The State of Feminism in the State of Denmark

Many British feminists have watched Danish Sunday night drama serials and decided that Denmark is the place for them.

Lund goes around fighting crime in flat shoes and thick knitwear, she never says “Ooooh, I shouldn’t,” in response to being offered a biscuit, men never repeat her jokes to greater laughter. Nyborg is prime minister of an entire country and no one says “Are you sure that is your colour?”, she never turns to her female colleagues and calls them ‘good’ for riding their bike.

The thing to bear in mind about these shows are they are fiction, British feminists. You already knew that. I am not trying to she-mansplain or anything. But they really are fiction. They are a cross between aspirational fiction and the sort of fiction we tell about the way things are right now that is coloured by our delusions. West Wing is a good example of that genre of fiction. What the fans back home would love to be true and almost is.

Lund is a cautionary tale. Meyer’s kids do not hate him for being a policeman at the top of the first season. Lund’s kid sort of does. Meyer’s wife is very much in love with him until the bitter end. Lund’s boyfriend chucks her in.

But let’s talk Borgen. When the first season of Borgen came out the prime minister was a guy called Lars Løkke Rasmussen. This is a video of him disgracing himself at the Conference of Parties December 2009 for climate change. (Connie Hedegaard (a lady), had been running ting in a very efficient and admirable way. He replaced her half way through the conference to everyone’s shock and dismay. And he did not know what he was doing.)  

This is a picture of his cabinet before the election.

Is yours a white person?
Is yours a white person?

Seven ladies and eleven chaps. Today it stands at 11 ladies, 12 chaps. So maybe aspiration works? What you need to know is that this has been a bit controversial.

Some Danish people will talk about how men are just naturally better at being in power and taking decisions and that having a gender balance just for shits and giggles can be harmful because you won’t get the right person for the job if you employ someone just so you have an equal number of men and women on board. (As opposed to the situation where only men are appointed just because. Obviously, the best person for the position is secured in that model*)

The current prime minister is a woman. Her name is Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Her father in law is Neil Kinnock, no joke. What you need to know about Helle is that there is a dirty tricks campaign to oust her from power. The campaign is working, she will not last long. The rumour is that she and her husband have been cheating on their taxes. This is because her husband works abroad and does not pay tax in Denmark (or only some tax in Denmark or something like that, not clear on the details. The rumours say they are liable to pay more tax, anyway) He was smeared in the press recently for being a gay. The rumour is that he is a gay, she is a beard and they have a marriage of convenience so he can look straight and she can look loveable. These rumours look like they will work and she will lose power.

Meanwhile, the rumours about Lars Løkke, that he is a drunk, never came to anything. Where, to my mind, having a drunk as a prime minister is hundreds of times worse than being a beard to a tax dodger. And these bloody rumours are probably not even true. In my opinion, Løkke was a crap prime minister, he staggered from incompetent situation to mismanaged scandal for several years. Thorning-Schmidt is doing a swell job, nothing special or amazing but still nothing terrible. She is someone I would not have a problem having a cup of tea with. She seems quite nice, in a way Løkke never did. (I don’t agree with either of their politics)

The guy before Løkke, Anders Føgh Rasmussen, his rumours were about cross dressing and rightly that was not a scandal because it does not matter at all. Completely inconsequential. But being married to a gay apparently is across the line? How are they even different accusations?

And the guy before him, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen just admitted to doping on cycling races.* Is anything sacred?

Let’s forget about politics for a minute and turn to day-to-day life for women. If you are a teenaged girl, you are likely to be called a “luder” (whore), at some point. That is the go-to cuss for girls. The go-to cuss for boys is “røvhul” (asshole) Girls have a lot of pressure on them to be smart and also hot. If they are too hot, they get called sluts. If you are a little girl, you will be encouraged to be pink obsessed. Barbies, make up dolls, pink toys, princess dresses… It is the same shit you get back in the UK.

Sexual violence is pretty high here, prosecutions low, punishments weak and Amnesty Goddamned International has criticised Denmark for its poor treatment of sex crime victims.

Prostitution is legal, pimping is illegal but unlike the Norwegians (and I think the Swedes??), being a john is legal. This means there are a lot of abused, trafficked, exploited sex workers out there. In Norway, where it is not illegal to sell sex but it is illegal to buy sex, serious violent crime has gone down. In Denmark, it is still a problem. The Danish police did an advertising campaign to warn johns that there was a high chance that the prostitute they were visiting was trafficked and the employment of prostitutes went up. Because that’s the point of employing a sex worker for the majority who do that sort of thing.

The age of consent is 15 and there is no protection for girls of that age with “boyfriends” in their late 30s. (nor the rarer converse)

Domestic violence is quite common. (though, I am not sure how it compares with other similar countries)


Daycare is well funded by taxes. Daycare workers are well trained, well respected and reasonably well paid. And yet, being a Stay At Home mum or dad is frowned upon. The vast majority of people put their infants in daycare. Even if they are not employed. It is difficult practically to be a stay at home parent because no one else is doing it, so you do not get any adult company. Health care visitors, mother in laws and busybodies will tell you that you are doing it wrong.

Now, if you want to work after having children, all the more power to your elbow, you go girl (etc etc). But if you do not, how is it a “choice” to have to because everyone else does? This goes equally for men as it does women.

Childcare is undervalued, paid work is the only thing that is respected.

Meanwhile, and hardly anyone talks about this, meanwhile the daycare centres are understaffed, the childminders are depressed and children become neglected emotionally. Intimacy is not encouraged. I have heard Danish people remark that it is good for their infant to be brought up by someone that does not love them.

You see, women’s rights haven’t won this battle. Mothering is still despised, is still regarded as shameful. They just obliterated the role. Everyone is a “dad” now. As in a 1950s, behind his newspaper, gets you a bag of sweets at the weekend because he didn’t get to see you all week, sort of dad. If women’s rights had “won”, you would see a lot more part time work for both genders or government stipends for staying home.

Childcare is seen as something that needs to be done in large batches so that everyone can pay full tax. And not an important part of society that is critical to get right. Why else are there such high child-staff ratios in institutions? Why are two year old left to get attacked by four year olds by these well qualified, well respected, reasonably well paid experts? It’s a “women’s” issue, that’s why. Anyone can do it! You can raise six infants simultaneously no problems because it is easy. You don’t need that many daycare workers, for heaven’s sakes. Women’s work is just as undervalued as it is in Britain, it has just been outsourced as the solution, rather than its profile being deliberately raised.

Why else is the reality show Young Mothers not called Young Parents?

Women are not afforded full rights to religious expression. If they wear hijab, they are not allowed to work in certain shops, be spokespeople, have jobs other than cleaner. And then the Danes have the balls the wall brass necks to claim that these women cannot work because they are downtrodden by “their” men.



Let’s talk about the positive for a bloody change.

On the positive side, casual sexual harassment is low. I have been catcalled twice in the four years I have been here. Compare/contrast with the four times a week back home. I am not required to appear feminine. I can wear what I want without any comment. I rarely put on makeup and that is fine because no one else seems to either. I can wear flat shoes, no problems. The opposite can be a problem, if you wear revealing clothes and high heels, people will talk about you behind your back and say you work as a prostitute. That is interesting, isn’t it!

My body is not public property, no one tells me what to eat or that I am “good” for the amount of exercise I do.

Compliments are rare but always heartfelt.

Work life balance is pretty good. People finish work earlier in Denmark than elsewhere in Europe. Presenteeism is not a thing. People do their job and go home. Holidays are plentiful and well respected. So, it is a pretty good quality of life. If you do not want to be a stay-at-home mother or are thinking about you and your partner going part-time after the kids. Or if you do not want children at all.

As long as you don’t get raped or trafficked, your life as a woman in Denmark can be pretty good*. BUT. This only goes for Danish women.

If you are a foreign woman, all bets are off. I have been readily patronised and dismissed out of hand just because I speak Danish with an accent. I dread to think what will become of me if I have children here. If I had to deal with the borough, maybe because I needed support during unemployment or because I had a baby, I might find that I get a completely different experience than a Danish woman. As my friends have.

Bear in mind, British feminists dreaming of Denmark, I have been here for nearly five years. I have started to think like a Dane. At work, I am almost constantly on the brink of saying “Yes but here in Denmark we do it like this.”* I have got used to living a certain way. A man tried to get past me in a shop by saying something to me and I completely ignored him because I did not realise he was talking to me, I thought he was on his phone (In Denmark, you sort of push past or get really close until the person moves, it’s not “rude” as such here). When I go back to the UK, I find it incredibly hard to make small talk. I am starting to think of Denmark as home. I care about my town and making it better.

And yet. For every four people who are fine with me thinking like a Dane, one person will come and give me a metaphorical Cleveland Steamer for having the temerity of being permanently foreign in Denmark. I am never going to be accepted. I could do, as others before me have done, the whole “get fluent” thing but I will never be accepted in the way my friends in the UK from other countries were accepted. I will always be marked by my origins. People will always ask me where I am from, even if I live here for decades more than I have lived in the UK.

If you go to Danish class, you will find that women are encouraged into SOSU (like a care worker position but with none of the prestige) and men are encouraged to become manual workers. It is not me being paranoid, it’s the stated aim of Danish integration politics. Get immigrant women into careworker support roles. Immigrant men are filtered into other roles. It doesn’t matter what your specialism was back in the old country or where your natural talents lie. You are a pigeon and you must fill a hole.

My first Danish textbook was about Familien Jensen and their day-to-day lives. You will NEVER GUESS who out of Lise and Jan did the housework and cooking. Even though both of them have jobs and work the same hours. One of the government videos you may be forced to view as part of your integration process informs you that “feminism is completely irrelevant” in Denmark today!

Even if women’s rights had won here in Socialist Paradise Denmark, which they haven’t, you will find you are not considered a full woman with the same rights as the real women who live here. You will still be a second class citizen but because you are foreign, not because you are a woman. I am really not sure if that is any better.

(Unless you are rich, then you can do what you want. (But that is true in Britain too.))

I hear it is better in Sweden.*

*This is a use of “Danish humour”, I hope you enjoyed it.