The World's Best Country for Women
Too good to be true?
By Abigail Haworth
Photo Credit: Martin Adolfsson
But for all this, is Sweden really the ultimate female nirvana? With its high income tax, women take home an average of $22,000 per year, compared with $29,000 for American women. Yet prices in Sweden are up to four times higher: a drugstore lipstick costs $15, a pair of non designer jeans, $130. An evening out costs almost $150. For young women who like to have fun, it can be hard on the wallet. "I save all week for the weekends," says Anna-Maria Blomberg, 27, who works as a human resources assistant for a pharmaceutical company. "When I shop, I'm always trying to find ways to buy clothes on sale, so I can spend more on accessories like shoes and bags."
Then there's the other side of the equality coin: To avoid double standards, women like Anna-Maria are fanatical about paying their fair share on dates. "I feel very uncomfortable if a man buys me dinner or drinks as though I owe him something," she says. Fortunately she almost never finds herself in that predicament, since Swedish men rarely offer to pay, nor do they perform any other conventional courtesies, such as holding a door open or helping a woman visibly struggling under the load of a heavy bag. "Naturally, we can't complain," says Anna-Maria. "But apart from the financial issue, I can't say I'd mind the odd helpful gesture now and again."
With gender equality comes further dating awkwardness: By American standards, Swedish men are painfully slow to make the first romantic move. "Men treat women like friends," Anna-Maria says. "They rarely chat you up, unless they're drunk." Instead, Anna-Maria often does the asking herself. "Sure, I'd like to be chased, but men have grown lazy in Sweden. So I take the initiative. Though I have to say, it detracts from the sexual intrigue."
Even so, Sweden's acceptance of women as the aggressors in relationships has its perks: Anna-Maria regularly dates three or four men at a time without social disapproval. And when it comes to sexual freedom, it's hard to imagine a country with more relaxed rules. Sex and the City is shown on TV at the family hour of 6 p.m., and skinny-dipping in Stockholm's city-center lakes is reportedly a popular summer activity. One-night stands are also common. "You can sleep with whomever there's no stigma against women who've had many sexual partners," she says. Which is convenient, since Anna-Maria is having too much fun to settle down just yet. In time, she says, she hopes to meet a long-term partner and have a family. Though her requirements might seem unrealistic, Anna-Maria knows what she's looking for: "I couldn't give up my job, so I wouldn't dream of marrying a man who wasn't prepared to stay at home and look after the children on an equal basis with me."