Experiences of Gender, Equality, and Sexuality in Scandinavia

Two weeks. Two Field Studies. Four guest lectures. One Study Tour in Berlin.

In two weeks time, we have covered so many different topics on Gender, Equality, and Sexuality in Scandinavia. We learned about depictions of sex in Swedish film. We discussed the Swedish parental leave model. We went on a Field Study to Hallwylska Palatset, the house of a very wealthy Swedish noblewoman, and learned about Wilhelmina von Hallwyl, who broke female gender norms in a number of ways. And, we have done so much more!


Wilhelmina broke a number of norms in this painting. She is older, in nondescript clothing, looking directly at the viewer, and unedited, as compared to being young, dressed up, looking away, and heavily altered. She insisted to the painter that her upper lip hair be depicted so she looked as true to herself as possible.

IMG_2499.JPGThis painting of one of Wilhelmina’s relatives was more normative for the time. She is depicted as youthful, wearing an ornate gown emphasizing her small waist, and facing away from the observer. This portrait is hanging in the same room as Wilhelmina’s.

There are two main aims in Gender, Equality, and Sexuality in Scandinavia: to analyze constructions of gender and sexuality from cultural and intersectional perspectives and to recognize some of the current discourses (“burning issues”) in Scandinavia on topics in gender, equality, and sexuality. The course is taught by Anna Cavallin and Cat McIlroy. Anna and Cat are both super friendly – they love talking with students and really trying to get to know us. Just like in my previous course, Psychology of Human Sexuality, this class is a tight-knit group. We all became especially close during our study tour in Berlin last week (which I will tell you more about in my next blog post)! With all of us having different backgrounds in issues of gender and sexuality, class discussions and activities together are always interesting.



Some of the most meaningful insights I have gained from the course so far have been about sex ed and paid parental leave. Regarding sex ed, we had a Field Study to RFSU, a Swedish NGO that provides education and products promoting sexual health. Our particular Field Study with RFSU was a Swedish sex ed class, where an instructor gave us the same sex ed lesson she gives to high school students.

I was shocked by the number of differences between my sex ed experience and the “typical” Swedish sex ed lesson. The first topic our instructor introduced was consent, which she emphasized included reciprocal enthusiasm. This definition already felt better than any definition of consent I had heard before, and I appreciated its focus considering many American sex ed workshops never mention it. The lesson was also body inclusive and identity inclusive, particularly by emphasizing that bodies naturally vary in appearance and that a variety of activities fall under the umbrella of sex. The lesson and the accompanying “Sex on the Map” video we watched for homework were overall far more informative, comfortable, and sex-positive than many Americans’ sex ed experiences. It was also interesting for me to compare this sex ed lesson to the Danish sex ed we discussed in my previous course, Psychology of Human Sexuality, and the German sex ed lesson we experienced in Berlin while on our Study Tour. This cross-cultural comparison has allowed me to see the many pros and cons of the various models.

My course has also taught me the pros and cons of the current Swedish parental leave model, which I was surprised by. While comprehensive (480 days with 80% of one’s salary), and eager to enhance paternal participation in childrearing (60 days are set aside for the father specifically), Sweden’s parental leave days are still used predominately by women (78% of days are used by mothers). I learned that there are a number of factors contributing to this, from binding Swedish gender norms of good mothers and work-focused fathers to biological factors such as breastfeeding and a mother’s need to physically recover post-birth.

Discussing both of these topics, in particular, has shown me a number of areas in which America can grow and improve. Paid parental leave both in Denmark and Sweden provides a number of benefits to both families and children. Statistics also support healthier, safer sex habits in Denmark compared to America, in spite of Scandinavian sex-ed providing far more information on sex and educating students at younger ages. While the Swedish system is not perfect, and Denmark and Germany have flaws in their systems as well, all three models have numerous positives Americans can emulate.

Overall, I’m really happy to have chosen courses in different fields – Psychology and Sociology/Gender Studies – yet on related topics. I feel like doing so has provided me a more well-rounded perspective on topics in gender and sexuality, and it has been exciting discussing some similar ideas in completely different ways! It is also super exciting to now be able to compare discussions on gender and sexuality across four different countries (one of which I will tell you more about in my next blog post!). Next week, we are diving more into our readings and lecture material, so I’m excited to see what’s coming next!





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