By Shazia Anwer Cheema
Whenever the word “gender” comes into mind, terminologies like gender role, sexual orientation, and gendered stereotype hook the thought process. Then it comes to mind that normativity is subjective and crowned by society and put on the thrown mainly by religion.
Society still ruled by normativity can consider any or every opposition to thrown abnormal. Fix dress code, fix gender roles, and fix sexual preferences are part of being normal. However, we all agree this is not the reality of the day, and not listening to all that noise against normativity could be a choice but not a solution.
Scandinavia is considered among those parts of the world where gender is being treated with all its subjectivity. Where sex education is part of school education and discussion about gender, body, and sexuality is not taboo. Gender Museum Denmark is a journey through the history of sex education, display of various methods that have been used to convey sexuality over the last 200 years.
Gender Museum is in the city of Aarhus Denmark, the building was built as a town hall and police station in 1857 and rebuilt in 1909. The history of the building is central to the presentation of Gender Museum Denmark. Democracy, power, and social movements are the main themes in The Old City Council Hall.
Gender museum Denmark has an ongoing exhibition with the title of “Gender Blender”, the entire second floor has been dedicated to the cultural history of sexes, an exploration into gender equality, and an explanation of being born as a girl, a boy, or nonbinary, through a historical timeline and the themes of work, human, body, heritage, politics, activism, art and the world, the importance of gender in society is explored.
Until 1933, homosexuality was a crime in Denmark, and not until 1981 did the National Board of Health remove homosexuality from the list of mental diseases. Well into the 1900s, teachers’ manuals for sexual education bear witness to a strained view on homosexuality.
During the 1950s, the fear of homosexuality was so great that books informed about how to avoid children being lured into the gay community. The teachers’ manual from 1961 mentions homosexuality in more forgiving tones for the first time. However, students were still warned that homosexuality could affect their lives in unfortunate ways.
By the late 1940s, the first movement fighting for homosexual rights arose. The 1970s witnessed a growth in the Danish LGBT movement, and societies such as the Gay Liberation Front and Lesbian Front were established. They made society aware of their existence by staging happenings leading to a wider acceptance and a number of laws in their favor. By the introduction of mandatory sexual education in 1970, the mentioning of homosexuality was aimed at helping young homosexuals understand “that they by no means were excluded from having a meaningful life”.
Women have had to fight for sexual equality as well. The way into the 1900s, it was common to link women’s sexual desire only to their reproductive abilities. Teenage manuals warned young women not to be sexually forthcoming. A teenage book published in 1952, mentions that a rumor sticks to a girl “like a stamp to a letter”. The Women’s Libbers tried to do away with taboos and shaming of women’s sexuality by staging demonstrations and happenings.
The equality debate is still alive. The Danish book “Ludermanifestet” (The Hooker Manifesto) published in 2017, sparked a debate against shaming sexually active women. In 2018, a study showed that girls are more likely than boys to be considered cheap. Furthermore, studies show that the number of suicide attempts among LGBT persons is four times higher than among the Danish population in general. Today, sexual education focuses on fixed norms of gender and sexuality.
The section titled under Gender Blender also provides opportunities for gender and sex/body education, students from different schools gather there for discussion related to body politics, body sociology, and gender in specific frames.
The most interesting exhibition was “The Museum of Childhood”, where visitors can view the 100 years’ evolution of gender roles, the exhibition is meant to experience with our own body, visitors can interact with the objects, walk over them even walk under them and fell into a time warp in a backyard with laundry and an old fashioned loo. The display itself signifies the relevance of the displayed idea by making it less relevant and more relevant to our daily life.
The third floor of the museum was dedicated to Astrid Lindgren (14 November 1907 – 28 January 2002) was a Swedish writer of fiction and screenplays. She is best known for several children’s book series, featuring Pippi Longstocking, Emil of Lönneberga, Karlsson-on-the-Roof, and the Six Bullerby Children (Children of Noisy Village in the US), and for the children’s fantasy novels Mio, My Son, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, and The Brothers Lionheart. Lindgren worked on the Children’s Literature Editorial Board at the Rabén & Sjögren publishing house in Stockholm and wrote more than 30 books for children. In January 2017, she was calculated to be the world’s 18th most translated author, and the fourth most-translated children’s writer after Enid Blyton, Hans Christian Andersen, and the Brothers Grimm. Lindgren has so far sold roughly 165 million books worldwide In 1994, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for “her unique authorship dedicated to the rights of children and respect for their individuality.”
She is financially independent since she owns a sackful of gold pieces. She can shoot a revolver and sail on the seven seas. She is both cheeky and kind, she can carry a horse and she can outlift the strongest man in the world, Mighty Adolph.
Pippi Longstocking is a girl rebel, who has inspired children all over the globe since 1945. In her storybook world, she has saved children from adult laws, provided them with unlimited amounts of fizzy drink, and she’s stood up for the weak and oppressed. So it is not strange that the anti-authoritarian Pippi is censored in some dictatorships and conservative states, and that she has aroused the fury of many adults.
A Swedish social commentator once argued that the ‘Pippi cult’ had a highly detrimental effect on both school children and pre-school children in Sweden. ‘Pippi-worship has turned everything upside down, in schools, in family life and in terms of normal behavior,’ the commentator wrote in a leading Swedish daily.
Perhaps the critics and censors, being adults, took Pippi a little too seriously. Children know that Pippi is doing wrong when she drinks lemonade out of a jug at a garden party. Nevertheless, like other popular storybook characters, she has influenced the way they think and behave.
Pippi is fun because she breaks with conventional ideas about how girls should behave – and also, perhaps, makes fun of adults’ gender roles in the process. Like when she goes to the market in her giant, mill wheel-like hat, dressed in a full-length evening gown and with huge green rosettes on her shoes. She has also applied charcoal to her eyebrows and coated her mouth and nails with red paint.
‘I think you should look like a really fine lady when you go to the market,’ Pippi says.
There is a sign in a shop window in the small town where she lives that reads, ‘DO YOU SUFFER FROM FRECKLES?’ Pippi doesn’t. She is not interested in the anti-freckle cream on offer but nevertheless goes into the shop to make her position clear.
‘No, I don’t suffer from freckles’, she declares. ‘But my dear child’, says the startled assistant, ‘your whole face is covered in them.’ ‘I know, says Pippi, ‘but I don’t suffer from them. I like them. Good morning!’
Gender biases do not bring inequality every time but surely bring a sense to every gender of its existence. A man feels he is a Man and a woman feels she is a Woman, this is what Gender classification brings to us. A girl feels she is a Girl and a boy feels he is a Boy for many reasons. Do we have mixed-gender soccer teams in international competitions? Do we have international or even national competitions where females are competing for male acrobatics? When would we have mixed competitions of weight lifting and bodybuilding where females and males are competing with each other?
I will keep considering the world as a “Gender Biased” place irrespective of geographical location till such time I can find separate public toilets. I will consider this world Gender bias till such time that international discussions start with Ladies and Gentlemen. I believe the human race will keep facing contradictions till such time we call bitch and dog— We segregate everything on a gender basis. Can we come out of this segregation?
Note: Writer Shazia Anwer Cheema is a Prague-based foreign affairs expert who writes for national and international media. She is a doctoral student. Researcher in semiotics and philosophy of communication at Charles University in Prague. She heads the DND Think Tank. She can be reached at her: Twitter @ShaziaAnwerCh Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.