Gay Fathers: Disrupting Sex Stereotyping and Challenging the Father-Promotion Crusade

By Meyer, Erin Marie | Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Gay Fathers: Disrupting Sex Stereotyping and Challenging the Father-Promotion Crusade


Meyer, Erin Marie, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law


A. Gay Fathers: "Maternal" Motivations to Become a Parent

The first indication that gay fathers may be disrupting sex stereotypes surrounding parenting comes from research suggesting that gay men may, like women, be more likely than heterosexual men to have a strong desire to become parents in the first instance. As Judith Stacey notes, "men's biological procreative disadvantage represents a significant barrier to gender equity" in terms of "pursuing parenthood solo," but this barrier "is one that gay men appear more motivated than their heterosexual counterparts to hurdle." (92) She writes that "[c]ontemporary openly gay paternity, which by definition is never accidental, requires the determined efforts of at least one gay man [with a] passion for parenthood.... A man, that is, whose parental desire might more accurately be understood as maternal than as paternal." (93) If this is indeed true, perhaps it is unsurprising to find that, as compared to heterosexual fathers, gay fathers are also "reported to have greater satisfaction with their first child." (94) In addition, "evidence suggests that straight men are disproportionately less likely than gay men ... to regard full-time, at-home parenting as their calling." (95) Although describing a strong urge to become a parent as a "maternal" characteristic risks reinforcing the stereotype that women, unlike men, possess a "maternal instinct" that drives their desire to bear children, (96) Stacey's observation can be understood to suggest that gay fathers disrupt the corollary stereotype which posits that men do not desire to become parents with the same fervor as do women.

B. Gay Fathers: More "Feminine" / Less "Traditionally Masculine" Parenting Behaviors

Research conducted by a number of scholars suggests that gay fathers disrupt sex stereotypes in parenting by behaving in a manner that is more "feminine," or at least not as "masculine," as that of their heterosexual counterparts. Raymond Scallen describes one study conducted by Bozett in 1980 as finding that gay fathers "emphasiz[e] the expressive nature of the parent-child interaction." (97) Scallen concludes from his own study as well that "gay fathers may be described as more committed [than heterosexual fathers] to a view of nurturance as an important aspect of their fathering." (98) He defines nurturance as "an expressive, active, caretaking interest in the child," a "role dimension" that has traditionally been "considered the province of the maternal role." While noting that the heterosexual fathers he surveyed in the early 1980s were also more likely than heterosexual fathers of previous decades to engage in expressive, nurturing behavior, he found that the gay fathers were particularly "more nurturant" than the heterosexual fathers surveyed. (99) Along similar lines, a 1989 study by Bigner and Jacobsen found that "gay fathers are ... more sensitive and responsive to the perceived needs of [their] children than nongay fathers." (100)

More recent studies have also noted the absence of masculine parenting behavior among gay fathers. For example, Biblarz and Stacey report that gay male co-parents "do not provide a double dose of "masculine' parenting," but rather "appear to adopt parenting practices more 'feminine' than do typical heterosexual fathers." As evidence of this claim, they cite studies conducted in 2000 and 2006 which found that "when two gay men coparented, they did so in ways that seem[ed] closer, [albeit] not identical, to that of two lesbian women than to a heterosexual woman and man." (101) Similarly, Benson, Silverstein, and Auerbach argue that some gay men have "transform[ed] the fathering role in American culture" (102) by creating a "new, culturally progressive definition of fathering [that] includes behaviors that were formerly thought of as mothering." (103) They observe, as did Scallen, that both heterosexual and gay fathers have increased their sense of emotional closeness to their children as compared to heterosexual fathers of past generations, but report that the heterosexual fathers in their study were "still not as close to their children as their wives were" whereas approximately one-third of the gay fathers displayed a:

   [L]evel of intimacy . … 

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