A New Masculinity — Men Can and Do Mother

Daddy leave in Sweden

From central Stockholm to villages south of the Arctic Circle, 85percent of Swedish fathers now take parental leave. As other countries still tinker with maternity leave and women’s rights, Sweden may be a glimpse of the future.

For nearly four decades, Swedish governments of all political hues have legislated to give women equal rights at work-and men equal rights at home. This political engineering, along with a generous social welfare system, has begun to change the definition of masculinity.

Swedish law provides incentives for fathers to use a portion of the generously paid, 13-month parental leave given to families.The law also levies penalties for fathers who do not take leave. A 1995 “daddy leave” provision amended the provision so that on father was forced to take leave, but a family lost one month of subsidies if he did no. A second “father” month was added to parental leave in 2002, while the change only marginally increased the number of men taking leave, it more than doubled the amount of time they take. Eight in 10 fathers now take a third of the total 13 months of leave.

The sharing of child-rearing duties at home may also help explain why divorce and separation rates in Sweden have dropped since 1995 at a time when divorce rates elsewhere have risen, according to the national statistics office.

Other countries

While Sweden, with nine million people, made a strategic decision to get more women into the work force in the booming 1960s, other countries imported more immigrant men. As populations in Europe decline and new labor shortages loom, countries have studied the Swedish model, said Peter Moss an expert on leave policies at the University of London’s Institute of Education.

The United States — with lower taxes and traditional wariness of state meddling in family affairs — is not among them. Portugal is the only country where paternity leave is mandatory — but only for a week. Iceland has arguably gone furthest, reserving three months for father, three months for mother and allowing parents to share another three months.

The trend is, however, no longer limited to small countries. Germany, with nearly 82 million people, in 2007 tweaked Sweden’s model, reserving two out of 14 months of paid leave for fathers. Within two years, fathers taking parental leave surged from 3 percent to more than 20 percent. “That was a marker of pretty significant change,” said Kimberly Morgan, professor at George Washington University and an expert on parental leave. If Germany can do it, she said, “most countries can.”


Companies, facing high payroll taxes and women and men taking leave in unpredictable installments, can be less sure. Tales of male staff members being discouraged from long leave are still not uncommon, although it is not fashionable to say so. Mr. Boklund said his office “was not happy” about his extended absence.

Small businesses find it particularly tricky to juggle absences, said Sofia Bergstrom, social insurance expert at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which represents 60,000 companies. Worse than parental leave, she says, is the 120-day annual allowance for parents to tend to sick children, which is impossible to plan and which is suspected of being widely abused.

But in a sign that the broader cultural shift has acquired a dynamic of its own, a survey by Ms. Haas and Philip Hwang, a psychology professor at Goteborg University, shows that 41 percent of companies reported in 2006 that they had made a formal decision to encourage fathers to take parental leave, up from only 2 percent in 1993.

For many companies, a family-friendly work pattern has simply become a new ways of attracting talent.

Academic voices

However, worry that as men and women both work and both stay home with kids, a gender identity crisis looms. “Manhood is being squeezed” by the sameness,  argued Ingemar Gens, an author and self-described gender consultant.

Conversely, in invoking mothering as both identity and as practice, feminist philosopher Sara Ruddick wrote: “briefly, a mother is a person who takes on responsibility for children’s lives and for whom providing child care is a significant part of her or his working life”. This conceptualization considers mothers as a group of “genderless” persons, and the practice of mothering as one that could be equally embraced by women or men. This conceptualization considers mothers as a group of “genderless” persons, and the practice of mothering as one that could be equally embraced by women or men. A focus on responsibilities reveals how gender differences in parenting are deeply embedded in habitus, moral identities, embodiment, and in diverse spatial and time-framed contexts.


In perhaps the most striking example of social engineering, a new definition of masculinity is emerging. Many men no longer want to be identified just by their jobs and many women expect their husbands to take at least some time off with the children. A successful career and being a responsible daddy, it seems going to be a new kind of manly, which is more wholesome.

As it showed in one video we watched in GPS class, society is a mirror of the family, therefore, the only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve equality in the home. Getting fathers to share the “mothering” work is an essential part of that.


[1]New York Times: In Sweden, men can have it all. Jun. 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html

[2]Andrea D. Gender equality and gender differences: parenting, Habitus, and embodiment. 2009. Canadian Sociological Association.


Posted by Jia LIU


2 comments on “A New Masculinity — Men Can and Do Mother

  1. I liked your article a lot. I agree that manhood and masculinity is changing and that society doesn’t completely understand what is going on. This article touches on some of that and you might be interested in reading it if you found the article above as awesome as I did http://postmasculine.com/a-new-masculinity

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