Analysing Gender and Work in Europe
Edited by Daniela Grunow and Marie Evertsson
Chapter 4: The crossroads of equality and biology: the child’s best interests and constructions of motherhood and fatherhood in Sweden
Gender equality has been an important policy goal for more than four decades in Sweden and is commonly seen as an integral part of the Swedish welfare state. However, the gender division of work is still reproduced both in and out of paid work. In this chapter, we analyse interviews with 40 Swedish women and men (20 couples) to explore how norms regarding what is in the child’s best interest enter into decisions concerning parental care, childcare and paid work, and links to social construction of motherhood and fatherhood. A key notion in the interviews was shared parenting. It was seen as highly important that the child gets close, strong ties to both its mother and father. A second, and related, notion was that it is in the interest of the child to have an engaged and caring father, implying a new kind of fatherhood. The ideas on shared parenting and the engaged father were sometimes linked to ideas on gender equality, but sometimes they went hand in hand with more traditional notions of motherhood and fatherhood. Motherhood was, on the one hand, constructed as distinct from fatherhood and closely related to female biology. On the other hand, motherhood was constructed to fit with women’s identities as independent and work-oriented. The interviews seem to reflect a recent political and cultural development where major changes have occurred regarding fatherhood norms but where less has happened regarding motherhood norms. Gender equality was, however, one central factor that the couples took into account in their plans for the future. About half of the interviewed couples planned to share parental leave equally or wanted to share equally but were open to being flexible, for instance in regard to possible changes in their employment or financial situation. Licensed childcare was the obvious childcare arrangement after the parental leave period was over and was perceived as beneficial to the child’s development. Unlike parents in many other countries, parents in Sweden can rely on a system of social policies that are developed and adjusted to facilitate the lives of dual-earner/dual-carer families.
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