Sweden has a reputation as having the most equal relations between the sexes in the world—it’s a place where male politicians are voted “woman of the year” by feminists, where young dads on paternity leave take toddlers for play dates while their wives work, where a preschool can casually ban gendered pronouns. A recent World Economic Forum report claimed Sweden is the most gender equal country in the world.
Yet some Swedish women apparently think that the image of the Nordic country as a feminist’s paradise is just a veneer hiding deep-seated misogyny. Their evidence? Men slouching and taking up more than one seat on buses, trains, and subways.
To counter this “normalized expression of power” (that’s what they call slouching), a group of firebrand feminists have set up a blog called “Macho i Kollektivtrafiken” (“Macho in Public Transport”), encouraging readers to send in sneaky snaps of men in relaxed poses. The aim is to spread awareness of a “symbolic and active recreation not just of power, but of a stereotypical form of masculinity.”
Do Swedish women really feel threatened by men who slouch on the subway? Can this seriously be construed as a feminist issue? Do feminists today really view women as weaklings who are traumatized by straddle-legged passengers and who don’t have the guts to tell men to scooch over? It’s tempting to suggest that the women posting pictures of slouching men online should grow a pair, and point out that feminists have fought hard to shake the image of women as thin-skinned victims off and to prove that women have agency, gumption, and power.
The blog’s founder, 27-year-old My Vingren, assures me that Macho i Kollektivtrafiken isn’t a spoof, and that its modest goal is to change the world.
VICE: Your blog claims that men who take up more space than they physically need when using public transport are practicing an “invisible and unconscious expression of power in an everyday, public space.” Can men oppress women without even knowing it?
My Vingren: Absolutely. I think one of the most problematic aspects of having such an extensive power structure is that a lot of people aren’t even aware that how they act affects others. The fact that men get more space in classrooms, at board meetings, and so on, is part of a structural oppression that not everyone knows they’re taking part in.
What kinds of reasons do men tend to give for taking up more space than women on subways, buses, and trains?
It’s everything from “scrotum sweat is unpleasant,” to “I have the right to sit comfortably,” and “it’s physically impossible for me to sit differently because I have a penis.”
What would you say to those claiming that, in the grand scheme of things, this issue is a “luxury problem”?
My point is that this is part and parcel of the kind of oppression that leads to women being raped, getting lower salaries, and being exposed to violence in relationships.
How does your campaign fit into the history of the feminist struggle for equality?
To talk about space, about who takes and who gives space, I think is a big part of feminism.
Sweden has a reputation abroad as an egalitarian society, almost a feminist paradise. Isn’t that true?
No, it’s not. I work with rape victims so I often see the dark underbelly of our country. Of course, we have reached many goals and women have more choice today than they did 30 years ago, but we are far from equal.
Do you think women can stand up for themselves?
Yes, I’m convinced they can. But I think it’s more effective for girls to work together for change rather than every individual girl having to resolve power-structural issues.
Don’t women have the guts to confront men and tell them to move over, please?
I don’t think women and girls can cope with that. They choose not to take on that battle.
What do you think would happen if a woman told a man to move over? Have you or anyone you know tried?
It’s hard to say how men in general would react. In order for any change to happen I think men need to realize themselves that change is needed.
It seems like many people think your blog is a joke. Why is that?
I really don’t know.
Will the blog make a difference?
Of course, we’re going to change the world.