On Vor Frue Square, in front of the University of Copenhagen, a group of women are gathering. The sun has just broken through the clouds, and there’s a positive vibe emanating through the crowd that are preparing to take a walk around the city, but not just any walk.
A woman dressed in black from top to toe, fidgeting with a wallet, smiles and greets newcomers with an anxious “Hej – are you here for the walking tour?” Maybe she’s a bit nervous as this is the first time she’s doing this particular historical walk around the city, of which the focus is women in the public sphere.
It’s March 8 and International Women’s Day – a day celebrated across the world to emphasise women’s rights. Living in a Western society and also one of the countries in the world where equal rights are the most pronounced – actually to the extent where men don’t open the doors or pick up the check in pure dread of undermining the woman’s authority – the day might seem a bit redundant.
In addition to this, we have a female prime minister, who was recently put on the list of the 150 most powerful women in the world, and more women at university than men. But it wasn’t always like this, which is something we’re obviously aware of, but how much do we really know? Who, for instance, was the first woman to get a university degree in Denmark? And why aren’t there any statues of women around the city? These are just some of the questions that the woman in black, historian Nina Søndergaard from Nerd Tours, answers.
Despite targeting men, women and transsexuals over the age of 15, the turn-up only consists of women, of which the majority are in the older age range, but also a few are in their 30s, including a gender researcher and a couple, who out of the bunch seem to be the most comfortably dressed in jeans, flats, and a few colourful
“Do you notice anything particular about the square?” Søndergaard asks the group. “It only contains statues of men.” And then we’re off into the history of women and lack of women acknowledged in the public sphere. After the first session of historical anecdotes, the tour officially begins, and you have to keep up as Søndergaard walks at a steady pace, at which some women succeed better than others.
Through the small streets of inner Copenhagen, new stories cast familiar locations in a new light, like the random house on Fiolstræde where the young Anna Hude was raped. She overcame the humiliation and later became the first Danish woman to obtain a PhD. Other than historical anecdotes, Søndergaard shares many fun gender facts with the crowd, emphasising the name of the tours. “Only one percent of the streets in Denmark are named after women, while 14 percent are named after men,” she says – a revelation that draws a deep intake of breath from some of the older women in the group, although they might just be struggling to keep up.
Another location on the tour is Nina Bang’s Square – named after the world’s first female government minister (1924-26). This remarkable woman distanced herself from the women’s rights movement as her fight wasn’t about gender but class. Saying that, there’s nothing remarkable about this square.
“You would think they had better taste in the ‘70s,” one of the women observes as she sits down on the bench to rest her feet – the pace has continued to be brisk. Another woman dressed in a heavy fur coat, orange glasses and leather gloves reveals that her friend’s mother was the first woman to be elected onto a city council somewhere in Jutland – information that even the tour guide didn’t know.
As we continue the tour through the history of remarkable women, visiting Damehotellet (the lady hotel) and the first mixed gender dorm, gender separation becomes a topic of debate. Someone points out that in Japan women have their own train carriage in some places – another observes that at least it wouldn’t smell.
And then it’s off to the Kvindehuset (women’s house) museum, where most of the women on the tour become nostalgic about the colourful home-knitted clothing on display. “Ohh, I had all of these,” a very excited woman says about some of the woman’s magazines with knitting guides.
The museum is a reminder of the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, which many of the women on the tour remember with an obvious nostalgic fondness. They burnt their bras and grew their hair long – it’s just a shame not more of the younger generation want to hear about the difference they made to today’s society.