A fascinating discussion from the NYT a few weeks ago underscores the fact that no, current United States gender norms are not a particularly normal or natural baseline, and that other, healthier options are available. As the article notes, Sweden’s laws on parental leave have helped foster an increase in male parenting and a variety of related changes:
Companies have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and not to penalize fathers at promotion time. Women’s paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers’ roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of children. In perhaps the most striking example of social engineering, a new definition of masculinity is emerging. “Many men no longer want to be identified just by their jobs,” said Bengt Westerberg, who long opposed quotas but as deputy prime minister phased in a first month of paternity leave in 1995. “Many women now expect their husbands to take at least some time off with the children.”
Most striking is the article’s focus on the benefits for men that come from this shift. The article’s rah-rah, "let’s help men out through gender equality" tone is grating in places. But the underlying point stands, I think — rigid hierarchical gender roles harm both men and women.