The best part about men crusading for control over women’s bodies is how ridiculous they look doing it. At last Friday’s anti-abortion March for Life, where the turnout was about half male, I saw caravans from all-boys schools unloading dozens of male students, all motivated to travel hours on a smelly bus by the desire to publicly condemn women for their medical decisions. Jezebel pointed out the dark, soul-grinding humor of the sight of five principled boys at the march holding signs that boasted “we don’t need Planned Parenthood.” Because we will never get pregnant was the super-cool subtext.
A group of female government officials from Sweden have caught on to this hilarious, time-honored trend and decided to try their hand at a parody. On Friday morning, Isabella Lövin, the nation’s deputy prime minister and climate minister, posted a photo of herself soberly signing a referral of a climate law that would require Sweden to reduce its net emissions to zero by 2045. Her table is flanked by seven other women, watching her with all the righteous determination of a group of male legislators getting off on abortion-clinic restrictions.
The photo is striking in part because there are rarely, if ever, images of all-female groups making rules and laws. Women are disproportionately affected by the whims of legislators, but their whims often don’t even make it to the discussion table; women still make up a tiny minority of public officials in the U.S. and around the world. Watching a committee of men rule on the most intimate goings-on of women’s bodies may cause some viewers to boil with rage, but just as many others won’t bat an eye. It’s the status quo. To see a group of women—including a pregnant one!—pushing forward legislation that isn’t even about reproductive rights or equal pay is to imagine a future where all-female committees are just as common as all-male ones. In other words, gender equity.
Many are interpreting Lövin’s image as a direct response to a recent photo of dear leader Donald Trump and his cabal of ego-fluffing boy toys. On his first Monday in office, Trump signed an executive order banning international organizations that get U.S. aid funding from even saying the word abortion, even if they use non-U.S. money to provide information about abortion care. Lining the Oval Office behind Trump was a row of white men looking on approvingly, watching an admitted sexual assailant sign a policy that has been connected with a rise in unintended pregnancies and a doubling of the abortion rate among sub-Saharan African women.
Either these men and their handlers were too deafened by the mewls of their shriveling masculinity to realize how terrible those optics were, or they staged it as an intentional, demoralizing blow to women for organizing the biggest political demonstration the world had ever seen two days prior. Whatever the deal is, the photo looked like a too-on-the-nose New Yorker cartoon. Men have been making laws that permanently change the courses of women’s lives for as long as they’ve been legislating, even though, almost to a person, they exhibit no interest in learning the realities of the damage they cause. “If you left an IUD on the president’s desk, he’d probably assume it was a tiny little pen made especially for him,” Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett wrote of the photo in the Guardian. “I want to force [the men in the photo] to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, so they can understand.”
Lövin demurred when asked whether the photo pertained specifically to Trump and his men. “We are a feminist government, which shows in this photo,” she told the Local in a statement. “Ultimately it is up to the observer to interpret the photo.” Indeed, the Swedish government calls itself “the first feminist government in the world,” promising to make gender equality a priority in all its actions. The U.S. government, meanwhile, has been handed over to a man who’s said of women, “You have to treat them like shit.” Let’s see whose approach wins!