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Fatherhood Politics in the United States

Fatherhood Politics in the United States: Masculinity, Sexuality, Race, and Marriage

Anna Gavanas
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Fatherhood Politics in the United States
    Book Description:

    Are fathers being marginalized in the contemporary family? Responding to fears that they are, the self-proclaimed "fatherhood responsibility movement" (FRM) has worked since the mid-1990s to put fatherhood at the center of U.S. national politics. Anna Gavanas's Fatherhood Politics in the United States analyzes the processes, reveals the internal struggles, and traces the myths that drive this powerful movement. _x000B__x000B_Unlike previous investigations that rely on literary or other secondary sources, Fatherhood Politics works from primary ethnographic material to represent a wider range of voices and actors. Interacting with and interviewing members of the most powerful and well-known national fatherhood organizations, Gavanas observed Promise Keeper rallies, men's workshops, and conferences on masculinity, fatherhood, and marriage. _x000B__x000B_Providing a detailed overview of the different organizations involved and their various rhetorical strategies, Gavanas breaks down the FRM into two major wings. The "pro-marriage" wing sees marriage as the key to solving all social problems, while the "fragile family" organizations worry about unemployment, racism, and discrimination. Gavanas uses her extensive anthropological fieldwork as the basis for discussions of gender, sexuality, and race in her analysis of these competing voices. _x000B_ _x000B_Taking us inside the internal struggles, tensions, and political machinations of the FRM, Gavanas offers a behind-the-scenes look at a movement having real impact on current social policy. Fatherhood Politics is an essential work for anyone interested in the politics of masculinity, parenthood, marriage, race, and sexuality.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09137-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-20)

    One of today’s most successful political movements claims to be situated “beyond” politics, particularly beyond gendered and sexual politics. Crucial actors in shaping and reframing U.S. debates on families belong to the fatherhood responsibility movement¹ (Mincy and Pouncy 1999, 83). This movement emerged in the 1990s as U.S. policy debates on single motherhood, “family breakdown,” and “family values” shifted into a debate on fatherlessness, masculinities, and marriage. Under the banners of fatherhood and “child well-being,” the fatherhood responsibility movement has developed bipartisan federal initiatives that foreground fatherlessness as “one of the greatest social evils of our generation” and “an engine...

  6. 1 The Contested Terrain of U.S. Fatherhood Politics
    (pp. 21-45)

    Uniting around “the family” and child well-being fits into mainstream values that any U.S. citizen could support. Who could say that responsible fatherhood is a bad idea? Who is going to disagree if someone says that everybody should love his or her children? On the surface, the fatherhood responsibility movement appears to unite around and resonate with a national political consensus. However, the internal divisions in the fatherhood responsibility movement illustrate how the banner of children and family masks opposing claims, grievances, and stakes. Fatherhood politics and family policy can be compared to a minefield where political agents divided by...

  7. 2 Pro-Marriage Fatherhood
    (pp. 44-71)

    The pro-marriage wing manifests the ways the politics of gender and sexuality in the fatherhood responsibility movement are mutually reinforcing and inseparable. Marriage proponents draw on a combination of biblical and sociobiological discourses that make up a loose essentialist approach to gender relations, one that conjures up both more and less specific notions of the “natures” of men and women (Schwalbe 1996). Their loose essentialist notions of gender difference perpetuate heteronormative duality as “the holy structure of sexuality” (Butler 1997, 276). That is, marriage proponents construct the monogamous, heterosexual, and married lifestyle as the hallmark of gendered normality, maturity, and...

  8. 3 Fragile-Family Fatherhood
    (pp. 70-99)

    The sociologist Michael Kimmel describes U.S. masculinity as a homosocial enactment, where the quest for masculine accomplishments in the labor market and consumption is a constant competition between men for the sake of other men’s approval (Kimmel 1994, 128–29). In line with notions of homosocial competition, fragile-families representatives constantly point out that men’s success in the marketplace determines their marriage potential and that, compared with white middle-class men, poor African American men are disadvantaged in terms of their marriageability. Obtaining a job and acquiring a wife are thus interdependent goals in fragile fathers’ battles to compete with white middle-class...

  9. 4 Religion and Sports as Common Grounds for Masculinization
    (pp. 99-127)

    The fatherhood responsibility movement is a reaction to the grievance that “the family” has become synonymous with mother and child and thus “feminized” (Blankenhorn 1995, 13; Gore 1996). In its claims for male participation and legitimacy in the family, the fatherhood responsibility movement anxiously seeks to masculinize domesticity by carving out specifically “male” notions of parenting. Although masculinization strategies are more explicit in marriage proponents’ promotion of gender difference, the fragile-families wing also participates in practices of gendering parenthood. Two intersecting arenas are particularly widely used to masculinize fatherhood in both the pro-marriage and the fragile-families wings: religion and sport....

  10. 5 Naughty by Nature
    (pp. 126-152)

    Using sport and religion as all-male sites for heterosexual masculinization partly reflects the fact that marriage proponents and fragile-families representatives, despite diverging constituencies and competing perspectives, converge in conceptions of gender-specific male sexuality. Overall, the fatherhood responsibility movement occupies itself primarily with the “problem” of perceived innately promiscuous male (hetero)sexuality. Fragile-families representatives generally support a fairly large degree of flexibility in the gendered division of labor between parents in heterosexual families. Nevertheless, they still seem to believe in a fundamental, more or less essentialist, gender difference that manifests itself in sexuality and is more “basic” than socially and culturally constructed...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 153-170)

    Based on the heteronormative and essentialist belief that men are “naughty by nature,” contemporary fatherhood politics tries to harness the perceived “promiscuity,” competitiveness, and aggression of men. The fatherhood responsibility movement places the control of innately “promiscuous” male heterosexuality at the center of social and moral order and thus differentiates masculinity from women and gay men. But the same “indispensable” traits that make men male in this view also constitute a central problem in the fatherhood responsibility movement. Here, the fatherhood responsibility movement runs into a century-old dilemma in U.S. discussions of “new” fatherhood: how do you domesticate masculinity in...

    (pp. 169-177)
    (pp. 177-187)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 187-191)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 192-193)