Originally a comment by MrFancyPants on But we have to wait.

A related personal anecdote.

My mother’s family is Estonian, with a tradition of Saturday evening sauna baths. It starts in the early afternoon, with the women of the family preparing a large meal while the men do whatever. Just about the time the meal is being finished, the men go into the sauna and spend 30-40 minutes there. It’s a wet sauna, so they enter into a warm, dry, very comfortable sauna room, and proceed to get the benches very wet. After the hot sauna, we men then wash up in a connected anteroom, getting that room soaking wet as well, and then get dressed and begin the untouched meal that the women had set out while the women proceed down to the sauna. The men then finish their meal, and retire to have coffee (also preprepared by the women) in the adjacent room. The women then finish their sauna to come up to what is left of the meal, and then they clean up the dishes and join the men. The next day, they cleaned up the sauna.

Growing up, I thought this was just normal. Nobody complained, and it had always been done that way. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that (1) going into a sauna second, after it has already been used by another group, is not anywhere nearly as nice as entering the warm dry room initially, (2) the women did ALL the work, from food preparation to cleanup of both the dishes and kitchen as well as the sauna, (3) the men considered it their day of relaxation (which it was, because all they did was relax!), while for the women it was just another day of work.

I once suggested that the roles be reversed, and that the women use the sauna first, while the men prepared the meal. One of my uncles is a very good cook, and I’m not shabby myself, so it’s not like it was undoable. The very idea was met with incredulity–we ALWAYS did it this way before, why should I want to change it now, they asked.

I haven’t been back to participate in that “tradition” ever since, but from what I hear, my much younger cousins (and their wives) are continuing it exactly as before. Mind you, this is in Sweden, where my mother’s family has lived since fleeing the invading Russians in WWII. Sweden, which is not exactly known for being grossly unfair to women, and where my cousins were born and have lived their entire lives, making them basically culturally Swedish. It’s not even possible to make the argument that the women did the housework while the men earned incomes, because—being Sweden—both the women as well as the men hold jobs for pay. They just do all the housework and come second, too.


  1. says

    That is not only wrong, but weird. I thought for sure the tradition was that men and women went in the sauna together? Though I haven’t got a lot of data to go on. Back in the eighties, sometime, we visited some remote family members of my wife at their holiday home in upstate New York. Like my wife, they were of Finnish descent. So of course they had a sauna, and in the evening we all piled in there and had a good time together. I don’t think the notion of gender separation even came up.

  2. says

    I thought for sure the tradition was that men and women went in the sauna together?

    That’s what mainland Finns do. Estonians (especially those on the islands) are different.

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