Sometimes you notice quite unexpected, subtle aspects about a country. In Sweden, some aspects that have stood out to me thus far include the initial surprise at detecting cardamom, a spice I’m more accustomed to tasting in savory dishes, in the famous Swedish dessert called semla. I’m also enjoying the biking culture and ease of getting around without a car (something so mirror opposite of Idaho). And lastly, I’ve noticed something I never imagined myself caring to mention: the bathrooms! While I imagined mostly being struck by medieval castles and old dredged up Viking ships in museums, I instead found myself pondering the smaller, more everyday details more frequently.
While the U.S. was (and as I post this, still is) in the midst of an unending debate about what gender identities are allowed to use what specific restroom, I was in the Stockholm airport stepping into the first gender-neutral bathroom I had experienced. In Sweden, every person uses the same bathrooms. The bathrooms (or “water closets”) consist of individual rooms complete with a sink and a toilet each. The doors reach all the way to the floor. No one looks twice when a man opens the door to a bathroom that a woman just vacated. It makes the debate back at home seem a bit ridiculous considering the fact that gender-neutral bathrooms are so ubiquitous here.
Sweden is considered fourth in the world in terms of gender equality, with Iceland, Norway, and Finland boasting the top three positions, respectively. What is it about these Nordic countries that make them so progressive in this respect? Does it have to do with the history of the Nordic countries? Is it more cultural or perhaps political?
In 2005, Sweden added the gender-neutral pronoun “hen” to their official dictionaries. The word began to gain popularity when Egalia, a preschool in Stockholm, began using the word as a substitute for “boys” or “girls” to avoid promoting gender roles in children. This revolutionary preschool has even garnered international attention. For further reading on this unique preschool, see my notes at the end of this article.
Overall, I thought that I would introduce my series of blog posts about my study abroad experience in Sweden with something I personally see to be unique about this country. While I could’ve mentioned the cliché touristy aspects about Sweden such as the minutiae concerning eating semla during a fika break with friends, I thought I’d instead write about something I saw to be more insightful at this point in time. In my next post, I will follow-up with an entry detailing my trip to Åre and to the native Sami peoples’ village to learn about their way of life.
For further reading:
Gender-neutral Egalia preschool: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14038419
Gender equality in Sweden: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-11517459