Early Rejser: Not the gender-neutral utopia many like to believe

Pedestrian crossings are designed to make you stop and think – two things I’m usually happy to overdo to my detriment. But not when I’m out for a run, especially when there isn’t a vehicle in sight. Yet I found myself doing just that one frosty morning two weeks ago, standing stock still in the cold, waiting for a LED man to change colour, my mind wandering. But why?

30 years, months and seconds
With my 30th birthday fast approaching, was I suddenly feeling the years? After 30 months living in the Copenhagen slow lane, was my very British disregard for traffic laws and other cultures’ customs now just a speck in the rearview mirror?

Well, people change and anything’s possible, but I don’t believe myself capable of the good grace it takes to slow down with age, nor the utilitarian humility it takes to relinquish the right to decide where and when to cross a deserted stretch of road. No, there was something else, something hidden, keeping me there.

My eyes were too full of sleep to see it at the time, and I could only gaze dreamily at the temporarily red man. Why aren’t there, I wondered, in a country further along the gender equality path than most – in a city monopolised by Carlsberg, which brought the world its first gender-neutral, and somehow simultaneously most forgettable, beer – any LED women?

Fuzzy end of the lollipop
Perhaps digital lollipop lady is a field of work everyone’s happy for men to dominate. More likely, I mused, Denmark isn’t the gender-neutral utopia many consider it.

As a man on his way to do ‘a woman’s job’, I empathised with this lollipop man. But I felt even more solidarity for the LED women, struggling as they must be against Denmark’s gender biases.

I thought back to the ‘female-only’ adverts for nannies I encountered in my early days here. I thought back to the meeting with my bank manager last month when he said: “And what would you do if you had a proper job?” Then the man changed, red to green, like a reverse Santa, and I lost my train of thought.

Why not Gary Poppins?
Those thoughts resurfaced later that day and gave me cause to pause, when the kids asked if we could see ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ over Christmas. In an industry in which there is perennial pressure for Jane Bond, and Dr Who has boobs, isn’t it time for Gary Poppins?

Nevertheless, I decided the film might help foster a festive sense of magic for the kids – something Danes seem to lack relative to their British counterparts. The reason for this becomes clear when quizzing Danes on their belief in Father Christmas. A bizarre number describe it as dying prematurely in the following way: Father Christmas turned up in their back garden wearing their dad’s/uncle’s/godfather’s shoes/sandals/crocks.

That this bearded stranger was their mysteriously missing relative was, on reflection, the least traumatising conclusion they could have reached. But this popular problem opens the door for some gender-bending the Danes might enjoy: Mother Christmas. Aside from being more convincing as a list-toting benefactor who knows what each child has been up to that year, someone’s mum, aunt or godmother is likely to have so many shoes that even the sharpest-eyed child won’t shatter the illusion

It is only as I write this, a fortnight on, that I recognise what it was that made me wait for the green man that morning. It was the need for a reflective moment to draw upon when I sit down to pen a festive opinion piece inspired by another thoroughly uninteresting run through the harsh, neutral, Danish darkness.