When I first decided to spend my spring semester abroad in Sweden, I was a little disappointed to miss out on traditional Swedish winter holiday celebrations such as the celebration of Lucia and Christmas. However, a couple weeks ago my professors, particularly in my Swedish Language and Culture class and Scandinavian Fashion workshop, began focusing lectures around gender equality and women’s rights in Sweden in preparation for International Women’s Day, which was celebrated on March 8th. I knew that this was a well-known holiday, but growing up I never got to experience it being celebrated or honored (other than seeing posts about it on social media) so I was excited to see how it would be celebrated during my semester abroad here.
In preparation for the holiday, we learned about women’s rights in Sweden. Reforms that have been made advocating for women’s rights and gender equality included granting mothers more than a year of paid maternity leave, and up to 3 months of paid paternity leave. The focus on gender equality is also evident in Sweden’s government; on average almost half of the politicians in the Swedish parliament are women, higher than the European Union and the United States, which have a little more than a third and a little less than a third, respectively. It was interesting to learn about these policies and statistics, especially because they are so different compared to those in the U.S.
After learning about women’s rights in Sweden, we finally celebrated International Women’s Day last week. One of my professors in my Scandinavian Fashion workshop class presented one of his collections that he designed as part of his senior portfolio in college, which focused on the relationship between our bodies, clothing, and how they contribute to our gender identities. It was refreshing to hear someone talk about the complexities of how we identify ourselves, and the societal “rules” that we attribute to different sexes. One of the main points that he made was about the importance of breaking out of gender norms, but also how empowering it can be to embrace our own femininity or masculinity.
After the presentation, we took a trip to a local artist’s textile studio a little bit outside of Stockholm. When we arrived, we got to meet Mathias Miriam Nirstedt who gave us a tour of their art studio, which had rows of huge weaving looms and colorful hand-dyed yarn. Their work was stunning; we were able to touch and admire all of their textile works, which were woven in bright and playful colors. However, what was most memorable to me was how Miriam talked about their experience as a trans feminine non-binary artist in Stockholm. I admired how confident and passionate they were about their work and identity, despite the judgments and obstacles they have faced throughout their college years.
After the workshop, we were able to ask Miriam questions about their textile methods and the concepts and symbolism that go into each of their textile pieces. Their studio felt like such a safe and comfortable space; my friends and I agreed that it was one of our favorite classes to date. It was also nice to see so much representation of LGBTQIA+ artists from my professors to our guest lecturers, especially because I have noticed that there is a lack of that especially in academia. On a personal level, having these lectures and field studies on International Women’s Day was inspiring because it reminded me that being a woman doesn’t mean you have to look or act a certain way; it’s about making your own path and creating opportunities for yourself where there are none.