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Are Your Cabinets Sexist?

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I feel better after reading this story (or see below). Usually after reading something this insipid I would utter the phrase, “Only in America.” Not anymore. This is further confirms Europeans are just as susceptible to stupidity as Americans.

When we take trivial things seriously, we trivialize serious things. Equal protection and equal opportunity are values of the highest importance. Issues of equality are uncomfortable for many people to discuss. Real instances of discrimination and inequality are easier to dismiss when foolish examples such as this make headlines.

IKEA may be guilty of many things by excluding women in their manual. Pandering. Insensitivity. Poor marketing strategy. What IKEA is not guilty of is discrimination. There is no law or regulation prohibiting women from assembling furniture. There is no implication of a barrier between women and properly-assembled IKEA furniture in these manuals. The lack of a picture of a woman assembling the furniture in no way suggests women cannot or should not put IKEA furniture together.

More important to me than the pictures and the cartoons is whether or not the IKEA documentation is accurate and easy to understand. Will I (or my wife) be able to properly assemble our furniture if we follow the steps in the guide? Because that is why the documentation is included. It is included to help people assemble their furniture. Do we need United Nations resolutions proclaiming it a basic human right to be included in instruction manuals? Should women assemble the furniture any differently than men? These instruction manuals are not public policy and they are not trying to make social commentary. The Prime Minister’s well intentioned but ultimately silly comments detract from a serious issue rather than shedding light on it.

OSLO, Norway (Reuters) – Swedish home furnishings giant IKEA is guilty of sex discrimination by showing only men putting together furniture in its instruction manuals, Norway’s prime minister says.

IKEA, which has more than 200 stores in 32 nations, fears it might offend Muslims by depicting women assembling everything from cupboards to beds. Its manuals show only men or cartoon figures whose sex is unclear.

“This isn’t good enough,” Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was quoted Thursday as telling the daily Verdens Gang. “It’s important to promote attitudes for sexual equality, not least in Muslim nations.”

“They should change this,” he said. “There’s no justification for it.”

IKEA stores are visited by 365 million people a year around the world. Many products have to be assembled by the buyer — the “flat pack” concept saves the company huge amounts in transport, storage and sales space.

Bondevik added: “I myself have great problems with screwing together such furniture.”

Verdens Gang quoted an IKEA spokeswoman as saying: “We have to take account of cultural factors. In Muslim countries it’s problematic to use women in instruction manuals.”

IKEA was not immediately available for comment.


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About Josh Hathaway

  • Eric Olsen

    well, Bush’s cabinet is anything but sexist

  • bhw

    As a married woman and a feminist, I’d have to say that I approve of the men-only illustrations in the instruction manuals. It gives me ammunition to say, “Look honey, YOU’RE supposed to put it together.”

    Of course, this story highlights the lengths to which a company must go to try to please all its customers all the time.

    Also, it makes me wonder, what the hell IS a muslim woman *permitted* to do if third-rate furniture assembly is forbidden?

  • Eric Olsen

    breed in private

  • bhw

    I’m guessing “hand tools” would be disallowed in that endeavor, as well?

  • RJ

    Well, I’m sure IKEA would display realistic drawings of women attempting to put together their furniture, but the entire point is to show how it is to be done PROPERLY… 😉

  • alienboy

    the really sad thing here is that people give so much atttention to ikea.

    last time i was in one of their stores it was horrible. cheap tacky merchandise piled high, only one route through the store, so no wandering around, huge crowds of tracksuited shoppers and screaming children. never again. if i want to buy tat i’d rather go to woolworths!

  • Serge Priffer

    What’s next ? Making sure that we treat female animals, such as female police dogs , in the same way as male police dogs ? Don’t laugh, it’s coming.

  • political corectnes has it good sides, but this is trop [= to much].

    Wathever the prime minister finds, different countries hace different cultures, and this is giving ikea a lot of publicity. I like there store, just not the amount of people you usualy encounter when going there. So if i go, i listen to music on my mddiscman, or go when there will be less people around. It helps.

    AS long as they are clear on how to put it together, i don’t care whats pictured in there. Perhaps they should try a robot 😉

  • Political correctness does NOT have its good sides. Political correctness is insidious, misguided, and stupid.

    Political correctness has good intentions. But lots of terrible things have/had good intentions. Does the end justify the means? Smarter people than me have struggled with that one.

  • shuffleking

    hey, does anyone have a link to this story on a news website that is still active? i’ve been trying to find one for a while now and have been coming up empty-handed…

  • Shuffleking, I believe I found this story at CNN, who got it from Reuters. Might try doing searches at their respective sites.