Why these Swedish trade union bosses wore pink pussyhats for gender equality

A Swedish builders' union has been both praised and criticized after its all-male board donned 'pussy hats' and posed for a picture in support of gender equality.

Why these Swedish trade union bosses wore pink pussyhats for gender equality
Byggnads' board of directors. Photo: Byggnads

The board of directors of the trade union Byggnads, which represents workers in the construction industry, caused a stir on social media in Sweden on Wednesday after they posted a picture of themselves wearing pussyhats – the pink, knitted symbol of women's rights made world-famous in marches all over the world.

“Today on International's Women's Day we want to pay attention to all you women in the construction industry and tell you how much you're needed and the respect we have for you because you dare to break gender roles,” they wrote in an opinion piece published by public broadcaster SVT.

“We know we're going to have to endure some jibes, mainly from other men, because we are standing here in our pink, home-knitted hats. But to us it is an act of solidarity.”

“God knows we're not perfect. We ARE a bunch of white middle-aged men. Sometimes we put our foot in our mouth. Often we hear it ourselves and apologize. Sometimes we don't notice it ourselves; please tell us and give us a red card. So that we learn for next time.”

“We ARE a bunch of white, middle-aged men. But at least we're wearing pink hats.”

Endure some jibes they did.

“Clever of Byggnads to remind everyone that there's not a single woman on the board. Slow clap,” tweeted Sakine Madon, the political editor of liberal regional newspaper VLT, sarcastically.

“Feels a little weird that you're taking a stance by wearing such ugly hats. Feels more like a mockery of women,” commented one man on Byggnads' Facebook page.

“Are you not ashamed? Where are the women on your board in that case?” wrote another.

Byggnads' chairman of the board, Johan Lindholm, told The Local that the critics could “think whatever they want”, and said he was proud of their work to improve gender equality, with a goal of increasing the number of women members of the union from one percent today to five percent by 2022.

“We wanted to carry out an act of solidarity on March 8th and thought the pink hats were fun. We had expected some taunts, but we have received a lot of positive comments. And many are surprised when we tell them how much we work with gender equality,” he said.

Asked if he believed more boards or organization with a similar lack of gender balance should follow suit, he said: “All of society should pull their weight when it comes to equality and diversity, I think.”

Pussyhats, with cat ears, have grown into a global phenomenon after they first appeared on January 21st at the Women's March in Washington, where protesters wore them as a sign of female solidarity the day after US president Donald Trump was sworn into office. 

Byggnads' press secretary Emma Sahlén Grip told The Local she supported the initiative.

“As a woman, everyone who wants to fight for gender equality makes me happy. Especially in these times with Polish MEPs and Trump…” she said, referring to a recent statement by a member of the European Parliament that women should earn less than men “because they are weaker, smaller and less intelligent”.

And far from all the reactions were negative. A group of female representatives for the Seko union in Gothenburg also posted their own picture of themselves in pussy hats with a nod to Byggnads:

Another woman wrote on Facebook: “A totally amazing picture! Don't let the negative comments get to you, but keep working. There's plenty of research that shows that a diverse workplace is positive for everyone! Perhaps next year the board will look different.”

This is not the first time male construction workers have attempted to highlight gender issues. Floor layer Emil Andersson went viral last year after he wore high heels to work in a protest against the stereotypical image of the ideal woman. Read more about him here and watch his video below: