Gender Bender—A Collision of Stereotypes

By Kristin Schepici on April 3, 2014


By Abri Holden

My colleague Shannon Bayer and I attended a lecture on “Women and Negotiation: Their Place at the Table in the U.S. and Abroad” at Harvard University. At first, I thought this was going to be yet another session about how women don’t negotiate as well as men. And I have heard enough to know that there is room for growth when it comes to helping women have the self-confidence to advocate, not just on behalf of others, but also for themselves.

I was wrong. The dialogue quickly shifted to a larger discussion about overall gender identity and the expectations that we (both men and women) put on each other. For example, the speaker, Katrin Bennhold, staff writer for the International Herald Tribune, shared the story of how she showed a picture of a male pushing a baby stroller on a sidewalk during the daytime to an American audience and asked for their reaction. It was unanimous—“He must be a gay nanny.”

The unanimous reaction is a stereotype layered on top of another stereotype. The American audience (made up of both men and women) not only said: “This person must be a nanny because he’s out pushing a stroller in the middle of the day” but they also concluded “He must be gay!” In reality, he’s not a nanny. And he’s not gay. He was just a Swedish dad on paternity leave.

This opened my eyes to the idea that in Sweden, at least, men can “have it all.” From what I’ve read, they can leave work for as long as 240 days and continue to receive a paycheck. In fact, 85% of Swedish fathers now take parental leave, which has dramatically changed the definition of “manly” and the expectations that people in Sweden place on the male population.

So, what shifts need to happen for true equality in America? Bennhold argues that we need to use the label “working parents” instead of “working mother,” to push for shared family leave, and just as importantly, redefine courage. But I left the session thinking, “Could more gender equality for men actually help provide better opportunities for women?”

Now, be honest. What would be the first thought that comes to your mind if you saw a picture of a man pushing a baby stroller in the middle of the day? Share your thoughts in the comments box.

About Abri

Abri Holden is the Director of Inclusive Leadership Programs™ and an Associate Consultant at Linkage. Throughout her diverse experiences as a practitioner, researcher, and facilitator, Abri’s focus has been on working with organizations across a number of industries to create innovative strategies that accelerate their high-potential female leaders. Follow her on Twitter @abribrickner.

Posted in Blog

About Kristin Schepici

9 comments on “Gender Bender—A Collision of Stereotypes
  1. Jacqueline Gargiulo says:

    Having spent my formative years as a military brat mostly overseas, I do not have a typical American interpretation. I simply thought, “A dad.”

  2. Uve Knaak says:

    Can’t say that I thought “gay nanny” but I do wonder about the economy of the country when a parent (man or woman) can “leave work for 240 days and still receive a paycheck”. Was it a reduced amount?
    Certainly in todays economy, a man on paternity leave is less common but I have to think the reaction noted in the article is more prevalent in the US than Canada (full disclosure – I”m Canadian). I would have thought – on vacation!

  3. LaSerenissima says:

    My first thought was “that’s a dad taking his kid for a walk”. Anything else is a bit weird. I’m wondering what kind of people immediately assume (a) he’s a nanny which statistically speaking would be far less likely than a dad. And (b) that he’s gay.

    You don’t have to be Swedish. I’ve lived in Japan and Italy (among other places) and always seen dads out and about with their kids. Maybe it was a Saturday. I feel slightly disturbed that there are people out there who think working parents only spend time with there kids after dark like some kind of parental vampires and that any man who takes care of children is gay.

  4. Debbie Williams says:

    Dear Abri:

    Thanks for the article. I spent time studying the Swedish system both here and abroad (2007-8) for my M.P.A. I found it thoughtful and enlightening to see the consideration given both genders in education, work, and lifestyle choices. It seems to work. I met many Americans and Europeans who moved there just for these options. On another note, I hope that our negotiation skills as women add to the discussion. I plan to work in international humanitarian efforts when i finish law school after 30 years in the fire service.


    Debbie Williams
    B.A., Marietta College (1983)
    GO MC!!

  5. Abri Brickner says:

    Your comments make me breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the stereotype doesn’t ring true. We have to change the expectations we put on each gender. It’s a tall order, but I think over time, we can do it.

    Debbie- From one Pio to another….go MC! That’s fascinating that many Americans and Europeans moved there just for the benefits. What else did you find while studying in the Swedish system?

  6. Gender stereotypes are not just about impressions or culture, they are about acceptance (or lack thereof). This is why Americans view a passive man as weak and a strong woman as bitchy. Acceptance is about thinking beyond what you see to understand what is being revealed or communicated. Would this photo be perceived differently if this man was pushing the stroller in a suit while talking to a woman in a suit? Stereotypes skew people’s confidence in others, and ultimately in themselves. Why do you think corporate cultures pay more? Probably because they wear suits – the true sign of a successful man. 😉

  7. Rosemarie says:

    I simply saw a man pushing a stroller with a child sitting in it. Then again, I’m English so I’m unlikely to pander to American stereotypes simply because I have my own.
    I was quite taken aback by the statement that the “gay nanny” was a unanimous opinion. & I’m kind of worried by what it might be saying about a culture when that is a stereotype a room full of people choose. Especially because it is written up as a stereotype that was seen to be kind of negative. I wonder, which was the deemed the most negative? Being a nanny? Or, being gay?
    In my experience, men are perfectly capable of pushing prams & strollers, & engaged fathers tend to enjoy such simple activities.
    What is going on in the land of the “free” that they can be so rigid & bound?

  8. Joanna says:

    As an Asian married to a Swede now living in Canada, I truly appreciate my spouse’s view of equality of the sexes. Maternity & paternity leave is an expected requirement to be fulfilled by both parents in Sweden. Their viewpoint is so refreshing versus the typical stero type role as it gives a better appreciation of what the other party goes through.

  9. Rebecca says:

    I couldn’t really say what time of the day it was, I just thought it was a father out for a walk with a baby. Never thought of nanny at all. My Dad never did it, but my son is a very engaged father and shares the load equally with his wife. He gets the baby up in the morning, gets her dressed and ready for daycare and drops her off. He bathes her, plays with her as much as possible and really enjoys being a father – I’m very proud of him. Even his mother-in-law loves that he is such a great father and husband. And that says it all!

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