Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Manliness in Sweden

I’ve been in Sweden well over two years now, and every once and a while I am stricken by certain things. They give me that Welcome to Sweden moment. That moment which I just don’t know if I would get in the US. Sometimes it hits me in one fell swoop, other times it is a culmination of stories over the course of a few months, like Swedish manliness.

Manliness is a tricky thing. Gender issues in general tend to throw some people off. And that’s fine. Sometimes it’s political, sometimes it’s emotional. I consider myself a man because I have a beard, chew on toothpicks, and wear flannel. Unfortunately, that describes some of those farm girls just outside of Greeley. This is where the confusion comes in.

But in Sweden, manliness is confused by other things. Like breast feeding. And Chlamydia. (On a side note, Microsoft Word automatically capitalizes Chlamydia, which for some reason made me laugh.)

Turns out that Swedish guys who get Chlamydia see it as manly, as some sort of rite of passage. Because who doesn’t want a burning sensation while peeing, weird discharge from the penis, and maybe even some swollen testicles? I am MAN!

Turns out it’s not just Chlamydia stricken Swedish guys who cling to a sense of manliness. A man just a bit older than me does the same. With a two year old son. Now that his two year old son is past breast feeding stage, this guy thinks he missed out on something. The bond of baby and breast. So he wants to be able to breast feed the next time he pops out a kid. And by he I obviously mean his wife. Because while gender might be tricky sometimes, in the end, the whole biology thing comes into play and some people just can’t have a baby.

But he is determined to get as close as possible. He thinks it is perfectly ok for him to whip out a breast pump in the middle of class so that he can stimulate his nipples into maybe, possibly, giving milk. Is androgyny something we should strive for? I don’t think so. It’s ok that men and women are different. I want men and women to be different. Biologically, we are different. Is it a nuanced view or argument? No. But I'm surprisingly ok with that.

This comes after a story a while back saying that Swedish men had lost some of their masculinity.

The Swedish stereotype in the US is of a male population that is tall, broadchested, maybe blonde with a red beard. This is based on the belief that all of Sweden was once populated by marauding Vikings. Which we all know wasn’t true. An incredibly small percentage of the population of what is now Sweden was Viking Vikings, the rest tended to farm and trade. But that stereotype seems to be undergoing a change. A change to a confused manliness. On the one hand public perception is that the metro culture is taking over, men attempting pump their nipples to stimulate breast feeding feed this stereotype. Then there are the men who think sexual diseases are a sign of manliness.

I don’t know how to define manliness. I suppose it is something that each individual needs to decide for himself. Or herself. Because I’m politically correct. I do know that manliness is not getting Chlamydia. Or pumping my nipples in the middle of a class.

Welcome to Sweden. And manliness.

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  1. Poor thing is in for a surprise when he finds out breastfeeding is not actually all that fun.

  2. @eva - he might be in for more of a surprise if he never gets that lactation thing going and instead has his baby just sucking on his nipple.

    @anonymous - agreed.

  3. Thought that was some kind of bet, whether he could or not. Anyway cant take aftonbladet words serious most of the time.

  4. That's just gross and wrong...

    Thought I'd throw in a nuanced argument in there, for once.

  5. hey buddy! your doing some great stuff! keep it going!

  6. @anonymous - if it is a bet then it is hilarious, if not, then its just kind of weird.

    @Robban - Ive missed your nuanced arguments.

    @anonymous - indeed.

    @buyviagra - if its an ad, its damn hilarious. but thank you.

  7. Clearly Chlamydia leads to retardation. I also heard it makes guys' penises fall off. Manly.

    P.S. You need to stop linking to articles. I end up reading all the other links surrounding the article. Lots of time suckage.

  8. As a nursing mother who works full time and is currently being man handled by a breast pump three times a day I think this guy has been misinformed. I wonder what he'll think when his nipples start to crack and bleed? Yeah, breastfeeding isn't pretty.

    I think it all goes back to every man's obssession with breasts and is thinly veiled as "an attempt to bond with children that do not yet exsist". I mean why didn't he start doing this while the mother was actually pregnant with the now weened 2 year old?

    Oh and by the way breast pumps are loud...really loud. His "lecture pumps" will be SUPER disruptive.

    How do you say MORON in swedish?

  9. And I've missed your politically charged posts. ;)

  10. Swedish men need only look to Alexander Skarsgard to see how to balance manliness and metrosexuality. That man can wear pink shirts and cuff his jeans and no woman anywhere questions his manliness. And, I'm pretty sure he isn't into either Chlamydia or pumping his own breastmilk.

  11. That man (Alexander Skarsgård) can wear a skirt, a whig and makeup and no woman questions his manliness. (maybe some men do, but they are only jealous...) Check out "Kill your Darlings" where he plays an transvestite.

  12. So I'm sorry to go off topic but I didn't think you would be checking the comments on your old posts.

    I wanted to mention that I was in Chicago for 5 days last week and rode the train there several times. People were VERY quiet on the train there too. In fact I didn't notice a single conversation taking place. Even when we were packed like sardines after the Cubs game let out it was still...silent. No cell conversations, no quiet conversations between a couple, nada! Maybe trains just lull people into a semi-catatonic state or something. But I am from a small city that doesn't have a rail system so who knows maybe that is something that only Chicago and Sweden have in common. :)

  13. That some people consider Chlamydia manly is not hard to imagine. You get it via sex, more likely if you are sexually active with many different partners. The epitome of manliness. Chlamydia gets considered by association. Is it wise? Hell no. But since when were things considered manly also considered wise?

    I personally consider men and women different, in two aspects, biological and cultural. The problem arises when something is judged "manly" and is then used to condemn others for not living up to their gender. Women doing sports, men liking poetry, etc etc. There is nothing manly about sports, or feminine about poetry. Only the same associations as those young guys make between manliness and Chlamydia.


  14. vouiyy!!i feel tingly in my nipples now, i can't even think of doing that, must have been a ballsy guy!
    and that was awesome " weird discharge from penis", i wonder if someone has started collecting these moments from your blog!

  15. Blonde hair with red beard, that was awesome. Which one is dyed according to prejudice, LOL! Swedes ride on the myth of the vikings, while in real life they are just pussies. Sorry to say it, but that's how I see it. Even I feel like a man compared to them :)

  16. When I was at Ostgota the other night for their club, I had the pleasure of seeing several guys grinding with each other - basically doing things you never, EVER see guys do in America. Either they were gay (which I don't think they were), or just really drunk! How's that for manliness? haha.

  17. I love this post. This is bacially my favorite topic of conversation around here. My favorite thing to bitch about. But, hell, I guess I see why some Swedish men consider Chlamydia manly. See, so many of their gender have been pulled into pink, skin-tight tops´, blue tights (aka jeans to the local men)and forgot how to act a little appropriately aggresive around a women. Therefore those who still feel some reminent of animal manly behavior, such as sleeping around and not worrying about it, feel the urge to brag about their conquests via cool STDs...ahh. I'm just saying I can see how this idea of manliness has been cooked up.

  18. This is hilarious timing. I just arrived in Sweden to have my '90' visit with my Swedish boyfriend, and I spent yesterday afternoon discussing with him how I felt that many Swedish men I saw were much more effeminite (sp) than what I am used to at home in America. He understood a little bit, but didn't quite get it until I pointed out that in Sweden it's the men that wear the pastels and colors where when you compare what Swedish women wear, it's mostly blacks/browns/greys..and not pink. Color seems reserved for the man...maybe Swedes are resorting back to more 'animalistic' techniques to attract the females. Like birds. Male birds are the ones with the big brightly colored feathers. There could be great anthropolgical study in this Sweden-male-female-Chlamydia-dating thing.

  19. @abby - Awesome thought. I seriously love it. I've been trying to figure out how I can wear pink and get away with it. sadly you eventually begin to give in and trade in colors for black and brown. You shall see. But its definitely a perfect evolutionary psychologist's study...

  20. @E – That’s my definition of manliness for sure.

    At least that suckage is going to amazing articles. Like chlamydia.

    @Mama – That sounds just so very awful. As a general rule I don’t like bleeding nipples.

    But you bring up a great question. He loses some credibility just because this wasn’t done when he actually had a kid that he could suckle at his teat.

    @Robban – I’m clearly beoming way too Swedish. I’ll see if I can’t uncover some socialism in this country though.

    @Laura – well played.

    @Sofie – And yet the avergage Swedish male hasn’t figured out the balance.

    @Mama – I do check the old post comments. It might just take me a while longer.

    But good work on the research. Clearly it counts as research. You might be right though, maybe it is just the big city train thing. Did the Cubs lose? Over one hundred years of losing might make anyone catatonic.

    @anonymous – come on now, throwing axes at targets is not only manly but incredibly wise. I can’t think of a single time throwing an axe at something went wrong. You are right though, that certain things get pigeonholed making it very hard to break out of that established gender role.

    @Tod – for the sake of posterity I sure as hell hope no one as been saving lines like the penis discharge one...

    @Smek – I heard about a study giving the Finns the title of manliest. Sweden was way at the bottom. I just can’t seem to find the study now. I’ll leave that to you Smek.

    @Jessy – That’s not just manliness, that’s your welcome to swedes and alcohol use moment.

    @m8 – I suppose... but really, Chlamydia. Can’t they just keep a list or something?

    @Abby – Oooh I like it. Like the peacock strutting his stuff. Is the tightness then supposed to accentuate after the color has caught the eye?

    @m8 – I love that every fall they come out with the fall colors, and surprise surprise, the three falls I have lived here black ahs been the dominant color. Or absence of color.

  21. Probably MS Word believes that Chlamydia is a girl's name? I've always thought that Herpes and Chlamydia would be great classical-sounding names for a pair of twins

  22. Swedish men are a strange bunch. How they ever snag a Swedish girl is beyond me?

  23. The idea from I guess when I was a kid that Swedish women were half femi-nazis and half bikini team and the men were all VIKINGS. Now as I got older and read more and began to visit, I began to see the men as more or less 100% feminized to take a backseat and let the women have them in submission.

    How do they plan to keep the birthrate with actions like this?

    And than you see tons of older older guys with young Asian girls.

  24. @anonymous – very seldom do I actually laugh at my computer screen. Twins named Herpes and Chlamydia made me laugh.

    @Kevin Johnson – its a war of attrition really.

    @anonymous – the birthrate in Sweden is really low. One of the lowest in the world actually.

  25. Nice thinking. They published an ethnological study in 1988 that compared aggressiveness in diffrent countries with the result that Americans have easier to show their aggressiveness. And people of Finland too. The Swedes were lowest in this ranking. And many scientists found Swedes somewhat feminine. ("Svensk mentalitet", Åke Daun).

    The story of the brave Vikings is historically considered a compensation for the low self-esteem and sorrow that followed the Swedish nobility after their loss of Finland to Russia in 1809.

    There are some poets from that era which are of some interest: Erik Gustaf Geijer, Esaias Tegnér, and later Verner von Heidenstam. Nowadays Horace Engdahl.

  26. Herpes and Chlamydia, twins, made me laugh!!!! thanks

  27. Where do you meet these guys? I am Swedish, and off course it isn't manly to get an STD. I would feel embarrased! For one thing it reveals that one is stupid enough to not use condoms. On the other hand, I am middle-aged and not 20, and I don't know too much about what weird ideas that may flourish among the youth.

    Then on the subject of Swedish manlyness I don't really see what a single whacko who wants to breast feed has to do with Swedish men in general. Obviously, the guy has a screw loose somewhere in his head. Even if he after enormous efforts actually were to produce a drop of real milk, then that wouldn't be enough to feed to poor baby. Breastfeeding women can usually produce large amounts of milk, and the only way a man can produce milk is through hormone treatment, and that means that milk producing glands first has to develop. In other words, he will first develop breast. The milk cannot magiccally come from nowhere. There is a reason to why womens breast tend to get even larger during late pregnancy.

    Trust me, I am not the only Swede who is disgusted about the whole weirdness of the situation, but oddball ideas can be found in any country where it is legal to have them and publish them. Maybe this guy suffers from some kind of psychological problem with being a man and NOT being able to breastfeed - maybe "milk envy" (I just invented that expression).

    Most importantly, has the guy ever seen or heard of even ONE example in nature where a male mammal is able to give milk to his offspring? Oops, got to go! I have to get out and milk the bull.

  28. @m8surf- well struting around an cawing like a bird will perfectly validate your wearing of pink. And I refuse to yield to the black/brown/grey. That's what my boyfriend wears. I'll stick to pink. :)

    @HairySwede- This is something I am considering doing a brief study of on Linköping's University's campus. Males at the peak of mating. Pink is the obvious color of choice followed by robin's egg blue and buttercup yellow. The soft pastels entice the female into the sense of warm comfort, stability, and mutual emotional understanding.

    It's all sceince. Truly. And I do think if one wishes to accentuate muscles pink is definitely the color of choice.

  29. @anonymous - some people just seem to struggle. because youre right, male lactation, not exactly common. its almost very presumptuous and arrogant of him to even think he can make it work.

    @Abby - I definitely think you should do a study on this. some sort of anthropological swedish study is just waiting for this. and I want to see the results.

  30. @ Peter

    Dude, Sweden was a pioneer in the concept of total war. Generations of male population were drafted to the military and the country was in a continuous state of war.

    The Swedes - with their neutrality agenda during the cold war - have been eager to hide the fact that they have been one of the most aggressive expansionist countries in Europe. This has now been erased from the collective memory.

    As with the feminity part (the ridiculous mesh tops, pink shirts etc.) that has more to do with the idolation of the aristocratic. The aristocracy in all its decadence has traditionally broken the boundaries between the sexes, whereas primitive beefcake manliness is a working man's trait.

  31. Sweden does have quite the militaristic past and they were damn good at taking advantage of what they referred to as neutrality immediately following WWII.