‘Mansplaining’ hotline opens for business in Sweden

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Women sick of receiving unsolicited advice can now call a “mansplaining” hotline to report their condescending male colleagues.

The number is a new initiative from Unionen, Sweden’s largest workers union. Running everyday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. all week, workers are urged to call in cases of “mansplaining” in an effort to raise awareness around workplace sexism.

While Sweden may rank well for workplace equality (coming in at number four on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index), a recent survey by Unionen highlighted how female workers often feel like they’re given unnecessary help by men who assume they know better.

“The aim of our campaign is to draw attention to discriminatory behavior in the workplace,” Jennie Zetterstrom, a Unionen representative, told CNN.

“Sweden is well advanced when it comes to gender equality but much remains to be done. We want to start a discussion which we hope will be the first step in changing the way we treat each other,” she added.

All questions and comments from incoming calls will then be aggregated and analyzed to identify key questions and help Unionen provide new approaches for avoiding “mansplaining” in the workplace.

“No matter what a woman says, a man always seems to know better. While it can happen both ways, more women tend to be the victims of this presumption that women need men to explain them things,” said Zetterstrom.

Who’s behind the hotline?

Twenty people — both men and women — were selected to run the hotline. Christina Knight, a half-Swedish, half-British creative director, is one of the those manning the phones this week.

“I am all for uniting opposites and differences as I believe diversity brings more opportunities,” Knight told CNN.

While she’s received plenty of complaints, a lot of men have also called in worried about whether they engage in this type of behavior.

“A common question has been: ‘How do I know I’ve been doing this?’

“I always tell them: ask questions first. Start with a dialogue, instead of a monologue about something you assume a woman doesn’t know or wants to know,” she added.

Backslash over sexism

To promote their temporary hotline, Unionen created a Facebook event and an Instagram account, where they post small comic book vignettes showcasing common “mansplaining” moments in the workplace.

The social media strategy appears to have been successful, garnering plenty of attention. But depicting men as the villains in the story — as seen in many of the Instagram cartoons — has led to criticism on several social platforms, with users calling out the campaign for being sexist and condescending.

The union’s press representative said that it was never their intention to point fingers at men, but rather to spark interest and debate.

“Of course it’s regretful if someone feels offended. On the other hand, the lively debate shows that this is an important topic to discuss. Awareness is the first step towards change,” Zetterstrom said.

Organizers say the hotline has already received over 215 calls and many more comments via social media channels.

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