With its focus on work-life balance, generous state-backed childcare and equal workplace rights, Denmark is consistently ranked as one of the most gender equal countries in the world. These socioeconomic factors, combined with the enviably aesthetic lifestyle – the playful fashion, peerless baked goods and of course, hygge – make it seem like a highly desirable country in which to be a young woman in 2019.
However, it turns out that Denmark might not be as forward-thinking as it seems. Just one in six Danes – and just one quarter of women in the country – consider themselves a feminist, according to a new survey of more than 25,000 people in 23 major countries by the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project, reported by the Guardian. By surprising contrast, this proportion is far lower than in Britain, where more than a quarter of people identify as feminist.
Danes' attitudes towards street harassment and the #MeToo movement are also not as progressive as you might think. The research found that a third believe wolf-whistling at women in the street is acceptable (compared to a quarter in Britain), while two fifths disapprove of #MeToo (versus fewer than a fifth in Britain).
In the UK and the US at least, the stigma attached to the word 'feminist' has been eroded largely due to the way it's been embraced by celebrities and commercialised by fashion and beauty brands. In some circles, it's now taboo not to enthusiastically identify as a feminist and so many celebrities have declared their feminist credentials that we've lost count. So why do so many Danish people, women included, take issue with the word?
For many, it's not that they don't believe in equal rights and opportunities for men and women, but because they don't believe the word itself speaks to them. Previous research by YouGov in the UK found that working-class women were less likely to identify with the 'feminist' label compared to those in managerial, administrative and professional occupations, despite being just as likely to support equal rights.
Race can also play a part in how likely people are to identify with the term – research on US millennials found that more than twice as many white women (26%) identified as feminist compared to Hispanic women (12%), and only 46% of African-American women think feminism has improved the lives of women who aren't white. Three quarters of respondents, by contrast, said the movement had done "a lot" or "some" to enhance white women's lives.
Judging from what several Danish millennial women told Refinery29, it seems that in Denmark, the word 'feminist' may hold less sway than in the UK because of its lingering negative connotations, the belief among many women that the fight for gender equality has already been won, and due to a cultural fear of appearing easily offended or 'extreme'.
Danes don't call themselves feminists because they think the title will stigmatise them as free-bleeders or fourth wave feminists or whatever.
Marie Hoffmann, 25
Marie Hoffmann, 25, a journalism student in Aarhus who does identify as feminist, says she's not surprised by the latest data, citing negative stereotypes that are still attached to the label among her peers in Denmark. Many people, despite supporting the cause, "don't use the title because it will stigmatise them as free-bleeders or fourth wave feminists or whatever is in the media. They won't use the label because they don't want to seem extreme."
She's clear that Denmark is not the egalitarian utopia that many outsiders consider it to be. "Maybe there are less feminists because we have it good here, but I think it is mostly because Danish people don't want to be extreme in any way."
Indeed, a cultural pressure not to put your head above the parapet and appear outwardly political may explain many Danes' reluctance to identify with feminism. Siri Jonina Egede, 32, a sociologist in Copenhagen who would "never hesitate" to label herself a feminist, believes many Danish people "are really afraid of what we refer to as 'krænkelseskultur', which translates to 'culture of offending/violating'. This word is used negatively to describe a rhetoric culture where people can voice their concerns of feeling violated."
This may also explain a wider – and, in Jonina Egede's opinion, misplaced – distaste for identity politics in the country. "Again and again I hear politicians and the average Dane complain that if we have to listen and react to every individual who feels offended or – being a woman, a person of colour, a sexual minority or other minorities or disadvantaged individuals – there will be no end to it. So labelling yourself as feminist for example is, wrongly, seen as extreme."
The average Dane complains that if we have to listen to every individual who feels offended – be they a woman, person of colour, or sexual minority – there will be no end to it.
Siri Jonina Egede, 32
Jonina Egede urges her fellow Danes to look to Swedish politics and rhetoric as an example to follow. The YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project found that 16% of men and 34% of women in Sweden held "very favourable" opinions of the #MeToo movement (compared to just 4% and 8% of Danish men and women, and 19% and 24% across all 19 countries surveyed). "I do believe Denmark to be quite the egalitarian example, but unfortunately that also means we Danes might wrongly believe that we don't have to concern ourselves with certain issues, which is of course dangerous in terms of ensuring and protecting human rights in the future," adds Jonina Egede.
Modern feminism has become too commercialised, messy and radicalised in the wrong areas.
Emma Jepsen, 20
Other Danish women take issue with the way the modern feminist movement has become fragmented, hollowed out and adopted by big business. "Modern feminism is hard to define. I find myself constantly questioning whether I actually am a feminist and what does it even mean to be a feminist today?" says 20-year-old Emma Jepsen, a Danish student and barista who believes it has "become too commercialised, messy and radicalised in the wrong areas".
Like the others, Jepsen also believes many Danish women fail to see how the aims of feminism apply to their lives in an already relatively equal country. "Denmark is a very liberated country in many ways, and Danish women have always had the attitude that they can do what a man can do, and that a man should do as a woman does. Often, there is the idea that there isn’t a need for feminism in Denmark, so therefore we’re not feminists." As a result, "things that could be considered 'feminist' aren’t actually seen as feminist, it’s just seen as normal."
While in some countries, like the UK and the US, an unwillingness to outwardly identify as a feminist is often taken to mean that you're either a "fake feminist" with a lack of commitment to the cause, or a straight-up misogynist, in Denmark there's less social pressure to attach yourself to the label. "I don't believe that claiming not to be a feminist automatically makes you a misogynist," says Hannah Søndergaard, 25, a master's student in Aarhus. "I simply think that the Danes participating in the [YouGov-Cambridge] study have another conception of what feminism is and does than in many other countries."
I don't believe that claiming not to be a feminist automatically makes you a misogynist.
Hannah Søndergaard, 25
If you were to ask a Dane on the street 'What is a feminist?' Søndergaard believes most people would say: "A person who actively, systematically and often engages in feminist issues. If that is what they believe a feminist to be, in most cases it wouldn't be right to answer 'yes' to being one. That does not mean that they are not a feminist in the sense that they believe all genders should have equal rights."
Denmark is a country comprised of "regular people with faults like all other countries, and therefore cannot be a utopia," Søndergaard asserts. That said, she feels lucky to have been born a Dane. "I have a lot of possibilities, I can walk in the streets alone at night without worrying, and the welfare system will make sure I never find myself as poor as so many others are. But it is not a perfect system, and I worry daily about the rising of mindless racism here. Denmark is, of course, not a perfect country, but many of us try to make it a good one."