The focus on men’s roles in Norway’s gender equality debate still generates some resistance. Men are commonly perceived as the strong and dominating gender while women tend to be viewed in terms of generations of discrimination and the ensuing need for special measures and positive actions. This perspective has been fundamental to the achievement of women’s liberation. At the same time it reflects a certain failure to understand men as a gender. Men do not comprise a uniform group, nor is it possible to speak of a single male role. Masculinity is not always equivalent to power. Men lead many different types of lives and have many different interests.
Social and health statistics show that life in Western society exacts a high price from men. Males are overrepresented among drug abusers and prison inmates. The life expectancy of men is shorter compared to women. Boys exhibit more problematic behaviour patterns in school than girls, and constitute a larger proportion of the pupils requiring compensatory measures at the primary school level. The drop-out rate for boys is considerably higher than for girls.
The need for children need to associate with men as well as women in day-care institutions, schools and in family life has been well documented. There is general concern from a gender-equality perspective that day-care institutions and schools remain a female-dominated environment. Men comprise only 7% of the overall staff at Norwegian day-care institutions and 12% of the teachers in lower elementary schools (figures from 2002). The Government is working to increase awareness and to promote greater gender equality in this sphere, and has set a target of 20 % men in day-care institutions to be achieved by 2007.
One of the areas in which male gender roles have changed the most in Norway involves men’s role as fathers. Research indicates that fatherhood leads men make the most explicit break with traditional forms of masculinity. The paternity leave quota for new fathers, introduced in 1993, is designed to strengthen the father’s relationship with the child, and signals the need for fathers to participate actively in the care of their children.
The changes in male gender roles not only involve men’s relationships with women, but also the manner in which they relate to other men, to new tasks and to important social institutions run by men. In 2002, a government-funded resource centre for men, REFORM, was established to work towards gender equality by helping to improve men’s living conditions and by mobilizing men’s resources for development in areas not traditionally associated with male gender roles.