Interviews and photos by Tomas Gunnarsson
Produced 2011 with Add Gender
No men were harmed during the creation of this exhibition.
“It’s always good to be a man”
How does it work for you to be a man and self-employed?
– How do you want me to … Should I answer like a girl would have answered?
No no no. Just reply normally.
– Okay. No, they actually don’t get surprised.
Have you ever experienced that you come into a room with potential customers and they become distracted by your sex? Like they’re just: “oh, here comes a man”.
– No, it’s more that they wonder what you do. It may differ between men and women, but as a man, people are more interested in what you have to offer, if you can put it that way.
You’ve never felt that people were suspicious about your competence or that you’ve had any barriers or prejudices against you because you’re a man?
– No, no. It’s always good to be a man, kind of.
According to statistics, male entrepreneurs get injured and die more often at work. And they have more difficulties to get the life puzzle to fit together. How’s yours?
– I’m careful with my time. I’ve decided that the choices I make will be based on joy, that I should do things I feel passion, ambition and commitment for. Otherwise, it’s thanks and goodbye. Life is too short for doing things you don’t like.
Especially if you’re a male entrepreneur.
Do you, as being self-employed, have any advantages in the life puzzle compared to what you would have as an employee?
– Yes. My girlfriend has just done laser surgery of the eyes, and it apparently hurt more than giving birth to two children. So now she’s mostly lying in a dark room and at 18.00, I’ve got to be at home and give her the anesthetic drops. In a situation like that, it’s nice that I can adjust my time and don’t need to take time off or sick leave. I just haven’t booked any trips this week.
Has anyone told you that you’re important?
– Yes actually. Most often parents, who think I really add something to the sport.
You’re unique and perfect just as you’re.
– Yes. You could say that. You could say. Absolutely, I think so.
You’re important, just because you’re you. Everything you do matters.
– What … Should I answer something?
According to statistics, men go bankrupt more often, too. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a pair of breasts anyway?
– I understand what you mean. But no. I’m satisfied with my role and think it’s a really fun and exciting challenge. Statistics say that there are more women who make it, but then I’m just here to prove that I’m one of the guys who make it.
“I’ve not been pampered with as man, but as an immigrant”
How does it work for you to be a man and self-employed?
– What kind of a question is that?
Are many people surprised that you, being a man, have dared to start your own business?
– I don’t think it has anything to do with gender, at all. I don’t see how my biological gender would affect my ability to run a business.
Do you dare to stand out as a male entrepreneur?
– Specifically as a male entrepreneur? Do you mean if I dare to stand out in my social role as a male entrepreneur?
– Well, the thing is that it’s the norm! So that’s nothing to stand out with. I wouldn’t be able to stand out with that even if I wanted to. As a social entrepreneur and a man, I do stand out though, because it’s mostly women who are involved in this.
Are you much “puttinuttad”(pampered) with, being a male entrepreneur?
Pampered. “How good you are! You know so much!”
– Not as a male entrepreneur, but as an immigrant. I can get some toxic compliments in that field.
– “Ooh, you’ve learned such good Swedish.” My descent may get a greater focus than my professional capacity. It can be a bit strange, because being a sociologist, I know more about Swedish society than many natives do. Sometimes people need to question me for five minutes – for how long I’ve been in Sweden, why I’m here, and when I’ll go back – before we can actually talk about my services.
That sounds annoying.
– It’s like, I don’t come from that far away (Germany). So, of course, I face a fairly mild discrimination in comparison.
Some female entrepreneurs feel they have to be a gift to the world. Does it feel more okay for you as a man to just be in it for the money?
– Some may find it strange that a social entrepreneur wants to earn money by doing good. And yes, I also want to make money and become rich, but as a social entrepreneur you want to take social responsibility. And that’s something that according to gender discourse is perceived as more soft and feminine. In that way, maybe I break the norm for a male entrepreneur.
Life is full of guardian angels. You just need to ask for their help.
– Is that a statement I should comment on, or?
It is a tip. You are important, just because you are you. Everything you do matters.
– Who says that?
It’s just the way it is.
– Hm. All right.
According to statistics, male entrepreneurs find it more difficult to put together the puzzle of life. Is yours tangled up?
– Well, it’s not easy to get the days to suffice. I have a pretty long commuting distance, and you have to find a laundry time now and then.
When is your next laundry time?
– I really don’t know. But I should do the laundry soon. It’s pretty tough, we’re any number of people who share one laundry room and there are only four hour slots. So you may have to wait two weeks if you need to do the laundry on a weekend. Like, you don’t want to have to take time off for doing the laundry. I could do it, but … no.
“Yes, home styling is a bit gay”
How does it work for you to be a man and self-employed?
– Well, it’s working okay. What does it mean, that question?
Do people get surprised when they hear that you are a man and self-employed?
– Yeah, no, I don’t know, no.
Do you meet obstacles and prejudices being a male entrepreneur?
– No, I don’t know what obstacles that would have been.
Johnny, Daniel’s colleague: I’ve never ever encountered that. Never ever! But then, we’re not the stereotypical construction workers. We are two men who affirm our female characteristics. We are interested in art, music – that doesn’t exist in the construction industry. There the snuff is in your back pocket, you watch sports – we know nothing about sports! We know who Mats Sundin is. And we’re not hetereosexual … We are retro sexual. We like ladies who dress up as grannies. I’m kidding.
(We move away from Daniels quote machine. Into his car.) Is it a macho industry, the painting industry?
– I don’t know if you’ve hung out with construction workers before?
Are you afraid that some of your colleagues in the industry will see this exhibition and think that you are a sissy?
– No. They can think what they want. We’ve already distinguished ourselves with our style, because we don’t dress like ordinary painters. And we don’t work in the construction business in that way, that we spackle seams for three years. We do some special jobs at Retro Painting. Right now we’re home styling two apartments, one that they’ll live in and one that’s for sale.
Home styling …
– Yes, we do that. It’s a little gay.
According to statistics, male entrepreneurs get injured and die more often at work. What’s it like in your line of business?
– Both me and Johnny have occupational injuries, who have been doing this for fifteen, twenty years. They really come fast.
What kind of injuries?
– Our wrists are messed up. The neck. Shoulders. You can’t get rid of it, but you can lessen the pain.
How do you take care of yourselves then? Hot baths?
– Oil baths. Thai massage. Regular baths. Rehab holidays. We’ve exercised together. One has to avoid injuries as much as possible. We use gas masks when we paint, otherwise you’ll become like the old painters. And you don’t want that. They are really weird.
The oldest entrepreneur in this exhibition, aged 66, recently took on a diving assignment with his diving company even though he had pneumonia.
– Yes, but he’s one of these classical old men. They’re like that. “That’s for women”, they usually say when you put on the gas mask. “That fucking shit, it’s just for grannies.”
Has anyone told you that you’re important?
– In our business, or…?
You’re important, just because you’re you. Everything you do matters.
– Yes, that’s probably happened. I suppose people think it’s exciting, what we’re doing. It’s appreciated of course. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have had a clientele, who calls and keep in touch. So somehow I suppose it’s important. Besides being a painter and coloring the world.
To want and to dare, that’s the main thing. YOU must have the drive and desire to dare. He who dares, wins! Wins over the fear of not daring!
– Eh. Exactly. Then you have won it. You have to go for it, otherwise you won’t get anywhere. And fight damn hard. Because it’s not easy to be self-employed. Not when these guys are at it. (Holds up a letter from the Income tax agency.)
“The tendon has started to come off, but do you think I’ve stopped working because of that?”
According to statistics, self-employed men are injured more often, and even die in their profession. Is that something you’ve experienced?
– If you’re gonna be self-employed, you’ve got to have the right attitude. You must be able to unwind, and quickly too.
How do you unwind?
– I’m pretty strong mentally, actually. I can work twelve or thirteen hours straight with tons of customers around me, but as soon as I leave work and sit by myself in the car, I can disconnect; it’s just as if I had been on vacation for a week. Bang, and it’s done. People who don’t understand that you have to be like that, they won’t last long in business life.
The guy who told me about you said you had worked as a baker for 14 years, but that you left because you got problems with your arms?
– It wasn’t just because of that. There were many factors. The range grew too wide, and even when I had employees, I did most the work myself. The work shift was between 14 and 15 hours a day, and some weekends I worked 72 hours non stop. Well well. I found the right time to sell the business and built a workshop next to the bakery. I’m a car mechanic originally. I’ve always had the cars in me.
But is it true that you got problems with your arms?
– Yeah yeah. Absolutely. I got muscle attachment inflammation, calcification, this and that.
Why is it then that you had not taken preventive measures?
– It may be old injuries. I’ve done sports all my life. It may be overstraining, it could be carelessness, I don’t know. The reason is quite unimportant. I don’t feel better if I sit and rub and, like, “my arm hurts so much.” That doesn’t work. The more you think about it, the more it hurts. You can disconnect. It’s just like that.
“Oh, I don’t care about stuff like that,” you said when I asked you about this during the photo shoot.
– Well, it’s like, I’ve had a great deal of pain in both shoulders … I did an MRI two weeks ago. The verdict was that I have muscle attachment inflammation in the right shoulder, and that it’s so inflamed that the tendon is almost twice as thick, twice as large and 50 percent off.
Wait. Can you explain that a little more clearly?
– They say that the tendon that holds the muscle is twice as thick now, that it’s inflamed, and that there’s even liquid. And that it’s almost 50 percent off.
– Yeah, sure. The tendon is sort of beginning to come off. But do you think I’ve stopped working because of that? Today I’ve worked since eight o’clock with tires, service and stuff like that. Do you think I’m going to stop working just because I know I have a sore arm? Nah, it does not work that way. That’s my attitude.
Is there no less physically demanding job that you’re willing to take?
– I won’t change jobs just for the sake of my shoulders. Also, it’s my childhood dream to have a small workshop, just like I do now. It’s a dream that’s come true these past two years.
But what if the tendon breaks?
– Oh, you just have to sew it back together and then get back to work. Hehehe. Is this the craziest interview you’ve ever had?
Hehe. Yes, no, I don’t quite understand how you think.
– It will work out.
You go on until you break, quite simply?
– Yes, kind of.
– Thanks. That’s certainly needed. Thank you, Thomas.
“Absolutely! Mine’s so tiny, you can hardly measure it! “
Do people get surprised when they hear that you, being a man, have a business?
– Surprised? No, I don’t think so.
When I meet a man and hear that he’s an entrepreneur, I can get wobbly legs. I’m almost a little bit attracted.
– Okay. I haven’t come across that!
You, like, radiate power.
– It could be – I like the questions – but it could be a side effect of that you, as a business owner, need to keep an eye on a hell of a lot of things. You work with checklists and the like and swoosh it’s finished and done.
– Order? Yes, it could be. Hehe.
Have you experienced, sitting in a sales meeting together with a female colleague, and that the sellers or buyers have given you more looks?
– Absolutely. It has happened that I’ve been in a meeting together with a female CEO of a company I’ve started, and they looked a bit extra at me. So I had to point out clearly that “it’s she who makes the decisions”. And it’s always fun when a seller – preferably female – calls to get you to buy something and I say my colleague manages that, she’s the boss. “Yeah yeah. But I thought that you and I could make this deal. Because surely it’s actually you who makes the decisions? “
Oh my god.
– That one’s wonderful, because then I usually say “well, what do you think it’d look like if I say yes to this? Then I’ve overrun the boss, and what do you think my life would be like tomorrow?” And then they usually say “aw, damn, you’re right.”
So then they’ve learned a lesson?
– Yes, and then they call up afterwards and try sweet-talking their way in anyway, because they want the deal so badly. But I just say “oh well, I don’t know what you should do, invite her to lunch to begin with, don’t get me involved in this!” Then, obviously, when push comes to shove, well – it’s clear that I have a heavy influence. But I don’t need to emphasize that.
Do you have any other uncomfortable experiences being a male entrepreneur?
– One thing that was really scary was when we were hiring a secretary for a company abroad. She had for sure been on five interviews previously and had been turned down. And now she comes with this classic: short skirt, low-cut top, and thinks well, now she’ll …
– But no. It’s not possible. I’ve seen some colleagues who’ve put their fingers in the cookie jar, and afterwards the hangover is rather heavy. It gets very messy.
Have you had any uncomfortable experiences with other male entrepreneurs?
– Mine’s bigger than yours.
– It’s one of those male things. I always back off directly and say: “Absolutely! Mine’s so tiny, you can hardly measure it. So it’s no problem!” And then it’s over.
What should we do to get a more gentle business world for men?
– The standard among male entrepreneurs is that the person who earns the most money wins and is more important. It’s rare that you measure who creates the most social benefits. One should make the image of the successful entrepreneur more nuanced. This old image of the entrepreneur as an exploiter with 10 000 employees, that young boys grow up with. Just open Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal. You only find pictures of these guys with their high salaries that make everybody’s tongue hang out.
“You should spend as much time on yourself as for your company”
How has it worked for you, being a man and a business owner?
– I think it’s been easy. No problems. It might even have been good to be a man.
Oh, really? In what way?
– Because I’ve been able to go on working regardless of physical conditions, without much sleep. Utilized as many hours of the day as possible.
Would you have needed more sleep as a woman, do you mean?
– I think so. But there are also other benefits of being a man. Especially if you’ve got a wife who thinks taking care of the home and the children isn’t something negative. For many years I’ve had a housewife. My wife has taken care of the children and made it possible for me to devote myself to my work, which was what I liked best.
A housekeeper and a babysitter?
– Yes, basically. I don’t always admit that it’s been like that… But since you ask directly and honestly, I am bound to respond directly and honestly.
Have you ever experienced that people have not got past your gender? That people you’ve met in your profession seem to have thought, “he is a man”, instead of listening to you?
– That’s something I’ve never thought about. I’m quite used to me and my own manners and my appearance. Because of this, I never even think in those lines. I’ve never been questioned, neither as man nor as an entrepreneur.
Never ever? Not one little questioning?
– No. Possibly now though, because I’ve got red lips. Then perhaps you’d ask what I really am, if I’m a man or a businessman, or something else.
It’s funny that thing you said before, that your lips taste differently now?
– Definitely. I think they taste pretty good. Quite alright. I think I’ve known this taste before sometime. Though not continuously then, in the same way. Now it’s there all the time. Other times it has been more like when you get some candy on Saturday nights.
Do you feel you’ve been pampered with much as a male entrepreneur?
– It would have been fun if it had been that way, but it’s never happened. On the contrary.
In what way?
– Regarding the entrepreneurial side within the construction sector … it’s tough there. There’s only hard, tough guys there. There they expect me to be hard and tough as well, so that I fit into the environment. So … no pampering there, no. It would have been cute though.
Being a male entrepreneur, do you feel that you have to be a gift to the world?
– I think I am a gift to the world. Not that I must be. I am.
Did you know that male entrepreneurs more often hurt themselves and die at work? And have you experienced this yourself?
– I didn’t know that, but if someone had asked me a question along that line, I’d taken for granted that it is so. Men are born warriors, they are tougher in the way that they disregard themselves. You have to take a beating, it’s okay. It’s the goal that counts, and it costs. You don’t take care of yourself.
Have you taken care of yourself?
– Not in any way, as far as I know. I got yelled at by my youngest daughter about a year ago. I took on a diving commission then … and, well, it was supposed to be an easy task according to the client, a child could do it. But it wasn’t, it was both deep and strong currents and dark. And what complicated the whole thing was that I actually had pneumonia.
– And you don’t dive with any defect whatsoever on the lungs. It’s an absolute taboo. And I pretended like “no, it’s probably not pneumonia I have, I’ll carry this through”.
Oh dear. You fool!
– Or manly, you choose.
Do you think that’s a greater way to live, to sacrifice your body?
– No, it’s a stupid way to live. You only have one body. It should not be sacrificed, it should last your whole life. If you still do it, it’s reckless. A destroyed health can not be restored.
So a tip for young entrepreneurs might be to indulge themselves? Spa treatments, taking care of your body, maybe put on some make-up?
– You should definitely spend as much time on yourself as you devote to your company. Absolutely. In order to be able to run a business in a good way, you must be healthy and feel well. And then one prerequisite is actually taking care of yourself and your body.
Since women seem better able to take care of themselves, maybe it could be a good thing for men to become more like women?
– Absolutely. We men ought to take after the women. Most women look after themselves and their appearance, and we men should do that too. Then we take care of ourselves in a different way.
And maybe there could be some pampering?
– Yes. Because that hasn’t been common among men. I think men – whoever they are – should get a human and heartfelt support for what they are doing. Not pressure for them to be successful.
A softer support.
– Yes, because men are also different as people. Men are not only thick-skinned. They are people of flesh and blood. Because of this it’s important to dare to show emotions. Even man to man. “I like you as a man” – no, as a person, sorry, I like you as a person – “even though you run a business.”
There are theories that say that men pass away earlier than women because they’re not as close to their family, and that they become depressed for that reason. How has putting together the puzzle of life worked for you?
– It’s like I said before, I think I’ve been spoiled. With a woman by my side who has accepted me for who I am – most of the time. Who has largely taken care of so called typically female chores. This has meant that I’ve been able to focus on my work. I have prioritized work before everything else.
Do you feel that you’ve sufficed as a parent?
– Should I be honest, or should I give the “correct” answer?
– No, I haven’t sufficed as a parent. And unfortunately I can’t make it undone either. The time I didn’t spend with my children, is lost. And if I myself feel I’ve missed out, then I can’t say that I’ve sufficed. The children probably feel this more than I’ve felt it.
When did this realization come?
– It came when the youngest children were about ten years old.
How do you think about those first ten years now?
– With regret. Because it was a wonderful time, but that I didn’t give the children enough time. Neither me nor the children. Purely selfishly, I would also have given myself more time with the children. I hope it’s not affected them negatively, but that they might even have learned to … You’ve got to manage a little on your own too.
Per thousand businesses started, men go into bankruptcy more often than women. Are you a bankruptcy phobic?
– No, I don’t think so. But I’ve never gone into bankruptcy. And I will never do that either.
That sounded like, “I’ve never fallen when I’ve been skateboarding”.
– Yes, but at the same time … The trick to success in life, is to fail when no one else sees it.
Maybe you’ve had a secret bankruptcy sometime?
– You can’t have a secret bankruptcy … That’s not even been invented yet.
Well, I wouldn’t know, I’ve never even started a business.
– Then it’s about time you do.
I’m thinking about it. But I honestly don’t know if I dare.
– I believe in you. I believe in you as a person and as an entrepreneur. You have a lot of qualities that you have shown here today. Knowledge and ability. Take advantage of them. Make something out of them. Make sure you have fun and a good time in the future.
Can’t you say “good luck” as well?
– Of course. Good luck.