing commands to wash with other troops.

Or the firewomans, who has trouble even to carry firemans gear in building in fire much less to carry out the old fat lady out of fire ....

So plain common sense please :)
16:23 November 23, 2011 by Smiling Canuk
I agree that affirmative action often lacks basic common sense. Nobody deserves to be discriminated against for what they are, but nobody deserves special treatment either.
20:42 November 23, 2011 by Lavaux
So it's perfectly alright for the state to employ propaganda, discriminatory quotas and laws, and otherwise manipulate the thoughts and emotions of unwitting citizens to affect societal change? I see. And what of individual sovereignty and liberty? Out the window, I suppose, particularly when they stand in the way of affecting desirable societal change.

Swedes: Are they people or sheeple?
04:22 November 24, 2011 by Grokh
@Central European i would assume for someone to become a fire woman they will have to be trained and prepared for such occasions where they need to carry someone to safety.

I don't think they would employ a skinny girl that cant carry her own gear.

The matter in case is open to discussion, for example i do agree that there needs to be equality but i also think there has to be merit.

Otherwise its just like the case where a Swedish fireman, who had worked as fireman for long and didn't get the job because they were reserved for immigrants without experience.(he ended up suing them and won)

When it comes down to it merit has to be taken into account first.

And by merit i mean it does not matter if they are men or woman or immigrant or anything else, it just matters if they are the right person for the job.

I would take a woman fireman or even a woman guard, provided they are trained and capable, over any men who is not trained and not capable of their duties.

if a spot is open and there are 2 capable and equally experienced men and woman THEN they should choose the gender as a priority but only then.
07:45 November 24, 2011 by Marc the Texan
Sweden loves to intervene and overcompensate wherever it perceives the state of the nation deviates from the political correctness of the day.
08:41 November 24, 2011 by RobinHood
Gender quotas are unfair. There is no excuse for the best man/woman for the job being turned down because he/ she is the wrong gender. People who support gender quotas simply prove the opposite of what they intend; they prove that a person,s gender should be considered when selecting and recruiting.
08:43 November 24, 2011 by skogsbo
if men and woman were born equal they could be treat equal, but when it comes to physical attribute, we are different, there is no escpaing the fact. What society should do is exploit the strengths of each gender, rather than try and equal something that won't ever be. Some women are physically stronger than some men, but this is the minority and when it comes to any role where strength or fitness is critical to life saving, then common sense has to apply.

Sadly in the UK women still have easier physical tests in the fire service or in the military. If won't ever changed because any senior staff would get rained down on for even suggesting true equality, ie equal testing. In tight knit operational teams mixed gender rarely works, it's a fact and won't change either.

You also look at other occupations where heavy lifting is often required, ambulance staff for example. even nurses, the number of staff who get injured is staggering, it's obviously higher on the female side.
10:41 November 24, 2011 by Central European
grokh : well this is not a question of trainig of preparing, not question of skinny or not squinny females there.

I d like to see 60-65 kg average even sporty and trained female carrying out 90-100 kg old male/female few floors out of building in fire in oxigene mask with oxigene bomb all in with person to help 115-120 kg ?

But there is a one point inf matter of fire in serail it ´d be good to have one or two female teams ready...:)
11:19 November 24, 2011 by Kevin Harris
And there was me thinking discriminating for or against men and women on account of their gender was wrong.

Thanks Ruben for confirming that sexual discrimination is OK. Is it OK to discriminate for or against people on account of their race too?

See what happens when you try and seperate "good" discrimination from "bad" discrimination. You can't! All discrimination is bad!

Every person, male or female, black or white, should be treated equally in every way. Anything else is - well- it's discrimination. You don't solve a discrimination problem by counter-discrimintation. You solve it some other way.
18:18 November 24, 2011 by Rumrunner94
@ Lavaux...Sheeple, and well put, as are many.

It is shocking to me that most of the comments here are dealing with the subject of affirmative action and gender equality, but the article has more to do with the manner of the institutionalization of "ideals" into the fabric of society, and that according to an ideal dictated by someone who took it upon themselves to postulate what the ideal may be. Gender awareness is but an example that the author is using.

What is this article really about?? Consider the long quote from the piece:

"It is the feeling we feel, not the knowledge we know, that defines to a large degree how we view the world around us."

"So how did gender awareness become so rooted in Swedish society?

-In order to change people's perceptions of what a gender equal society looks like, the image of that society needs to change first. In Sweden, the "instinct" of people has changed when it comes to gender. The picture of society they see in their minds is no longer shaped by traditional gender-based stereotypes.

-In some cases, quotas (explicit or otherwise) may be put in place to help shift the image presented by society. In other cases, more subtle measures may be applied such as a strong emphasis in media images. But they serve the same goal: to be a crowbar to the solar plexus to shift perceptions at an unconscious level.

-They are a way of forcing the old image out and of getting people used to the new image of society. It is not until a society gets used to gender equal images that it will start to apply them in practice. A lesson Sweden understood early on.

-Although Sweden's emphasis on gender can seem like a bit much at times to a foreigner, I believe it has worked. By repeatedly showing gender equal images the norms have shifted, after which people start to apply it unconsciously."

There is a word for this folks: BRAINWASHING, the direction of which is based purely upon what someone else's PERCEPTIONS/FEELINGS were, which they presented to others as KNOWLEDGE, and then built an apparatus of subconsciously impressing that upon the whole of society until it became FEELING.

So NOW I'll re-quote: "It is the feeling we feel, not the knowledge we know, that defines to a large degree how we view the world around us."

Maybe for the sheep, Ruben, but not for the shepherd.

My question to the author against his thesis, gender equality aside:

::When does knowledge become feeling?

::When does feeling become knowledge?

You've given nothing more than a chicken and egg scenario here. So who is worthy to say what is right? By what instrument are the people made certain and secure about the legitimacy of their feeling?

I am not against gender equality at all, make no mistake. I am vehemently opposed, however, to the manner in which it has been presented.

Welcome to the land of the happy and stupid...sheep, be it Sweden or anywhere else.
20:11 November 24, 2011 by DAVID T
Women should stay in the kitchen and look after the house :-) haha
15:47 November 25, 2011 by Ron Pavellas
Sorry to pick nits, but it's not "knitpicking", it's nit-picking.
17:54 November 25, 2011 by Lavaux
@Rumrunner94: Great post, spot on.

If you don't feel mentally raped by ubiquitous, assertive propaganda disseminated to surreptitiously manipulate your thoughts and emotions to some end you otherwise wouldn't consciously approve, then you are a mere tool of propagandists and their masters. Every man's conscience is his own by natural and inalienable right. If others wish to change your conscience, then they must appeal to your heart and mind directly and expressly through argument founded on sound reason and fact as well as sentiments you both may share. Propaganda is sneaky, cowardly and above all, dishonest. Its use betrays the sinister nature of the ends it is employed to advance.

Regarding the chicken and egg problem, the consciences of citizens must be changed first before laws codifying the change can be successfully enacted. Whether propaganda can successfully affect the change depends on the citizenry's susceptibility to it. What renders a citizenry susceptible to propaganda presents a question for another day.
21:04 November 25, 2011 by Alohart
For those of you who think that you should have the freedom to do whatever you damn well please regardless of its effects on society, there are many countries where you could live that would give you such freedom, but you'll need to deal with the resulting society. I live in the U.S. and Sweden and greatly prefer Sweden's society.

So go ahead and call me a "tool of propagandists", one of the "sheeple", or whatever else makes you feel superior. I understand what Sweden is doing, value the results, and think that all countries should follow Sweden's lead if they want a more functional society. But it's up to each society to determine what's best for it. I know it's shocking to realize that some people actually prefer Sweden's society. Thankfully, a choice of societies exists, so if you don't like Sweden's, you can choose a different one.
01:00 November 26, 2011 by Rumrunner94
Alohart comes in guns blazing...

Neither the comments by myself or by Lavaux asserted that anyone should be able to do what they want "regardless of its affects on society." No, we leveled your very accusation against anyone who believes that they may disseminate propaganda in order to "surreptitiously manipulate your thoughts and emotions to some end [that one] otherwise wouldn't consciously approve."

Has not the source of such manipulations taken upon themselves to live by the very freedom which you criticize? Absent of accountability?

Do you think that the citizens of Sweden are immune from dealing with the fallout of the effects of such manipulations administered over the course of time? When the power that be GETS IT WRONG, will not a society eventually backlash an attempt to self-correct in one form or another, be it gradual or one of crisis?

I've lived in the U.S., Sweden, and in other European countries. Frankly, their are NONE that are better than others. As for your snipe at the U.S., what makes it so distasteful is that it is a macrocosm of this very discussion--that there exist forces that seek to gently steer public thought and opinion in whatever direction without respectfully and courageously confronting intelligent dissent head on.

My bone with the U.S. is that it is staunchly conservative in its approach to government and public management, and that its politics and capitalism are rampant and unchecked. And yes, a lot of sheep, and a worthwhile civil war of sorts. France is absolutely disunited in nearly every grain of its culture and society since the days of the Gallic wars and are almost more interested in being French than they are in being human. On that, they are one, and I could write a book on it. Sweden is a 21st century Jante law culture that frowns on most thought that is not in line with the status quo. There is lockstep emphasis on being contemporary in every facet of life no matter what that may mean or what the long-term consequences may be. They don't question much, and even abolish certain questions by facilitating the "closed debate" position on so many topics. A lot of sheep as well, and they might even cart a shepherd to the Öresund Bridge if one ever claimed to be.

ANY society can be more functional because any philosophy, propaganda, school of thought, etc., can be self-contained and perfectly self-reconcilable. Any country can have peace unto itself in such a way, even a Nazi one, a Jewish one, a Muslim one (basic premise of the Koran), an American one, a Swedish one, etc...

But the questions remain: How does one know with certainty what may be the RIGHT order of peace? (Scary word, that "right".) What renders a citizenry susceptible to propaganda? ... By the presence/absence--knowledge/ignorance of.. a universal, accessible, eternally sustaining and self-propagating moral code.

(Hell...maybe I'm the master propagandist.)
22:40 November 27, 2011 by Svensksmith
Men and women are different. I say, vive la différence!
07:35 November 28, 2011 by karex
@Rumrunner94 and Lavaux

Very insightful comments. I agree, brainwashing is dangerous and we have plenty of historical evidence to support this. But if there's any to be had (as it seems part of human nature) I feel society would be better served by promoting fairness and transparency down the line. Just about everything else falls naturally into place once these two are secured.
10:56 November 28, 2011 by jonathanjames61
A woman is a woman,a man is a man,all we need is respect for one another,love,caring,and deep understanding of ourselves,in most cases lets be real and honest with ourselves once in a life time,I have talk to several women about being equal to their spouse,boyfriends etc ,they always shy away from this topic,I have also talked to most Swedish men about their wife being equal to them,some said I must be dreaming,you know where I come from we call a crocodile a crocodile,an alligator and alligator,a lizard a lizard,but they all lay with their bellies to the ground.Let nature take its course in our life,
23:06 November 29, 2011 by Adam_H
Sweden has the most excessive and ridiculous politically correct nonsense of anywhere on the planet I have seen, except for Toronto, and that is saying something.

The country is a joke and is most unpleasant to visit. I have to decontaminate my hotel room from feminist propaganda, there are ridiculous signs even at the airport about reporting people for weird crimes (incredibly rude) and frankly, it badly needs a complete and very, very thorough sorting out.


What is the matter with you men in Sweden?

Get a grip, guys.
21:44 November 30, 2011 by ollibolli
Yes, Sweden sucks and everything Sweden do is useless and odd/morally wrong.

That pretty much sums up every single comment on every single article at this site ^^.

It is kinda fun to read ^^
11:19 December 1, 2011 by Liefje
I am a woman, I happen to live in Sweden, but i do NOT want to be treated equal as men! I do expect men to open the door for me while entering the building, to be let first to enter or exit, men to wait untill women are seated.

There is no equality in nature, if it were , men could give birth to children too.
22:12 December 2, 2011 by Chickybee
Mr Brunsveld - just one question for you: is there anything you like about Sweden or are you continually gong to lambast Swedes for simply being themselves in their own country?

Every article I read about Sweden by you is 100% negative and it's always the imperative for Swedes to continually concede in every aspect of their language and culture to immigrants many of whom come from vastly different cultures and have very inflexible religious beliefs.

Mr Brunsveld - surely if Sweden was not generous and caring these people would not be in Sweden in the first place.

Or maybe you asre justifying your job but constant hostility, I wonder?
09:21 December 3, 2011 by Adam_H
Ollibolli, You people have been left to yourselves with little outside influence, and it shows.

The country is deeply weird.

I'd say that it is no accident that every comment on every article is like this - perhaps Swedes need to wake up and take a long cold look at themselves.

You people are so pedantic and literal in your interpretation of everything that you turn everything into black and white.

Look at what you have done to gender equality.

Turned it into a nightmare -

everybody must be equal - everybody must be equal - everybody must be equal -everybody must be equal - everybody must be equal. Like robots.

I have heard there are experiments with trying to brainwash little children into being completely non-gender specific - how disgusting - how warped can you get?

Well I have news for you.

Reality isn't like that.

It isn't like your ridiculously oversimplified theory.

The sexes are not the same.

For Gods sake, wake up and look at things without your absurd theories.
19:02 December 4, 2011 by Local Will
I just read this compelling article on gender equality in Sweden, right after reading an article on how sex with animals in Sweden is not illegal.

I am now confused and horrified.
13:48 December 5, 2011 by Jeremy Slawson
The goal might be worthwhile but the means are repressive socialist manipulation and are demonstrably unfair. The jury is still out on whether such a society can last.
13:15 December 6, 2011 by philster61

The problem with Swedes is that they seem to think that they need to be viewed as a "model" of everything.... of which they are not. There are so many flaws in the Swedish "model" its an example of what not to be.........If Swedes were to change the way they look at themselves and others then perhaps they wouldn't be criticized so much for being "swedish".
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