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Unisex dorms in the Norwegian military
March 25, 2014 6:19 AM   Subscribe

In a study and trial somewhat breathlessly reported as Norwegian troops get unisex dorms, the Norwegian Armed Forces has tried out unisex dorm rooms with two women and four men to a room, and consider the experiment a success, with better unit cohesion and lower rate of sexual harassment as results.

The trial is part of a bigger study commissioned by the Norwegian Department of Defence titled Cultures of Masculinity in the Armed Forces by Oxford Studies in collaboration with gender studies professors Ulla-Britt Lilleaas of Norway and Michael Kimmel of the United States. The whole report from the study can be downloaded here, and has an English language abstract of the state of the field that starts on page 95.

Norway has conscription for men, while service for women is voluntary. In practice service for men as well is near voluntary with the size of today's military compared to during the cold war. 63841 men and women were called in for the examination of persons liable for military service (sesjon) in 2012, while just 9265 served.
posted by Harald74 (38 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Norway - where science isn't something that half the government ridicules.
posted by pashdown at 6:22 AM on March 25 [41 favorites]


One link I left out, Google Translate's attempt at a newspaper article: The Rear Guard of Equality. (Note that "4th Gardening Company" should be "4th Company of the King's Guards"...)
posted by Harald74 at 6:26 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


Egalitarianism works!
posted by oceanjesse at 6:27 AM on March 25


I kind of like the idea of a "4th Gardening Company," just think what THEY would have accomplished after eleven years in Afghanistan.
posted by Floydd at 6:31 AM on March 25 [25 favorites]


Call me when they have coed showers like in Starship Troopers.
posted by mullacc at 6:39 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


Life imitates Battlestar Galactica.
posted by schmod at 6:40 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]


It may work, but as a woman who served in the US armed forces, the idea of this experiment leaves me silently screaming on the inside. I also note that Scandinavia overall seems to have better sex and gender relations - as noted by the existence of crime code criminalizing things men tend to think of here in the US as being trivial. I fervently hope that no one from the DoD is paying attention to this - but fortunately, they usually don't.
posted by corb at 6:40 AM on March 25 [15 favorites]


The related stories links are great...
Norway's military goes veggie to save climate
Norway's male soldiers allowed ponytails
Norwegian army admits losing 1,200 rifles
This feels like a trap.
posted by mullacc at 6:43 AM on March 25 [13 favorites]


I think the US military (and US culture in general) has a long way to go before something like this would work.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:50 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]


I, once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me...
posted by Riton at 7:50 AM on March 25


Call me when they have coed showers like in Starship Troopers.

Ones with Dina Meyer in them?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:53 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Well, here in the US, people freak out about what bathroom children will use, and the toilets in bathrooms are in stall, anyway. I can see this being successful because living together builds relationship. I would love to see the US Army try this, but yeah, no. Anything that would help reduce the sexism and sexual aggression would be a good thing.
posted by theora55 at 7:56 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I wonder if this could turn into one of those paradoxical things that sounds like it would make things worse, but really closer contact might be safer than segregation. I'm reminded of traffic issues, where things like narrowing roads, removing signs, and having a jumble of different users (cars, bicycles, pedestrians) ends up safer than wide roads with every type of traffic carefully separated and with warning signs for everything.

The cultural starting points are very different, but even so there might be lessons to (very carefully and deliberatively) draw on for the US military as it starts to confront an incredible internal sexual harassment/assault problem.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:05 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


This is a bit of a derail, but what is the point of a 10,000 person army?

I can't imagine that this army would do anything but immediately surrender to a serious invader. (See Ukraine in Crimea.)

I suppose it could help with natural disasters, but then shouldn't it just be an emergency management agency?
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:16 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I also note that Scandinavia overall seems to have better sex and gender relations

Actually no. Not in this way. In the Nordic region (Scandinavia and Finland) saunas and changing rooms are separate. Topless sunbathing by women is not terribly popular - and not frequently practiced.

Unlike the rest of Northern/Central Europe - Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria - where mixed saunas and nude sunbathing is not even remarkable.

Norwegians are particularly prudish so this is somewhat of an odd experiment and I can't imagine Norwegian women will be super thrilled at the idea.

I like the idea though - equal should mean equal - but so long as there are separate bathrooms things are not really equal.
posted by three blind mice at 8:24 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


This is a bit of a derail, but what is the point of a 10,000 person army?

Make that a 27,000 person military.
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:26 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Canada has done this informally since the 90s, at least on courses. I've either been a candidate or taught on several courses where this was standard fare. The women usually group together within a room, and sometimes there might be a policy half an hour or an hour before lights out where they get special privacy (I remember this in early 90s but not later).

I've never seen any problems, the group keeps things in check and overall I think it creates a more egalitarian attitude, since there's no special treatment, even for gender. It definitely helps that we've had women in combat and leadership roles for a long time. The days of sexy posters or nudie mags in the barrack boxes are long gone. If there's a negative, it's that guys definitely get to glance at more leg than they normally would, I'm sure the women notice it too, so it's not perfect.

I think the bigger problem is the binge drinking at course parties and the fraternization that ensues, and even that has mostly died down.
posted by furtive at 8:27 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]


Vorpal Bunny

My understanding is that Norway's ski troops are pretty top notch which makes the most likely invader (Russia) at least somewhat leery. Added is the NATO membership and the vast Oil reserves which pretty much guarantee intervention by the US and it's allies.

It's not like a nation of 4 million needs a vast military.
posted by vuron at 8:28 AM on March 25 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure about coed rooms, but my experience of 4 years in a coed dorm (alternating male and female rooms) was that this was a positive experience and that it promoted men and women building informal relationships and seeing each other as people first. Because it was an old dorm dating to when the school had been all male, the 2 bathrooms per floor still had urinals and communal showers, even though they arbitrarily designated one as for women and one for men. In practice this meant some shared bathroom use by both sexes, and that was not such a big deal as you would have thought either. There pretty quickly developed some shared values of respect, enforced by group pressure and policed by it, as well as by a dorm monitor on each floor of course. It helped that the U. dealt with issues pretty quickly, but peer pressure/dorm mate loyalty worked fairly well also.
posted by gudrun at 8:31 AM on March 25 [8 favorites]


This is a bit of a derail, but what is the point of a 10,000 person army?

Answer 1: To mobilize, train and lead a real army when the shit hits the fan.

Answer 2: they are a part of NATO, so you can add the armies of a dozen countries to that count.

Answer 3: How much is enough? Ukraine has 1,100,000 active/reserve in their military, has that been enough to keep Crimea from being annexed?
posted by furtive at 8:33 AM on March 25 [12 favorites]


huh. I was interested in the little tagline at the end of the article "Another problem with girls’ rooms is that they in some cases fall outside the information flow." So whether it's by design or just a weird side effect the "girls rooms" turn into not the main rooms and so there is presumably work discussion happening in the main rooms that excludes women. This addresses that.

I also went to a college that had co-ed bathrooms (and separate stall showers, but co-ed showers too if that makes sense) and it did seem to work pretty well. There was the occasional shower-peeper issue but they seemed fewer and farther between than similar incidents at other nearby schools.

The big deal seems to be that this idea is supported all the way up the chain, it's not just someone saying "We need to be less sexist" and sort of forcing higher ups to make it work while they're silently seething about it.
posted by jessamyn at 8:34 AM on March 25 [10 favorites]


This is a bit of a derail, but what is the point of a 10,000 person army?

9265 is just the number of (new) conscripts per year. According to Wikipedia, the Norwegian armed forces also have 23 000 personnel, and the full mobilization combat strength is 83 000. (Which as a Finn still sounds pretty low to me, considering our figure is four times higher while the population is in the same ballpark. Then again, our border with Russia is also a lot longer...)

I'm not really surprised the experiment was succesful. I'd imagine women were more likely to be seen and accepted simply as equal members of the group when they weren't separated from the men. Then again, I can imagine the same arrangement backfiring in another cultural climate.
posted by sively at 8:44 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


but my experience of 4 years in a coed dorm (alternating male and female rooms) was that this was a positive experience

My experience in a coed military barracks (male and female rooms interspersed, female rooms connected to female rooms and shared a bathroom with females, male to male connected and shared) was actually overwhelmingly positive. Even those guys who were definite sexists/misogynists tended to treat us better than they treated other women. However, a large part of what made this possible was us having our own rooms to retreat to and lock the doors in. Sharing a bedroom with a male soldier is an entirely different kettle of fish.
posted by corb at 8:44 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


I kind of like the idea of a "4th Gardening Company," just think what THEY would have accomplished after eleven years in Afghanistan.

A shrubbery?
posted by yoink at 8:45 AM on March 25


Topless sunbathing by women is not terribly popular - and not frequently practiced.
To be fair, sunbathing in general is not a very popular pastime in the Nordic countries for obvious reasons.
posted by brokkr at 8:51 AM on March 25 [6 favorites]


what is the point of a 10,000 person army?

It's really about having a trained cadre of active-duty troops who then return to civilian life and are available to be called up in case of a mobilization.

But to look at it another way^, their active duty military (5.2 per 1000 capita) is the same as the Russian (5.3 per 1000), and well above the US (4.5 per 1000).

Bottom line, however, is that Norway does not currently feel tremendously threatened by any neighbor. They do share a tiny land border with Russia, though, so this may be subject to some re-evaluation.

(On preview of snively: Yeah, Finland's active duty is actually lower, 4.3, but its reserve strength is the highest in Europe at 74 per 1000, with Estonia not far behind. All the higher-ranking militaries are from conflict zones, disputed territories, or embattled holdouts, with the arguable exception of Singapore.)
posted by dhartung at 8:53 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


as noted by the existence of crime code criminalizing things men tend to think of here in the US as being trivial

Could you please elaborate?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:23 AM on March 25


I wonder if this could turn into one of those paradoxical things that sounds like it would make things worse, but really closer contact might be safer than segregation.

Yes, I'm totally with you: for example, mixed sleeping areas mean that fellow soldiers who are women are more part of the mainly-male in-group, so get treated better - they're thought of as "one of the boys". And like the traffic example you give, it's both counter-intuitive and the exceptions that arise (which they do) will have powerful, negative narrative effects because they are in line with our incorrect expectations.
posted by alasdair at 9:24 AM on March 25


I also went to a college that had co-ed bathrooms (and separate stall showers, but co-ed showers too if that makes sense) and it did seem to work pretty well. There was the occasional shower-peeper issue but they seemed fewer and farther between than similar incidents at other nearby schools.

I went to a similar school, where all but a few dorms were coed, meaning single sex in each room, but coed on the floor, and often with just one shared bathroom (with individual stalls for toilets and showers, but with legacy urinals along one wall). I don't recall any peeper incidents, though I'm sure they happened; what usually caused issues was people having sex in a shower stall -- since you could see legs from the calves down (and hear everything) it was obvious when people were sharing a stall.

There were a few single sex dorms for people who preferred that, too. I remember those (both male and female) as being distinctly dirtier, but that may be just unreliable memory, I don't know.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:40 AM on March 25


I'm interested also in the article about long hair on men in the norwegian military:
The new rules follow complaints from a male officer that while female soldiers were allowed to keep their hair in a loose braid or ponytail, man with longer hair had to gather it into a knot or hair net.
I think making all clothing/hair/appearance regulations gender-neutral is a great step (since if there's a reason for men not to have long hair it applies to women too), but what surprised me there was that men were already allowed long hair, this was just a shift in how they were allowed to wear it.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:12 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


This is how most field camps work. Space is limited and more often than not your tents, trailers, rooms, staterooms (on boats) etc. are coed. I've shared rooms with up to 4 guys for months at a time on several occasions. Of course it's temporary and you eventually get to go home but it's so common as to be totally unremarkable.

The main problem is that men snore so much more than women. Seriously, thats probably the biggest complaint we ever get.
posted by fshgrl at 11:13 AM on March 25


I like how the Norwegian military have noone to fight so they've started fighting environmental and gender issues.
posted by hoca efendi at 12:08 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


I like how the Norwegian military hasn't invaded random countries for dubious reasons.
posted by el io at 12:31 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]


I think the ponytail thing is just a step towards the re-introduction of full beards and braids throughout the Norwegian armed forces.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:41 PM on March 25 [9 favorites]


It's not like a nation of 4 million needs a vast military.

It's not like a nation of 314 million needs a vast military either, and yet....

I like how the Norwegian military hasn't invaded random countries for dubious reasons.


Well....
posted by IndigoJones at 1:49 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Norway's military goes veggie to save climate
Norway's male soldiers allowed ponytails
Norwegian army admits losing 1,200 rifles


Is it just me, or does the Norwegian military sound kind of fun?
posted by Sara C. at 2:12 PM on March 25 [8 favorites]


Been saying this for years.

Actually with the drawdown in forces (in the U.S.) now would be an opportune time to reset policy and goals and accommodate homosexuals, heterosexuals, etc. and get rid of the 1950's era concept of military living accommodations.

The U.S. would need some changes in the mindset of leadership. Particularly on sexual mores.

I like the Australian Army Morrison's leadership, at least as far as seen here.
Money quote at 1:44: best traditions, etc "If that does not suit you, then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behavior is acceptable, but I doubt it. The same goes for those who think that toughness is built on humiliating others..."

It's amazing that anyone concerned with efficiency and the importance of unit cohesion wouldn't consider these kinds of changes, as far as the U.S. military goes anyway.

It's unfortunate that the behavior has not, as yet, been unlearned. But that certainly doesn't mean it's not possible to model by leadership and enforce by rigorous pursuit.

I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't think that it's worth it, but you get a lot of fatheads who don't actually do much other than posture and pretend to be something they think military service is. Plenty of reasons to change that.

Strange to me too are the hair requirements. Although you have relaxed standards in some places in the U.S. military. Most of the "no beard" and "short hair" was predicated on needing to wear a gas mask and being lice and tick free in the field.
But too, uniformity promotes cohesion as well. Not sure if they need that so much with so small a force. Plenty of ways to do that with regimented behavior, dress, etc.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:53 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Is it just me, or does the Norwegian military sound kind of fun?


Here is their Harlem Shake video.

Note: if it turns out that the Noma GT Snow Racer pictured in the video is actually standard issue for the Norwegian armed forces, god help anyone who tries to invade Norway.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:19 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


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