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

Article excerpt

Anna Gavanas, Fatherhood Politics in the United States: Masculinity, Sexuality, Race and Marriage. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2004. $32.50 hardcover.

Although science research has challenged the notion of a "natural" order of family structures and relationships, showing that these institutions are socially constructed and culturally specific, the idea that traditional family patterns are either biologically or supernaturally determined continues to have much appeal. Many people today believe that traditional family patterns, with their culturally defined gender roles, marriage customs and child rearing practices, are "natural" and universal, and that deviations from these norms are "unnatural" and harmful. Proponents of gay marriage, single parenting, gay and lesbian adoption and reproductive choice are all accused of challenging this "natural" order and undermining the very fabric of society. These views have now been championed at the political level and have inspired numerous policy initiatives designed to preserve the traditional family.

As Anna Gavanas shows in this very thoroughly researched book, recent developments in family and gender politics in the United States have been closely linked to popular masculinity or fatherhood movements as exemplified by the Promise Keepers organization and the Million Man March of October 1995, during which more than 800,000 African American men gathered in Washington DC to affirm their commitment to responsible fatherhood. Founded in 1990, Promise Keepers has organized numerous gatherings in churches, community centers and football stadiums as well as a major rally in Washington in 1997 which was attended by at least half a million, predominantly white men. Both organizations have activity promoted the idea of responsible fatherhood, encouraging men to commit themselves to stable relationships, sexual fidelity, marriage and the fulfillment of what is believed to be their natural, traditional roles as family heads, role models and mentors particularly to male children.

Gavanas studied these and other organizations concerned with fatherhood politics in considerable depth. …