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Offensive bathroom sign in Luleå school is taken down Posted by on Feb 1, 2013 in Culture, Current Events

Sweden is renowned for its equal rights and anti-discrimination activism. There are always new arrangements being made to ensure the equal well-being of all of Sweden’s 9 million citizens, some which, for much of the rest of the world, appear extreme and receive much criticism. For example, there is a preschool in Stockholm that refrains from using the gender-linked pronouns han (he) and hon (she), and instead uses the [inofficial but widespread] gender-neutral pronoun hen, the goal being to teach children that gender is not of question when it comes to competence and degree of humanity. Another good example is the more-or-less recent decision of Top Toy, owners of Sweden’s branch of Toys R Us and BR, a Scandinavian toy store chain, to print their Christmas catalogues in a gender-neutral fashion: both boys and girls were depicted playing with toys that more traditionally have been seen to either be for boys or for girls, not both. These examples are of the anti-gender discrimination sort, but as you probably have heard, Sweden is also a champion of equal rights for people of every religion, sexual orientation, skin color, and everything else.

This week, we’ve had yet another development in the Swedes’ fight for anti-discrimination, this time also gender-related. A junior high school in Luleå called Tunaskolan has just taken down a sign deemed sexist that had been painted on a wall between the students’ male and female restrooms as part of an art project. Prior to its appearance, it had been approved by the school’s personnel, but 14 year-old Astrid Johansson quickly reacted and shared her frustration via social media, awakening much debate over the issue. Finally, this past Wednesday, the school’s principal made her decision that the school would remove the sign.

So what’s all the fuss about? What kind of bathroom sign that the school had originally approved could be so offensive? Here’s a picture:

Do you find the sign offensive? Do you think the principal has made the right decision? How would this sort of situation be handled in your country or region?

[Source: Norrbottens-Kuriren, photo]

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About the Author:Stephen Maconi

Stephen Maconi has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2010. Wielding a Bachelor's Degree in Swedish and Nordic Linguistics from Uppsala University in Sweden, Stephen is an expert on Swedish language and culture.


  1. Marco:

    Offensive? No. Inappropriate for a school? Yes. And I think that would be inappropriate in pretty much every country in the planet.

  2. Ryan:


    Interesting post! I don’t find the sign offensive per se, but it is kind of dumb.

    Actually, here in Costa Rica we had some problems with exactly this at a school where I taught. Basically, a guy was trying to spy on and take pictures of girls using the bathroom. But it was a language school, and all people involved were adults. Knowing that, it does seem even “less acceptable,” but why shouldn’t it be unacceptable for a junior high school, also?

    I’m sure the person who designed the painting probably didn’t intend for it to offend, and probably meant it to be a slightly whimsical joke, but peeping toms aren’t cool at any age.

    Nice work on the blog!

  3. Iurii:

    I don’t find the sign offensive either, but it is not suitable for schools, for sure. In Ukraine, for example, it would be treated nothing like a fun, if printed somewhere at the bar. Both by men and women.
    however, such an image in school or university would be likely to cause turbulences and discussions in society.

  4. Ronnie McGowan:

    I agree, the painting is all wrong – the girl hen should be spying on the boy hen! You know it’s true!!!

  5. Sebastian:

    Even here in New Zealand, one of the most care-free countries in the world I’m sure a sign like that if found in a school or university would cause debate and discussion.

  6. hologroove:

    It would be funny in a bar or pub but it is over the line in a school.

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