22 December, 2015

Sweden – where men are women and women do men’s things

Dads in Sweden

There are lots of different ways to look at culture, and with all of them we have to tread very carefully. It is very easy to misuse these approaches and fall into the quagmire of stereotyping.

One body of research that is widely bandied about, and also widely misused is Hofstede’s dimensions of culture. Using questionable research techniques, with small test groups made up of mainly professional, middle class men, Hofstede took his assumptions and applied them to a whole culture. For those countries that weren’t involved in the research, he estimated their results. So, it’s important take his findings with a massive dose of salt and see them as possible frames of reference and not absolutes.



Hofstede arrived at assumptions about power, risk, authority, group orientation amongst other things. The only one of his dimensions that has been able to be replicated in other research is the dimension he labelled, somewhat sexistly, as Masculine-Feminine. This is an interesting one for Sweden, as the Swedish people came out as the most feminine society in this research.

This doesn’t mean that all men in Sweden are ‘pussies’, although the Finns seem to tend to think so.

This dimension refers to how clearly separated the gender roles are in a society. A Masculine society is a society where men do traditionally male things (work, fix the car, building, plumbing etc), and women do traditionally female things (cook, clean, take care of children). A Feminine society is a society where these gender roles are less clear, where there is overlap between the sexes in terms of behaviours and expectations.

According to research, Sweden is the most ‘Feminine’ country in the world.

So what are some examples that show Sweden could be defined as a feminine society?

  • There are an equal amount of men and women in the workforce, with women occupying many of the higher managerial positions
  • In kindergartens, you will see male teachers and assistants working with the children
  • The amount of fathers taking paternity leave is on the increase. For many foreigners, this is noticeable. An American acquaintance of mine reacted to all the Swedish dads on parental leave by saying, ‘I just love Sweden and all the gay nannies you see everywhere.’

  • You might notice a high level of grooming and personal vanity amongst Swedish men. Another Austrian friend of mine noticed how much hair gel the average Swedish man had in comparison to the men back home in Vienna.
  • In the workplace, men will stay home to take care of sick children, or arrive late in the morning/leave early in the afternoon to fulfill their child-related obligations
  • There is a gender neutral pronoun which can be used to describe a person when their gender is irrelevant. So instead of ‘he’ (han) or ‘she’ (hon), Swedes can use ‘hen’. In Sweden, there are several gender neutral day care centres where all the children are referred to as ‘hen’ until they form a more mature relation to their gender identity.

Most importantly, you will see an attitude of gender equality in Sweden. In comparison to many countries around the world, Swedes generally don’t see the big deal of gender difference in relation to the kind of life a person should live. Men and women are equal.

And that means at work, in society and at home.

Written by: Neil Shipley

My name’s Neil Shipley and I have lived in Sweden for over 20 years. I work as a trainer, lecturer and coach in Intercultural competence and communication from my Stockholm-based company. I am also of one of the few people in Sweden to have a Master’s degree in Intercultural competence.

From my English perspective, I observe Swedish society and the Swedes – everything from the special to the sublime, the scary to the surprising. This is my blog of my observations.

I can be employed to provide training, lectures, seminars. Check out my company: Key Training

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One Comment on “Sweden – where men are women and women do men’s things

1 October, 2016 at 15:06

As an American Swede, your friend’s comment about the “gay nannies” makes me, laugh & laugh & tear my hair out. I swear that’s what half my American friends would say!


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