Are Ikea brochures sexist? Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik thinks so and is not afraid to voice his opinion. Loudly. This week, he criticized the Swedish home furnishings mega-store of sexism, insisting its how-to brochures show only cartoon men assembling the store's trademark build-it-yourself furniture. Stunned, the company -- which works so hard at being politically correct that it even boasts that its catalogues are "printed on totally chlorine-free paper and contain at least 10-15 percent post-consumer waste -- immediately defended itself, saying cartoon women do appear and quickly produced an example. It must have been tough to find. The Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang did its own research on more than 2,000 "follow me" building instructions and failed to find a single female figure.
Ikea quickly responded with a politically-correct, albeit dubious, answer, insisting that some nations view women building cupboards and beds as offensive. "We have branches all over the world and have to be sensitive to cultural differences," Ikea told the paper. "In Muslim countries, displaying women on building instruction manuals is problematic."
The excuses far from satisfied Prime Minister Bondevik, who fired off his own quick response, saying "It is important -- not least in Islamic countries -- to push for sexual equality. I see no justification for this." While, personally, Bondevik admits he has "great problems screwing such furniture together," he recognizes the company's wide appeal (300 million people a year shop at Ikea) and insists that the company take more responsibility for the implicit political messages its brochures communicate. Always quick to quell a controversy, Ikea has promised to review its instructions leaflets and "get more of a balance between men and women."