So apparently in Sweden, men can have it all.

Ads for housecleaning products rarely feature women and books read in preschools are carefully checked for gender stereotyping. For almost four decades, the Swedish government, regardless of political leanings, has fought for equality between the genders both at work and in the home. Parents are given 13 month parental leaves, of which two are reserved just for the father. Birgitta Ohlsson, European affairs minister, explains, “now men can have it all — a successful career and being a responsible daddy. It’s a new kind of manly. It’s more wholesome.”

The former deputy prime minister, who is partly responsible for the institution of the practice, thought that in order to have equality in society, there must be an equal division of labor in the home. Starting in 1995, using cash incentives, the government urged men to take time off of work to spend with their families. The number of men partaking in this has increased steadily, with 85% of Swedish men now taking parental leave.

While efforts have been made to make it easier for mothers to work, a new phenomenon has risen to Sweden – the stigmatization of the housewife. Another New York Times article explains, “in a debate that counts women catching up with men in education and the labor market in terms of raising productivity and economic growth, stay-at-home moms are valued less than ever.” The article explains that paternal leave and the idea of a universal breadwinner have meant that it has become less socially acceptable for women to stay at home to raise the children. Many young mothers claim to be in between jobs or on extended maternity leave.

I think the article highlights what happens when you only address part of a problem. In Sweden, they tried to create avenues through which women who wanted to work could do so, to promote equal division of labor between two parents that want to work. The problem is not all women want to work. Value is still being placed on work outside the home. Staying at home is seen as less valuable and even a drain on the resources of the country. As a result housewives have become stigmatized (one has to imagine that if a man wanted to stay at home and raise the children, he would face a stigma all his own. So I guess men can’t really have it all either). When the document states that “our aim cannot be only to open room for women to participate in the affairs of society within the present social order”, it means rethinking the things that we place value on in our society. In this case, it is clear we live in a society that values money above all else, even above raising the next generation.

I recommend reading both articles. Then come back and share your thoughts.

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