Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Constructing Men as Fathers: A Content Analysis of Formulations of Fatherhood in Parenting Magazines

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Constructing Men as Fathers: A Content Analysis of Formulations of Fatherhood in Parenting Magazines

Article excerpt

Parenting ideologies dominate a wide variety of discourses prevalent in the media that work to shape norms surrounding child-rearing practices and what it means to be a "good parent," such as proper disciplinary strategies and child educational trajectories (Assarsson & Aarsand, 2011). For both mothers and fathers, popular media, in the form of advice books, magazines, and tutorials, is designed to provide parents with the knowledge and tools to raise children in the most effective way possible. Research shows, however, that it is beneficial for parents to develop critical thinking skills as a way to challenge monolithic parenting norms reified in popular media (Aarsand, 2014; Connell-Carrick, 2006). Although mass media possesses the potential to widely disseminate parenting knowledge that can improve child-rearing skills on a macro level (Sanders & Prinz, 2008), it is necessary to analyze how conduits of media shape cultural conceptions of parenting and the ways these messages influence broader gender ideologies.

In particular, conceptions of fatherhood have undergone a restructuring that is reflected in both mainstream ideologies, as well as the burgeoning discipline of men's studies and its focus on men's roles as fathers (Andrews, Luckey, Bolden, Whiting-Fickling, & Lind, 2004; Eggebeen & Knoester, 2001). Research exploring individual men's interpretations of fatherhood has shown that while men still stress the importance of the instrumental support they provide their children, there has also been an increased emphasis on expressive and nurturing care (Summers, Boiler, Schiffman, & Raikes, 2006). Changes in men's involvement with children have the potential to alter unequal gendered dynamics within the household as well as the workplace (Chesley, 2011), This growing acknowledgment of men's emotional connection with their children is unique because it is at odds with the tenets of hegemonic masculinity and traditional fatherhood that detach men from reproduction and parenting (Johansson & Klinth, 2007). As such, further research in this area is needed to better understand contemporary ideologies surrounding fatherhood and how these conceptions can shape family dynamics.

In general, men are commonly portrayed in popular women's magazines as socially incompetent and in need of women to guide them on the path to civilized, relational awareness (Duran & Prusank, 1997), a trope that is further embedded in gendered parenting discourses. Although there has been a growth in research surrounding portrayals of fatherhood as perceived by individual men and wider public opinions (Andrews et al., 2004), there is a lack of research that has examined the mechanisms through which these ideologies are formed. Popular media, such as magazines, act as a conduit for shaping perceptions and opinions of fatherhood, with the majority of parenting and family-related magazines overwhelmingly being written for mothers (Greve Spees & Zimmerman, 2003). In general, depictions of fathers revolve around traditional stereotypes with individual men often relating their parenting to their breadwinning status (Ranson, 2001) and media portraying men as secondary parents compared with mothers (Sunderland, 2000). The association of parenthood with women is thus reflected in studies that primarily examine motherhood ideologies in media (Johnston & Swanson, 2003) and those that compare motherhood with fatherhood in magazines (Francis-Connolly, 2003; Sunderland, 2006).

Although research has noted an increasing emphasis on the greater involvement of men in parenting (Andrews et al., 2004; Eggebeen & Knoester, 2001), in-depth analyses of fatherhood in media outlets are rare. An exclusive focus on fatherhood is needed to not only legitimize fathers as parents but also to understand how fathers are portrayed in a culture that primarily equates parenting with motherhood. Therefore, the present study fills this gap by examining formulations of fatherhood in five popular parenting magazines published in the United States, which were chosen based on their high rates of readership (Cision Navigator, 2012). …

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