The Modern Swedish Man is a Feminist
Big, strong and feminist – this is a prevalent Swedish masculine ideal. The modern Swedish man is progressive and does his fair share of housework. He changes diapers, gets up in the middle of the night to feed his baby and stays at home for at least 60 days of parental leave. Think Alexander Skarsgård with a baby on each arm. It may sound like a dream, but it isn't too far from reality.
Gender equality is thoroughly ingrained in Swedish culture. Not just in the workplace and when it comes to government policies, but also on a private and social level. Swedish women don't generally speaking expect men to pick up the tab on dates; they do however expect their boyfriends, husbands and partners to share equally in household chores. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Swedish women are only 4.5 percent less likely to be employed than Swedish men are.
For many years now, the notion of gender parity has been inculcated from childhood. Swedes who grew up in the 1970s and '80s will remember TV shows that were subtle or not-so-subtle lessons on the topic. Efforts to break down gender roles and promote equality also extended to kindergarten where children wore unisex corduroy and denim, played with anatomically correct boy dolls and read children's books featuring bearded dads who changed diapers and cooked. In recent years kindergartens and daycare centers with a specific focus on gender equality have become very popular, some even use gender neutral pronouns.
Most adult Swedish men today, at least those under the age of 50, grew up with mothers who worked outside of the home. Their fathers usually shouldered parenting and household responsibilities alongside their partners. This makes for a society where family structure while not completely egalitarian, is radically so compared to most other nations. It follows that when Swedes divorce, women do not expect alimony. They don't need it; they make their own money and weren't the only one to stay home with the children.
The goal stated by the Swedish government in regards to gender equality is that everyone should have, "the power to shape society and their own life." In the mid-1960s the project of building gender equality into society was underway. By the 1970s several reforms were in place to facilitate full female participation in the workplace, including free state-run daycare for children as well as care of the elderly and the introduction of state-mandated paid parental leave. These early measures focused primarily on women.
Today one of the most palpable examples of how Swedish government policy helps shape private gender relations in Sweden is the law about child care leave for both parents instituted in 1995. When a child is born, parents (or legal guardians) as a couple are entitled to a total of 480 days of leave at 77.6 percent of their normal salary. This is to be cashed in before the child turns 8. Either parent may use this time off to care for their child, but 60 days (originally 30 days) are reserved for each parent specifically–if that parent doesn't use them, they will lapse.
The effect is that Swedish men do take leave from work to spend time with their babies. According to a 2005 study, more than half of Swedish children born after 1996 had fathers who'd spent between one and two months at home with them. And since the second month of parent-specific leave was introduced fathers take on average 17 more days than before. Women on average still take considerably more time off from work to care for children than men do. Yet anybody walking around Stockholm in the middle of the day will notice that there are plenty of young men walking strollers on the city streets. There is even a stereotype to go with this, the so-called lattepappa or "latte dad." He is a fashionable, urban, dad who spends his days baking sourdough bread and drinking lattes with his baby and fellow dads. (His female counterpart is the "latte mom.")
The idea isn't new. In the mid-1970s, when maternity leave was officially changed to the gender neutral "parental leave," an ad campaign was launched to persuade fathers to use more of the paid leave they were eligible for. The poster boy was Swedish weightlifter Lennart "Hoa-Hoa" Dahlgren, pictured with a baby in his muscular arms. The caption read "Dad on Paternity Leave!" The message was clear: it is manly to stay home with your baby. Some 40 years later the message seems to have hit home.