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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