Anyone who has lived in a cold climate knows that snow can be both a blessing and a curse. Snow makes an otherwise dark and grey winter more bearable by reflecting the little sunlight peaking through heavy clouds. Snow, especially when it comes down in copious amounts, can also set a stop to our day-to-day activities.
Globally, snow does not often feature prominently on the list of feminist issues. In Sweden, however, snow clearing has been subject to feminist debates for many years. At first glance, the idea of snow being a gendered issue might appear far-fetched (many Reddit political pundits have said as much). But when taken as an accessibility issue, snow clearing appears to raise similar barriers as many other elements in our phyisical environments, such as staircases and urinals.
Feminists have highlighted that most Swedish municipalities clear snow in ways that benefit men and discriminate against women. Often, snow clearing efforts concentrate on areas which, due to overarching discriminatory structures, are frequented by men. Meanwhile, areas which are primarily used by women are placed low on the priority list, or neglected entirely. As a result, middle-class men who travel to work in their personal cars have likely benefitted from roads being cleared of excessive amounts of snow. Sidewalks, paths to daycare centres, and bus stops, where women continue to make up the majority of users, have at times been difficult to access – especially with a stroller or young child.
In 2013, the Swedish city of Karlskoga implemented gender-equal snow clearing. Accessibility to day cares, schools, and walk paths was prioritised during periods of heavy snowfall. The results seemed promising and the new system benefitted a range of social groups, but this did not stop critics to blame feminism for the traffic chaos caused by the heavy snowfall in Stockholm in 2016. Critics claimed that pressures from feminists to change snow clearing policies led to resources being misused and directed away from roads and highways.
These critics appeared to be very uncomfortable with the idea of snow clearing being a truly gendered issue, and seemed to claim that it had been made into a gendered issue by feminists. To give them some benefit of the doubt, snow clearing is not only a gendered issue: it is a manifestation of multiple intersecting axes of oppression. Not only women are less likely to drive to work in their own car on a snow cleared road. The same goes for people with lower incomes and people living in poorly connected areas – where People of Colour are generally overrepresented due to inter alia segregation practices. In sum, privilege based on gender, class and race determines which spaces we visit and how we access them. Snow clearing, and the lack thereof, highlights these patterns since spaces used by dominant social groups are prioritised.