Denmark’s delayed #MeToo moment
The country has long denied it has a ‘cozy sexism’ issue.
COPENHAGEN — Three years after the #MeToo movement, Denmark is finally ready to talk about sexual harassment.
The revived debate — sparked by a popular television host sharing her experiences of harassment in the media industry — has also drawn in a top government figure.
In 2008, Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, then a 34-year-old member of the Danish parliament and the Social Democrats’ spokesperson for foreign affairs, apologized after it emerged he had sex with a 15-year-old youth member of his party.
Although he committed no crime, as the age of consent is 15 in Denmark, Kofod resigned from his post. The case did not hurt his career, however; he went on to become a member of the European Parliament before being appointed foreign minister last year.
Yet 12 years later, Kofod is facing renewed criticism as Denmark finds itself in the throes of a growing debate over harassment by men in positions of power — three years after Danes broadly dismissed the #MeToo movement.
The renewed debate kicked off in late August, when Sofie Linde, the host of a Danish talent show, recalled in a speech at an awards ceremony how an older colleague at public broadcaster DR had threatened to ruin her career if she did not give him a blowjob during a 2008 Christmas party.
Her remarks and the stories subsequently shared by other women, many of whom also worked in the media, have rocked a country that enjoys an outward image of being a paradise of gender equality, in part due to its generous parental leave, young female prime ministers and a history of radical feminist movements.
And while Denmark regularly scores high marks in gender-equality rankings across the world, the country isn’t as feminist as outsiders might believe.
In fact, just 1 in 6 Danes consider themselves a feminist, according to a survey last year — which also found that almost a third of Danes considered wolf-whistling at women in the street acceptable.
The idea of Denmark as a haven of equality is “partially a myth” that explains why the country “has had difficulties acting [on sexual harassment] in the previous years,” said Henriette Laursen, the director of Kvindfo, an organization that works on issues relating to gender, equality and diversity.
“We were front-runners especially when it comes to women participation in the labor market … due to access to good facilities, such as kindergartens,” said Laursen. “But it is as if we stayed where we were,” she added, citing underrepresentation of women in management positions and a lack of sexual violence laws as examples where the country is lagging.
More than half of all companies in Denmark do not have a single woman on their boards, according to 2017 data from the government. Just under 15 percent of directors and 19 percent of board members at Danish companies are women.
The notion of being equality front-runners ties into the country’s core value of frisind, according to Laursen, which translates as “an unprejudiced, tolerant attitude and way of thinking.”
“The way we still see ourselves as having a liberated mind means that we are supposed to not take things too seriously,” said Laursen. The ensuing normalization of sexist behavior and jokes has been dubbed “hygge sexism” — a reference to the popular Danish term for coziness.
These long-held beliefs meant that the #MeToo movement was largely overlooked in Denmark when it swept the world in 2017.
While only 1 percent of Swedish media articles had an overall critical view of the movement, in Denmark that same figure was 10 percent, according to a study that highlighted differences in #MeToo media coverage between the two Nordic countries.
A public survey in 2017 found that almost half of Danes believed #MeToo to be necessary but “exaggerated.”
A public survey in 2017 found that almost half of Danes believed #MeToo to be necessary but “exaggerated,” while 2 in 5 respondents thought the movement had no effect on the way people behave toward each other.
Laursen said Denmark now seems finally ready to talk about sexual harassment as the “media is now telling stories about issues inside the media [industry], which means it’s simply covered more extensively.”
Adding to the momentum, she said, were likely the government’s recently announced plans to reform sexual violence laws to make consent rather than violence the basis for determining rape.
“When politicians acknowledge that we have problems with rape that we haven’t dealt with [previously], that might also have paved the way to a broader discussion on sexism,” Laursen said.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Foreign Minister Kofod issued another apology. “I wish I could change what happened. I can’t, but I can learn from it. And I have learned from it,” he said.
Some lawmakers now say he should never have been given this appointment in the first place, given the 2008 case.
But Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she still supports Kofod as foreign minister, adding that “regarding the current case, I believe Jeppe Kofod has both apologized and expressed regret, and has done so many years ago.”