Today’s Focus: Sweden Puts Its Men under Microscope Originally moved for AMs
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ The Swedish male has been inspected and found wanting by a government panel which believes fathers would be happier sharing child-caring and other domestic duties equally with their working wives.
″Warm, skin-close child-caring could make men open up emotionally and give them a safety net of intimate relations as a backup in a personal crisis,″ says Stig Ahs, who chaired the committee.
Most Swedish men appear to be ignoring that advice, even though government policy and financial realities have pushed 83 percent of Swedish women with pre-school children into the labor market. The losers, Ahs says, are the men.
″We have paid a very high price for the traditional male role, which tends to make us emotionally castrated,″ he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Suicides, alcoholism and criminality are much more common among Swedish men than women, he noted.
Newly appointed Foreign Minister Sten Andersson showed signs of being among the new Swedish males recently when he vowed he would attend only a few cocktail parties in his new job.
″I have to make dinner for my kids when my wife is working late,″ Andersson said.
Swedes have spent decades tinkering with the welfare state. Much of the effort in recent years has been aimed at encouraging equality between the sexes.
Sweden offers both mother and father almost a full year of parental leave at government expense, to be taken one at a time by either parent, married or unmarried.
A recent government study found, however, that 80 percent of all eligible fathers keep right on working. The remaining 20 percent, mostly well-educated men working in the public sector, take an average of only 47 days leave.
Although younger men do somewhat better, Swedish men on average spend only seven or eight hours a week on domestic duties, compared to 35 hours for women, the study says.
Sweden is also one of the few countries to have a minister of equality. The minister, Social Democrat Anita Gradin, set up Ahs’ panel in 1983 to discuss men’s roles and suggest changes.
The panel’s recently published report, ″The Male in Change,″ proposed ways to increase contacts with children and thus give men ″a better life.″
It also proposed obligatory education and discussion among conscripts and officers on male roles in the military services and in society, and the establishment of centers for men in crisis, such as those recovering from a divorce. The military is expected to formally respond to the proposal by March.
Some Swedish men have had enough of equality.
″It’s men who are oppressed these days. The attacks from feminists have made them feel ashamed and uncomfortable,″ says Jan Gronholm, 40, a behavioral scientist and lecturer on male roles.
Gronholm claimed in an interview in the Stockholm daily Expressen that Ahs’ panel is proposing that men become clones of women.
Referring to ″soft men on paternal leave,″ he said Swedish teen-age boys were watching more violent video tapes because they were being ″starved in their immediate surroundings of real men to imitate.″
Two women psychologists, appearing on a much-discussed radio program, attacked the notion of parents sharing equally in infant care.
″There is a special relation, a psychological umbilical cord, between the infant and the mother,″ said psychologist Gunilla Guva.
Her colleague Kristina Humble added that parents who share parental leave might cause the child a ″separation trauma″ which would have repercussions when the child grows up.
Both psychologists said that clouded gender models might hamper the father’s crucial task of breaking the ″symbiosis″ between the mother and the child at age 4 or 5.
However, American scientist Michael Lamb, author of ″The Role of the Father in Child Development,″ said during a visit to Sweden that ″there is so far no proof that the development of a child’s sexual identity would be disturbed by shared child-caring.″
″I may be an amateur,″ wrote Gudrun Nordgren in the Stockholm daily Aftonbladet, ″but based on my experience as a mother and a grandmother I want to say: Don’t trust the experts. Trust daddy.″
Surveys show that most Swedish men and women support shared diaper-changing and cuddling. Many men at traditional male-dominated work places avoid paternal leave, however, because they think employers and colleagues would disapprove.
Swedish trade unions earlier this year complained that some companies had moved employees to less attractive jobs because they took parental leave.
To increase incentives, Ahs’ panel suggested that couples who split parental leave should be reimbursed with 90 percent of their salary not only during the first nine months but also for the remaining three during which they now only get $6 a day.
Older generations of men may also get a second chance.
Noting that ″middle-aged men often are more interested in their grandchildren than they were in their own children during their career- oriented years,″ the panel suggested government-paid ″grandpaternal leave.″