Many of you may have gone slightly green with envy this week upon reading that a Danish tribunal has ruled that women should have to pay no more than men to get their hair cut.
Indeed, the price of getting a chop in Copenhagen is so prohibitive that I regularly go six months between salon visits – how embarrassing. And like you, I have often wished that I was paying $20 for a fifteen minute spin under the scissors instead of more than $120 for carefully applied organic shampoo and a blow dry.
But don’t apply for a visa to live in Denmark just yet ladies.
Latent sexism still corrupts even the most highly regulated societies. In fact, the problem may be the regulation.
There are many who seem to think that the existence of a comfortable maternity/paternity leave scheme and the right to equal pay for equal work mean that the battle for female equality is over and that “sexism doesn’t really exist anymore, that was in the ’70s” (actual quote from an actual Danish man).
But like most social problems, putting a law in place doesn’t change anything if society doesn’t come right along with it (see for e.g. latent homophobia and racism). I will happily concede that the Danish legal system provides a framework for protection against systematic sexism that is rivalled only by our Swedish and Norwegian friends. Women in Denmark enjoy a range of rights that women in Australia, the USA (let alone parts of the middle east and India) are still fighting hard for.
But they pay for those legal rights by not being able to complain when the casual sexism that pervades society rears its ugly head. Actual quote from actual Danish boss “We’re past the whole sexism thing right? I’ve known you long enough…” (insert unprintably insulting joke here). Actual quote from actual Danish dentist extracting a friend’s wisdom tooth “This is my favourite part of the day…when I can get a woman to shut up for half an hour”.
Danish women, for fear of being labelled scary feminists, are largely silent in the face of this everyday “banter”. Sometimes they use laughter as the best defence. But god forbid they appear to be offended on behalf of their sex (or even personally); that would be rather humourless. And besides, women and men are all equal right? So it’s funny? Wrong, occasionally it’s mildly amusing, mostly it makes me feel uncomfortable and belittled.
The fallacy of protection against sexism through the legal system in Denmark has, in my experience, led to a culture that is too relaxed about the possibility of casual everyday sexism in the workplace, amongst friends and even amongst women themselves.
Put away your passports girls, and keep on fighting for both your legal rights and the right to live free from harassment within society at large. Cheap haircuts are not a substitute for true equality.