“I want a real man” said Silje. As the only foreigner in the room I was confused. “As opposed to what? A fake one?”. We were on a girls night out in central Oslo, Norway, most of us were single but some weren’t. There seemed to be a consensus that those who were single wanted “a real man” and those who weren’t were glad they’d found one. One of them had even left her ex-boyfriend because he was too soft.
Let’s not kid ourselves, we all know what people mean by “a real man”: it is a man who has all the attributes and behaviours associated with masculinity: being strong and tough, showing power, not being too emotional, being tall and broad and burping after drinking beer. Sorry that last one wasn’t supposed to be in the list. My question is: why would Norwegian women want a man who shows power and authority when they live in the most gender equal society in the world? French men taking more than their 11 days paternity leave are mobbed: “You wooss. Don’t you have a wife to take care of your kids?”. And Norwegian women complain and want a manly man…WHYY??
Norwegian women want it all: An Alpha male on paternity leave
To get an answer to my questions I asked more questions about this “real man”. “One that knows how to build things, who makes decisions, has authority, has muscles”. Okay. “Do you still want that same man to clean your kid’s nappies and comb your daughter’s hair, leave an important meeting to pick your sick child up from daycare, accept that you have a career that is as important as his without taking a fight?”. As if they were a choir, they all answered “Yes of course, we want that too”.
Silje and Anne Marte continued that night, to tell me about what was really wrong with Norwegian men. “Norwegian men don’t want to offend women and end up being too soft. “What should we do tonight, we should agree, because I don’t want to impose anything on you”. “Take a decision, be a man!”. My skin started to crawl. “So, I ask. You like men who have authority and make decisions without asking for your opinion. What if he decides something you don’t agree with?”. “Well then he has to listen to me”. Right.
Conclusion: Norwegian women saying they want a manly man think they can have their cake and eat it too. They don’t seem to understand that you cannot ask a man to be tough and vulnerable, respectful and authoritative, masculine and metrosexual. You cannot get everything. You cannot get an Alpha male on pappaperm (paternity leave).
Sending conflicting messages to Norwegian men
As a French woman, I find it very shocking that Norwegian women would dare to blame men who listen to their partner, make common decisions and do not want to violate or offend them physically or psychologically. And call them pejoratively “soft”. It’s called mutual respect and equality, it is what Norwegian society has achieved which so many other countries lack behind. It is what many women in non Scandinavian countries dream of.
It is that Norwegian women have forgotten what they have? Going out alone without being catcalled just because you dared wear a skirt, saying in a party that you have a great job without being called a radical feminist (for pursuing a career), eating a banana in a public place without being slurped at. Having a partner who accepts you earn more than him without taking a fight. It seems like Norwegian women want even more because they forgot what they gained. Sadly those battles won by feminism can be lost again.
Masculinism, a bad answer to a real question?
If too many women say they want a “real man”, the risk is to create frustrated men who decide that they will be that man again. Masculinist groups are blooming across the Western world, and Norway is sadly no exception. A simple Google search has led me to news sites asking the question “Has Gender Equality Come too Far”. And interviews of men such as Per Bjørnar Rødde, an FrP politician (far right wing party in Norway. see here for more about Norwegian politics), who advises Norwegian men to marry Asian woman. On the blog of the notorious American neomasculinist and misogynist RooshV, such advice is publicly advertised: “Do Not Have Sex with Feminists“. Whether it is in the US or in Norway, such men claim that gender equality has gone to far and that women should go back to depending on men financially and intellectually as they are naturally meant to do so.
I find what this man and masculinist activists stand for horrifying, but I cannot help wonder whether this might be a bad reaction to a real problem. If we as women want emancipation and equality, then why dream of a return of the Cave men? Isn’t that sending a very confusing message to men? Are Norwegian women ready for the backlash where men would dream of meeting “real women”?
The last Alpha males of Norway
I will tell you a secret. There are still some “real men” in Norway. I just met many of them in my housing association meeting. They were all over 60 years old, spoke loudly, disregarded any comment made by any woman . They knew it all. Is that the kind of man you want in your home? Are you ready to pay the price of that masculinity you crave for? Norwegian women claiming they want a real man would probably survive 24 hours with one of those “Alpha males” from my housing association.There is no place in the world where the definition of a machist men is to change a nappy or clean a toilet, because that is not the traditional behaviour expected from “a real man”. I was even told once by a French man my age, sitting with his feet on his parents’ table “You know why men don’t clean? We just don’t have that chip in our brain to make a hoover work. Better we leave it to you girls”.
To all the Silje out there, be careful what you ask in a man. It can lead to dangerous theories, and diverts the attention from the real things Norwegian women should want, such as equal salary and equal amount of women in business leading positions. Norway might be the best in the class in terms of gender equality but it does not mean equality is achieved here either, sadly. So be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.
This article was published in the Norwegian paper VG on the 5th of March 2016 under the title Hva vil norske kvinner egentlig ha? It raised a small public debate in Norway, was largely read. It was also quoted in the radio programme NRK Salongen, comedians Tunsvik & Tønne talked about it in their podcast (no.163), and the Frog was invited on TV2 Nyhetskanalen to talk about it.