Phenomenal Women in a Man’s World

Last night I was invited to my dear friend’s birthday dinner. Many of my Danish women friends celebrate their birthdays with their female friends, and they really host the get together – always great food, slightly formal welcome (which somehow is not formal at all, but takes getting used to if you are not from the Nordic region), and very sincere verbal expressions of how pleased they are to have you there … it is lovely! I arrived late to the gathering last night – the dinner was in full swing and the ladies were in the process of introducing one another (i.e. going around the table with the host and one other person introducing a third person) with humour, affection and humility.

The inspiration for the blog today is a story I heard last night about a woman who I have known for 15 years. I knew that she used to be a professional footballer, but I had no idea just how distinguished she was. Her first unique achievement was in 1971 when, at the age of 15, she scored a winning hat-trick in the Women’s World Championship Football final against Mexico. She went on to play professionally in Italy and scored a mind-blowing 600-and-something goals in her career which ended in 1995. It was noted last night that had she been a man and had the same professional record she would likely be extremely famous and have had so many different opportunities and doors open for her. In spite of no Danish male footballer coming anywhere close to my friend’s achievements, and the Danish men’s team never winning a World Championship (in fact they have only ever reached and lost a quarter final in the FIFA World Cup in 1998 against Brazil) most people who follow men’s football can name a couple of male players who are famous on and off the pitch. A further attribute that contributes to my perception of Susanne as phenomenal is her modesty. Listening to her story and spending an evening hearing women being outwardly complimentary, thoughtful, and so warm, familiar and honest with one another was refreshing and so enjoyable and made me think about the traits in my female friends that I cherish the most.

I met another inspirational woman last year called Catherine Hakim. Catherine came to the Nordic countries to deliver a series of lectures on women’s work preferences, and her theory on erotic capital. In short, erotic capital is (natural or learned) combination of "beauty, social skills, good dress sense, physical fitness, liveliness, sex appeal and sexual competence". Hakim argues that women have more scope to use it than men because of the "male sexual deficit", i.e. because men never quite get as much sex as they need/want. Unfortunately, the discussions about this capacity seems to repeatedly turn toward a discussion of sexual attractiveness, but if one really looks at Catherine’s definition properly, it is much more than that. Her suggestion that women should exploit their erotic capital (if they have it) to their own gains, unsurprisingly also creates lively discussion. Indeed, the Danish media and some members of her audience in Denmark were unable to differentiate between having erotic capital and using it, and women using their ‘sex appeal’ to get ahead … this in spite of Catherine only giving examples of famous men who have it and use it (e.g. Obama, Clinton, Clooney). This in a country where it is more or less mandatory to put a photograph on your CV and also very common to give information about your family and personal life, both of which are quite unconventional in the UK in the moral plight to avoid prejudicial decision-making processes. Incidentally, a study conducted in Israel found that attractive women were discriminated against negatively while attractive men were discriminated against positively when attaching a photo to a CV, apparently because of female jealousy in HR departments … I am sorry to say that in Denmark I have come across women deselecting attractive women for a position because they can’t stand the way their (male) bosses behave around attractive women.

Catherine and I discussed the likelihood that had a man developed the same theory it would have received quite a different type of attention and validation both in and outside of academia. I spent two days with Catherine and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the interactions – the one-on-one time, the lectures, the social engagements with male colleagues. To me Catherine is one of those phenomenal women who professionally and personally, like my friend who hosted the dinner party last night, champions women. I love this trait in a woman, particularly because we live in a man's world, and I am fortunate that the vast majority of my web of women friends share it too.

I have decided to encourage some of the amazing women I know to contribute a blog post to Global Food and Thought this year, so watch this space for some writing by phenomenal women from around the world.

If you have time, please do read more:

About Susanne Augustensen here.
About the history of women’s football in Denmark here.
About the Erotic Capital theory here.
About Catherine Hakim and her work here.
About the study conducted in Israel in The Economist here, and a journal article by the researchers here.

… and my favourite poem, Phenomenal Woman, by the late, great Maya Angelou here.

My friend who hosted us last night is phenomenal in many ways. A particularly distinguishing trait is her ‘way’ in the kitchen. Her food is always amazing and yesterday she treated us to two desserts, one of which was a delicious cheese cake. She assured me that the recipe is very easy, so when I get it I will make it and of course share it with you virtually here.

… So, here is the recipe. I have yet to make it myself, but I think I will give it a try at the weekend! The direct translation of the recipe from the website (see here) is “Digestive dream with cream-cheese and Daim” which does absolutely no justice to the resulting deliciousness, so I am reformulating:

Dreamy Digestive and Daim Cheesecake 


200g sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
200g cream cheese
1 cup crème frâiche (approx. 50g)
¼ liter whipping cream
3 Daim bars
100g melted butter
200g Digestive biscuits


Place the Digestives and Daim bars into a plastic bag and crush them into medium-sized crumbs using a meat hammer or rolling pin. It is a good idea to wrap the bag loosely in a kitchen towel first to avoid splitting the plastic. Place the crumbs into a bowl and mix in the melted butter. Spread the biscuit mix on to the base of a tart or cake tin.

Whip the cream and crème frâiche separately and then gently fold them together. Whip the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla sugar together thoroughly and then fold in the cream mixture. Gently spread the mixture evenly across the biscuit base and leave to cool and set in the fridge overnight.