Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More Travel Pictures: Gender Roles in Finland

You wanna see my pictures? I don't have them on the computer yet, but I can give you word impressions. They are mostly from that outer layer of the tourism onion: not deep insights at all but stuff anyone might notice visiting Finland, watching television and reading the papers there. My Finnish readers will correct me if I go astray here, I hope.

The first picture: Children. Many more small children everywhere, with their mothers, with their fathers, and so very surprisingly for someone who lives in the fear-the-pederasts world of today, often with other small children playing in the park or riding their bikes or walking their dogs with no adult in sight. Stores have play corners for children. One bank even had a play-bank area for kids. The local town where I stayed had at least five swing-and-slide areas within a one-mile radius.

It's hard to reconcile this impression with the assumption that fertility rates are lower there. And of course those rates are not lower than the rates of American non-Hispanic white families. Indeed, the Finnish birth rates are approximately at replacement levels. Whether this is desirable or not depends on your general world view, but it certainly suggests that having children is not something women are punished for. It also suggests that the society doesn't lock children away with just one supervising adult in the house. Add to this picture the knowledge of the long paid parental leaves and the picture suggests a certain child-friendliness which is likely to help women who want to have families and careers or jobs.

The second picture: Where The Women Work. Largely they seem to work in similar jobs to the U.S. so that the service occupations are predominantly pink-collared. But I noticed more female train engineers, bus drivers and also quite a few women in various road construction crews. How many women those traditionally male blue-collar jobs contain is something I should look up in the general statistics, but my first impression is that Finland has slightly less gender segregation at work than the U.S.. The composition of the current government leadership reinforces that impression: Power is more evenly shared by men and women. Note that it's not equally shared, however.

The third picture: Sexism. This picture is one which has undertones of older pictures, sepia-colored snapshots from my memory, mixed in with my fresh impressions. My apologies for the fuzziness this caused in the final picture.

Here's my theory about the nature of sexism across countries: Different societies rank the presumed nasty characteristics of women in different orders of importance. For instance, how much of a sexual temptress The Woman is varies by culture, and so do the views of the intellectual flaws of the Weaker Vessel or the importance attached to the Self-Sacrificing Motherhood.

In general, I argue, Finns have not viewed women as weak or as especially stupid. Rather, women have been most useful work-horses and have been seen as fully capable of doing almost any necessary task, though they have always been expected to first fill the traditional female roles. Because of the lack of the kind of messages girls in the U.S. used to get it has been easier for Finnish women to get the vote and to grasp the brass ring in some fields of endeavor, and this has not threatened the cultural definition of masculinity the way similar developments have done in the U.S..

That's my explanation for the greater equality of women in the Finnish labor force, in any case.

Now to the shadow side: The sexism in Finland is very much more openly about the female body, about its general availability to the male gaze and about The Cunt as something men should have fairly free access to. At least that's my take on what I saw. It's a little disconcerting to walk into a magazine shop and to find oneself facing The Largest Bare Tits in the Universe on the cover of a boyz' magazine, right next to a magazine about Sexual Slavery (I was kidnapped and made to serve six men and I loved it).

How these magazines make it when the Internet gives much more access to those gigantic tits I don't know, and I should point out that they were all on the top shelf in the store. Still, the naked female body is obviously public property in Finland, just as it is private property of men in some other countries. I didn't see naked men on the covers of magazines, by the way. In case you planned to ask.

Is sexism less common in Finland than in the U.S.? Hard to answer something like that, of course, given all the subcultures in the U.S. and the new immigrant cultures in Finland, but on the whole I'd answer in the affirmative. Still, I'd like to leave you with this scene: Echidne rummaging around in the Finnish equivalent of Target and coming across a stand of 'funny mugs.' One of them was called 'The Chauvinist' and the sides of the mug were covered with very sexist jokes about women. To balance that mug (imagine taking it out for your morning coffee at the office), another mug had a long list about Male Privilege. So it goes.