In the current edition of The Atlantic, Pamela Paul pens an unsettling essay disputing social science evidence on the unique role of fathers, and advocates a gender-neutral approach to child-rearing, highlighting a recent study on lesbian parenting. It’s hard not to connect her line of argument to the efforts by same-sex marriage proponents to divorce the concept of gender from the concept of family. With Paul’s radical idea of parenting comes an understanding that parenting is a generic human activity—disconnected from gender identity—which can be assessed soundly in quantitative terms, in the manner of a performance review.
On the other hand, there’s an almost opposite view in today’s New York Times, in Katrin Bennhold’s profile of Mikael Karlsson, a Swedish civil servant who, along with 85 percent of his male counterparts in Stockholm, takes paid parenting leave from his office, in keeping with an emerging Swedish culture in which women have “equal rights at work—and men equal rights at home.” It was a first when, back in 1974, Sweden redubbed maternity leave “parental leave,” leading male takers to earn the title “velvet dads.”
It remains an open question why the solution to imperfect parenting is to seek the most radical alternative—turning parenthood on its head.