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'Men are stuck' in gender roles, suggest Census data

LOS ANGELES--Brent Kroeger pores over nasty online comments about stay-at-home dads, wondering if his friends think those things about him. The father from Rowland Heights, east of Los Angeles, remembers high school classmates laughing when he said he wanted to be a “house husband.” He avoids mentioning it on Facebook.

“I don't want other men to look at me like less of a man,” Kroeger said.

His fears are tied to a bigger phenomenon: The gender revolution has been lopsided. Even as American society has seen sweeping transformations — expanding roles for women, surging tolerance for homosexuality — popular ideas about masculinity seem to have stagnated.

While women have broken into fields once dominated by men, such as business, medicine and law, men have been slower to pursue nursing, teach preschool, or take jobs as administrative assistants. Census data and surveys show that men remain rare in stereotypically feminine positions.

When it comes to gender progress, said Ronald F. Levant, editor of the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, “men are stuck.”

The imbalance appears at work and at home: Working mothers have become ordinary, but stay-at-home fathers exist in only 1 percent of married couples with kids under age 15, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

In a recent survey, 51 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that children were better off if their mother was at home. Only 8 percent said the same about fathers. Even seeking time off can be troublesome for men: One University of South Florida study found that college students rated hypothetical employees wanting flexible schedules as less masculine.

Other research points to an enduring stigma for boys whose behavior is seen as feminine. “If girls call themselves tomboys, it's with a sense of pride,” said University of Illinois at Chicago sociology professor Barbara Risman. “But boys make fun of other boys if they step just a little outside the rigid masculine stereotype.”

Two years ago, for instance, a Global Toy Experts survey found that more than half of mothers wouldn't give a doll to someone else's son, while only 32 percent said the same about giving cars or trucks to a girl. Several studies have found that bending gender stereotypes in childhood is tied to worse anxiety for men than women in adulthood.

In the southern end of Orange County, California, former friends have stopped talking to Lori Duron and her husband. Slurs and threats arrive by email. Their son calls himself a boy, but has gravitated toward Barbies, Disney princesses and pink since he was a toddler. In a blog and a book she wrote, Duron chronicles worries that would seem trivial if her child were a girl: Whether he would be teased for his rainbow backpack. Whether a Santa would look askance at him for wanting a doll.

“If a little girl is running around on the baseball team with her mitt, people think, 'That's a strong girl,'” said her husband, Matt Duron, who, like his wife, uses a pen name to shield the boy's identity. “When my 6-year-old is running around in a dress, people think there's something wrong with him.”

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