Maria Olsson

What is your topic of research?
My research focuses on different causes of gender roles, both in Norway and in other countries. I study the effect non-traditional role models - like male kindergarten teachers - have on children and adolescents’ gender stereotypes and career goals. I also research if national policies (like the right to paternity leave) effect men’s involvement with childrearing and housekeeping.

What motivates you to do this particular research?
Equality has always been close to my heart, and the current status quo concerns me. Men are overrepresented in high status, power-orientated positions, while women are overrepresented in low status, caring-orientated professions. My research looks at how we can reduce some of the psychological barriers that hinder men and women from pursuing non-traditional roles.

Is there a specific event, experience or inspiration that made you interested in the field?
At a seminar in London, one seminar leader told a story about a wife who asks her husband to take out the rubbish. The husband says yes, but does not take out the rubbish. The wife then understands her husband thought it was a theoretical question. The audience laughed at this common stereotype of men as unable to understand women’s intentions. The seminar leader then asked the question: why do men accept derogatory stereotypes about their gender? This struck a chord with me. It made me realize that gender roles affect both men and women. All too often, media depict men in domestic roles as hopeless. These one-sided portrayals creates norms for men to follow. Just as media has begun to show women in diverse roles, media must also show men as capable of caring for household and children.

Have you experienced any resistance or doubt about your own research?
People have asked me what the point is in conducting research on gender equality in one of the most gender equal countries in the world. To this, I reply that although we have come far in Norway, we know that men and women do not take advantage of equal opportunities due to ‘invisible’ psychological barriers.
Sometimes people also question why I focus on men’s rather than women’s inequality. The truth is that both men and women suffer negative consequences in a patriarchal society: women are excluded from power and men are excluded from childcare.