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Changing gender roles - Men as baby-sitters

Ever since Luo Lei learned that his wife was pregnant, he has taken over all the housework and studied child development. That was seven months ago.

Every morning at 6, he goes to the wet market to buy fresh food. After work he goes back home to cook dinner.

"I also buy books about child care," says Luo, a 31-year-old project manager of an electric appliance import-export company.

For ages Chinese tradition has held that "nan zhu wai, nu zhu nei," literally, "men in charge outside, women in charge inside." Men are responsible for earning money and supporting the family while women take charge of household affairs.

That's changing.

Although women today still do most of the housework - and also work outside the home - young fathers are gradually taking on some chores as traditional gender roles are shifting a bit.

That's especially true in Shanghai where women are renowned for being more forward and take-charge (some say they wear the pants), while men are considered milder and more accommodating (some say weaker).

Men here are more in touch with their feminine side.

Both men and women in Shanghai are considered more open-minded and liberal than couples in northern China where gender roles are more rigid and guys have to be guys.

It is not surprising that in cosmopolitan Shanghai men would be more willing than other guys to help out at home, especially with their only child and heir.

And, equal-earning Shanghai ladies would likely insist their men lend a hand.

This emerging emphasis on fathering dads as babysitters is backed up by a new survey by the Family Study Center of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

The study released in December shows that 86 percent of surveyed Shanghai mothers with young children are "satisfied" with their husbands' performance as care givers. They were asked about "father's participation in baby-sitting." About 80 percent of surveyed dads help prepare food and care for children, the survey showed.

The survey covered 1,752 people from 892 families (including extended families). Sixty-eight percent of respondents live in urban areas and 32 percent in the suburbs.

"I started getting leg cramps after I got pregnant," says Luo's wife Zhang Yue, 27, a magazine editor.

"My husband even gave me a massage," says Zhang.

Luo also bought an heartbeat monitor/stethoscope to listen to the baby's heartbeat. He also speaks to the baby in utero and the couple is keen on fetal education. They know it's girl.

Does this mean men are becoming sissies? Is it unmanly for real men to help around the house?

"Of course not!" says Luo. "Who says only women can do all the family things?"

As shanghai's economy has progressed, so have its social values and attitudes about gender roles.

While once it was considered disgraceful and a sign of weakness for a man to do housework and take care of a baby, today it is increasingly a badge of honor for young husbands.

More and more young husbands are playing active roles as fathers, like Luo, not only when their wives are pregnant but also when the baby is born.

Xu tao's daughter was born just three months ago and he's really involved. Although he has hired a professional ayi, and the couple's parents help, Xu is an active daddy.

The 28-year-old works in the marketing department of a pharmaceutical company.

"From changing nappies to bathing the baby, I now know what's needed and I am quite capable," says Xu.

According to the survey by the Shanghai Academy of Social Science, more than 80 percent of young fathers help their wives prepare food and feed babies.

This includes getting up at midnight when baby cries.

When babies are taken to the doctor for illness or vaccination, many fathers go along. Bathing and changing diapers are dads' work too.

There are still differences between the helpful fathers in urban and suburban areas - suburban and rural dads have more time to help, but they're not as committed to communicating and interacting with their children as city dads.

"Fathers in the city outskirts do better at accompanying their wives for health checks and feeding babies, since they don't have as much work pressure as their urban counterparts," says Xu Anqi, director of the academy's Family Study Center.

By contrast, fathers in urban areas are better at communicating with toddlers and kids than suburban dads, and are more willing to play with them. Urban white-collar dads tend to be better educated, more flexible and open-minded than many suburban fathers.

"Being with your child also helps you to grow and you will find you become more mature, emotionally and psychologically," says young father Xu.

Dong libo, 36, has a six-year-old son. "The best time in my life is when I play games with my son every day after work," says Dong. "When he calls me 'Dad, Dad,' laughing, I have a great sense of achievement.

"I am also proud and happy when people say my son has good manners," he adds.

"Fathers' participation in educating and looking after kids also benefits the fathers themselves. They feel pride and joy in fatherhood, in being needed and being capable," says Xu Anqi from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. "They will also feel younger when they play with their kids."

"Taking care of my son makes me more responsible, mature and confident," says Dong. "It also encourages me to work harder and be more successful in my career."


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