My immediate reaction when project manager Gert Barslund prior to the Sustainability Festival in Hvide Sande suggested I tackle World Goal 5—Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls—was a slight shake of the head and a weary grimace.
The idea itself; creating an SDG route centrally through Hvide Sande, where each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is represented by a sculpture made by multi-artist Søren Brynjolf together with various local actors, is excellent. But let me just be honest: SDG 5 has never been high on my own, personal priority list.
Whether we like it or not, we make some implicit demands on boys' ability to provide for themselves and girls' willingness to prioritize family and children. Social control has not disappeared. Nor in Denmark in 2023.
Lack of equality between the genders has for me (and many others like me, I think) always been synonymous with violent oppression of women, and instinctively I have thought that this sort of thing is now only a real problem among staunch Islamists. I mean, the Red Stocking Movement were like my parents' era and #metoo is something they've cultivated in the hierarchical organizations over on the east coast and the islands; not something we've ever excelled at where I've been.
We also raise our own daughters to speak up and fight back.
As the days went by and I wasn't really able to come up with the IDEA for the sculpture around SDG 5, I ended up turning my gaze inward trying to face my own prejudices.
Because even though we Danish women and men feel terribly liberated and modern and believe that it is possible for everyone to realize their dreams and achieve the good life, we are still incredibly good at locking ourselves and each other into the usual old gender roles. Whether we like it or not, we make some implicit demands on boys' ability to provide for themselves and girls' willingness to prioritize family and children. Social control has not disappeared. Nor in Denmark in 2023.
Take the maternity rules, where many young families opposed earmarked maternity leave for men—and I still hear of men opting out of the full 9 weeks of maternity leave because they allegedly can't afford it.
We have come a long way when it comes to equal rights and yet there are still significant measurable gender pay gaps. Perhaps we men have been encouraged to stand up for ourselves from childhood, where women have been more accustomed to compliance? Perhaps for the same reason, modern women suffer (even more) from the culture of perfection?
Gender roles are stereotypes we lock ourselves and each other into.
—and these kinds of stereotypes are not as rigid, but at least as present in our part of the world today as they were in my great-grandparents' time.
After much, long consideration, I have thus ended up sketching a sculpture where a man and a woman are frozen in motion on their way up from their respective, traditional gender role containers.
A symbolism that I hope resonates with both girls and boys, women and men.
It has been great to make the sculpture together with Søren Brynjolf and I hope you get the opportunity to visit hvidesande17.dk and see it, along with the 16 other SDG sculptures 🏳️🌈💚🌸