Like in most European countries at that time, Sweden was patriarchic, meaning that men had higher rights and women were considered inferior. This phenomenon is the same for all classes, for the bourgeoisie as well as the peasantry. This does not mean women were discriminated or not appreciated in today’s sense, but “were regarded in legal terms as being underaged minors” (Löwkrona 1993, 270), whereas they were responsible for household and the children’s upbringing.
There are rather few sources that deal with such intimate topics as sexuality, let alone homosexuality. If you take erotic riddles and jokes into account you find a pattern that described female sexuality as mostly passive, while men engage in a more active way. It even seems as if a “sexually active woman, (…), was considered a threat to male virility” (Löwkrona 1993, 276). This can be interpreted as a symbol of the underlying “power relationship of domination and subordination”, which of course was culturally constructed and not naturally given.
Löwkrona has examined erotic riddles as part of folklore and was “not able to find any relevant evidence concerning bisexuality and homosexuality in other genres of erotic folklore” (274). She concludes that “homosexuality remained largely invisible in pre- industrial peasant society” (Löwkrona 1993, 275), even though homosexual encounters or relationships might have been common amongst peasant young men and women, since shared beds gave plenty of opportunities. As for the bourgeoisie sexuality in general and even more same-sex relationships were an enormous taboo, so there is very little evidence to rely on. The sources show that even topics like pregnancy and childbirth were surrounded by euphemisms to avoid bodily associations.
Compare this to the Sweden of today and you find quite the opposite! Homosexuality is not only accepted, it is even celebrated with parades like ‘West pride’, which takes place in Gothenburg in the end of May every year and rejoices gay, lesbian, transgender and queer lifestyles. Days before the main event, the so called regnbågsparaden (rainbow parade), public flagpoles all over the city were decorated with the rainbow flag associated with gay rights. In 2013 the festival attracted more than 100.000 visitors over the course of 4 days and is therefore one of the most famous and well attended cultural events in Sweden.
The love of nature seems to be a Swedes’s strongest character trait, a sign of his “Swedishness”. The stereotype represents him as strong, healthy, natural and more interested in exploring wildlife than watching TV. Even though this image is not the “root of Sweden” but indeed created as late as the 19th century by the Swedish bourgeoisie, it is still dominant in our time.
Peasants had a completely different idea of landscapes and nature than the rising bourgeoisie, since it was mostly a sphere of production and required an extensive knowledge of ecosystems and different readings of landscapes depending of the use, which mirrors in the language: 75 types of soils could be named in the plains and along the coastline more than 20 terms for herring were coined. Knowledge was usually passed on from older generations, till example by rhymes and mnemonic rules. This included also the understanding of the ‘magical landscape’, where supernatural beings such as trolls, gnomes and night-mares guarded the boundaries between spheres, policed proper and improper use of resources and punished breaks of taboos.
For the city folk nature was divided into two different landscapes: the productive one, where nature was considered a “kingdom of slumbering riches, waiting to be exploited” (Frykman, 50) and the romanticized one for recreational use. The dreamy attitude towards nature was conveyed mostly by European literature about a utopian past and unspoiled wilderness, which led the bourgeoisie to admire the idealized view of fishermen and herdsmen among others. Since there was no need of direct interaction for most city folk in the late 19th century the conception of nature grew more and more idealized until it represented the ultimate Swedishness, the antidote to overcivilization in the stressful urban environment, a nostalgic and melancholic setting where national identity could be found.
Even today the love for nature seems to be unbroken throughout the country. You can see people having picnics outside in a park every day, families seem to be in the countryside almost every weekend and kids play outside in the garden, small streets or playgrounds as soon it stops raining. The longing for a simple, ‘natural’ lifestyle reflects also in food habits. Virtually everything from apples to shampoo is also available in an ecological version in a regular supermarket; cars with electric motors are no rarity and apparently everybody tries to spend the summer camping or in a stuga surrounded by lakes, forests, blue sky and sun. The idea of being in ‘pure wilderness’ as the epitome of human existence is apparently a deep rooted belief in Swedish society, regardless of age, gender and social class. There might be exceptions, and probably not too little, but they are not as apparent as the ecological-minded nature-loving and -longing majority.