THE MASCULINITY CONSPIRACY

05: Fatherhood cont’d

with 2 comments

Once a man has been co-opted into a peculiar set of values and made to feel as if he is very special as a result, it becomes easy to make all sorts of equally peculiar suggestions to him and for them to be accepted uncritically. One such example of this is the above-mentioned appeal to servant leadership, in which a man leads his family, but in a supposedly benign fashion. I find it a remarkable achievement on behalf of the conspiracy that in a society which has experienced a number of decades of women’s empowerment, men can still get away with asking for (and receiving) the leadership of a family, as if his partner is less capable of such leadership. In the context of Johnson’s Christian worldview, this right to leadership is divinely-ordained, but of course it is far more likely that this “right” is simply a power play asserted by the conspiracy (I strongly believe this causality is easier to quantify than God’s will, even though I have a spiritual worldview myself!). I mentioned earlier that Deida makes a similar call from a secular perspective, for men to “relieve her of the necessity to be in charge.” For Deida, this is not divinely-ordained, rather the masculine “gift”: again, it seems easier to simply identify this as the conspiracy at work, rather than some mysterious “gift” that has been bestowed by nature upon men alone.

This line of thinking positions a specific form of masculinity in general, and fatherhood in particular, as being the most privileged form of agency in society. The authors referred to in this chapter continue this by outlining all the ills that descend upon children when fathers are absent, such as poorer health and education. However, with conspiracy claims it is always important to look beyond the supplied reasoning, For example, the claim about health and housing certainly sounds plausible, but is it down to the lack of a father in the home, or the lack of a father’s income (which has a habit of exiting the family home along with the father). If health and education were less tied by society to financial stability (or if financial stability were less tied to men), then perhaps the “father factor” would be less significant here.

This is not to say that fathers are unimportant. Of course, fathers are crucial, but the issue here is one of the loving, support and resources provided within the home rather than a “man” performing “fatherhood.” I would be willing to bet, for example, that the health and education of children brought up by loving and financially stable lesbian mothers is better than a loving single parent of either sex who is financially stretched and comparable to a loving family with both a mother and a father with equal access to resources. This is a classic example of the economic basis for the conspiracy, which we will get to later in the book. At the end of the day it is fully resourced parenting that is crucial (financially, emotionally, spiritually and culturally), not fathering (or for that matter, mothering). Again, do not hear me say here that fathers are not important. All fathers are important, but it is the parenting they provide that is important, not something specific to do with that parenting coming from a man (and again, this goes for mothering too: once childbirth and breastfeeding is over there is nothing uniquely “valuable” about mothering; the value is in the parenting).

So to recap, there are several initial problems with the way James, Thomas and Johnson present fatherhood:

  • the assumption that boys develop through particular stages is prescriptive and focused around stereotypically masculine themes: this either conditions boys to perpetuate those themes or suggests they are in some way abnormal.
  • hazardous or painful initiation that is supposedly beneficial to boys has no real context in western society, and can be seen more as a way of making boys conform to social values than offering a mature masculine identity.
  • servant leadership is simply another site where the conspiracy asserts power rather than being something “natural” or “divinely ordained.”
  • Lack of fathering does not necessarily cause the problems that many fathering advocates suggest, rather lack of parenting.

CONTINUES >>>

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Written by Joseph Gelfer

June 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm

2 Responses

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  1. So often writers of those books make the assumption that divorce or unmarriage leads to financial hardships and emotional struggles for children. The implication being “whatever else you do, stay together, stay for the children!” But that ignores how it’s typically the financial hardships and emotional struggles which are the cause of divorce, not the result. Staying married isn’t a cure for a bad situation. In my own case, I wasn’t able to break free of a destructive cycle of poverty till after I left my ex, because he was a contributing factor. Now that I no longer come home after a hard day’s work to discover that he’s once again emptied the bank account and maxed out the credit cards, I can build up a better life for myself and hopefully for our son.

    The Nerd

    October 13, 2011 at 7:23 am

    • Absolutely: many people (men, women, children alike), are better off out of marriages. And when they work, they’re fantastic. Each case on its own merits.

      Joseph

      October 13, 2011 at 8:12 am


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