The an insight into how men feel about the

The aim of this research proposal is to gain an insight into
how men feel about the narratives of fatherhood and masculinities in family
studies. What is a father? What does it mean to be a man? The concept of
fatherhood is constantly changing, shaped by epoch (Brannen,
2016). At present the general consensus is that the mother-child bond
has always been the focus in family studies, disregarding the role of the
father (Mckee and O’Brien, 1982), which is
perhaps why researchers tend to focus on female participation when thinking of
their study sample. When men are taken into
account, it is usually on the grounds of the influence they have on child
development, rather than their experience of being a father. Moreover, when men
are included in debates around family life, it is usually nothing more than
their financial support to the family or their absence that is noted, leading
to discussions of how women cope with lack of support emotionally and
financially if the family breaks down, reinstating this focus on the
mother-child bond.

Literature Review

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This research is important because there has been a
transition in family life, with new ways of doing family (Chambers, 2012) due to the breakdown of societal
expectations for men and women, and a major consequence of this is that in
contemporary society, throughout their course of life fathers are now more
likely to experience multiple family forms in comparison to former generations (Featherstone, 2009). It is therefore interesting
that the mother-child bond remains the focus of family studies – even more so
considering that the traditional breadwinner role of the father has somewhat
disintegrated as a result of the feminist movement of the 1960s and its success
of introducing women into the labour force (Mckee
and O’Brien, 1982). Speaking at a lecture, in
2013 Diane Abbott expressed her fears that prompt social and economic
transformation has had a negative impact on male identity (Roberts, 2014). This is what has been referred to
as the crisis of masculinity. The idea is that as women no longer need men for
financial stability, the role that men need to fulfil has become unclear, and
as a result of this, many men feel a sense of shame if they are out of work (United Nations, 2011), since the traditional role
of the breadwinner is linked to ideals of family formation. Having said this
however, there appears to be a contradiction with policy: the general consensus
is that men should spend more time involved in unpaid care – with modern
discourses of being a good father grounded on intimacy and emotional support (Brannen, 2016) – and yet, paternity leave remains
an issue. How can it be that the rhetoric is to encourage the idea of a more
involved father, but still emphasise the role of the breadwinner, who is
constantly working? The 2010-2014 World Values Survey found that 45% of men and
35% of women believe that men should have more privileges to a job than women
when jobs are limited (Heilman et al, 2017a). Clearly,
although the breadwinner role may have somewhat disintegrated, the idea

In an attempt to answer the question of what it means to be
a man, Heilman et al (2017b) coined the term
‘man box’, referring to a set of views, shared amongst members of society –
family, friends, the media etc – that put a pressure on men to behave in a particular
way.  These pressures included being
tough, heterosexual, handsome and self-supporting (ibid).
The aim of this study was to understand how young men’s perceptions of
manhood influenced how they behaved. In this
study, it was the men who adopted these messages and pressure that were in the
‘man box’. By conducting surveys and focus groups with over a 1000 respondents
each for the US, UK and Mexico, this study found that the ‘man box’ is indeed
prevalent, with some men believing that it provided them with a sense of
safety. Having said that however, it was also expressed that greater gender
equality is a good thing, and that men should be encouraged to be involved in
what has always been seen as female activities, like childcare. Optimistically,
the study also found that in comparison to the US, young men in the UK
expressed that the prospect of breaking out of this supposed man box provided
them with a sense of freedom.

Although there is no specific way of being a man or woman,
in society it has been made clear how stereotypes of femininity and masculinity
underpin the notions of how we should be (Jackson
and Scott cited in Miller, 2011). However, in recent years this has
started to be challenged, and there has been a rise in events and support groups
for men. Coinciding with this, with the use of social media, more efforts are
being made to open up discussions around sexuality.
For instance, in an attempt to redefine what it is like to be a man, the
Campaign Against Living Miserably – formally known as CALM, a charity committed
to putting an end to male suicide – created a campaign encouraging men to use
the hashtag ‘#mandictionary’ on various social media platforms (mainly Twitter)
where they could challenge popular stereotypes, resulting in thousands of
mentions on social media, bringing to attention the concern that these
stereotypes can in fact have a negative impact on how men identify themselves (CALM, 2016).

In our current thinking of single parent families, the
assumption is that it is female headed, and in recent times, we have even
shifted this thought from single mothers as a consequence of family breakdown,
to single mothers by choice. But how about men? Whilst it’s true that the
majority of single parent fathers are divorced (Dowd,
2000), Men’s Health published an article called ‘You don’t need a woman to have a child’, discussing single men who
are choosing to be single fathers using surrogate mothers and egg donors (Golombok, 2015). This highlights the need to
consider issues of family planning amongst men who, like women, have not yet met
their life long partner, but have that yearning to start a family so much so
that they are actively considering alternatives. Furthermore, more attention
should be made to fatherhood amongst homosexual men. Blincoe (2013) interviewed two men who had decided to end
long term relationships with spouses that did not want children, and so decided
to go it alone through surrogacy clinics in America, since the UK laws are
restrictive. One of the men interviewed was homosexual, and described how at
the time, the hardest part of coming out was coming to terms with not being
able to have children. He also expressed that now that he had children, it was
difficult to meet someone and expect them to accept that he was a single parent
father, a concern commonly shared by divorced women. The growth in interest
amongst childless men of wanting to have a family emphasises the need for
policy to recognise that fathers matter, and that men actively trying to engage
in a more caring role is a positive and beneficial move for society (Roberts cited in Burghes et al, 1997).

But who is a father? The father figure is faceless. In comparison to women, it has been noted that
it is difficult to gather data on who is or is not a father. Government
statistics provide us with a clear picture of which women are and are not
mothers, the age of their children, and how many children a mother has (Burghes et al, 1997). The same however, cannot be
said for men as the Office for National Statistics only records a women’s
fertility history when a birth is registered (Mail
Online, 2017). Perhaps this is why Lamb (cited
in McKee and O’Brien, 1992) claimed that fathers are ‘forgotten
contributors to child development’. And yet, fathers are generally considered
as important in regards to child development, with socialisation theorists like
Talcott Parsons maintaining the belief that children need stable gender role
models inside the home in order to demonstrate the appropriate behaviours related
with their gender (Hicks, 2008). If that is
the case, we need to engage men into the politics of fatherhood (Featherstone, 2009), but this raises the
question: why is it so difficult to gather data on them? The aim of this
research proposal is to present a platform for adolescent boys and men to
contribute to understanding fatherhood with them voicing their own opinions on
the matter. In doing so, this will enable policy makers to improve their
strategies as to engaging men into the politics of family life.


In order to understand men’s opinions of what is means to
be a man and a father, this study will be using qualitative methods. As
previously highlighted, the male perspective is often ignored in family
studies. For this reason, focus groups will be conducted as a safe and
welcoming space – a different kind of ‘man box’ – for men to engage in
discussions around male identities and fatherhood. Focus groups explore a
specific subject matter or phenomena amongst several participants, which allows
the research to gain an insight as to how participants respond to each other’s
perspectives (Bryman, 2004).  Two sessions will be held, with the
first session discussing what it means to be a man and public perceptions of
the male figure, including discussions around expressing sexuality. Following
on from this, the second session will discuss fatherhood, involving discussions
around personal childhood experiences, relationships and family planning. Both
sessions shall be semi-structured.

To gain an understanding into men’s opinions on being a man
and fatherhood, the sample will aim to include a variety of men in regards to
age (16+), ethnicities, religions, occupation, relationship status and sexual
orientation, in hope to encourage discussion. In regards to finding
participants, the initial thought had been to contact a men’s support group, but
given the nature of this study, that could be problematic.  There are a few methodological issues that
have to be taken into account when conducting focus groups. In this instance,
the main issue to consider is the influence of participants on each other’s
views (Gomm, 2008). The purpose of a focus
group is to encourage participants to vocalise their beliefs, but with more
than one participant involved, some participants may be intimidated by other
overpowering participants, and therefore not all views expressed during the
focus group would necessarily reflect the truth, and it is possible that this
was more likely to occur using a men’s support group for the sample. Moreover,
using a men’s support group would not have been representative of the male population,
given the likelihood that they may have very strong views on the matter (the
ongoing men’s rights movement). Alternatively, to find men to participate in
this study, advertisements will be placed in various environments – family
planning units, gyms, pub, libraries, local newspapers, UCL’s student union and
community centres in hope that this will indeed attract a variety of men. The
research shall be conducted in London.  The
aim is to get roughly 20 participants, and splitting them into 2 groups to
enable a great level of depth in the discussions.  However, given that focus groups are time
consuming (Punch, 2005) – both in terms of
the duration and the transcribing- a smaller number may be more realistic. Participants
of each group will be randomly selected to encourage diversity. Before the
group discussion begins, participants will be required to fill in a form
providing socio-demographic information about themselves.

Focus groups have been praised for not only providing an
insight into the actions and motivations of the individual participants
involved, but also for encouraging other members of the group to question each
other as well as explain themselves, something that comes naturally and allows
the researcher to sit back and observe the interactions and dynamics of the
group (Morgan, 1996). However, there is one
particular issue that may affect the group dynamic of this study. As a female
researcher and in this case, the moderator of the sessions, for the nature of
this study it may be that some men do not feel entirely comfortable sharing
their views in my presence in fear that it could be offensive to my gender, or
in fear that they are being judged based on my gender. In order to avoid this, it
will be reiterated to the participants that the purpose of this study is to
gain an insight into their true opinions, and that although I am female, they
should not let this prevent them from expressing their most honest thoughts; as
the moderator my role will be to facilitate the discussions, not lead them.


There are also ethical considerations to be taken into
account. To ensure that ethical guidelines are followed, all participants will
be provided with a consent form and information sheet that will clearly outline
the purpose of the research, the data collection process and to who will be
making use of it. These are the key elements of informed consent (Bryman, 2004). Furthermore the consent form will
assure participants that should they wish to participate in this study, their
information will be kept confidential and anonymous – in the report they will
be identified by a pseudonym. Ensuring confidentiality is of high importance,
especially in focus groups because the views expressed will be shared with
other members of the group, and participants need to feel confident that what
is disclosed within the discussion is not then discussed outside of it (Denscombe, 2017).The consent form shall also
ensure participants that should they wish to stop, they will be able to
withdraw from the focus group, and their contribution to the discussions shall
not be included in the report, unless they permit it. This is of particular
importance as each session will be audio recorded and transcribed for the
analysis. Should participants wish to ask further questions before giving their
consent to participate, my contact details will be provided.


The data of derived from the focus groups will be analysed
using Nvivo. The framework in which the analysis of this study is based on is
grounded theory. Grounded theory is the process of creating a theory/concept
from the data that has been collected (Gomm, 2008),
instead of attempting to predict the outcomes of the data prior to it being
collected. Analysis in this framework generates abstract concepts,
acknowledging that a theory/concept can have multiple empirical indicators (Punch, 2005). This form of analysis is most
fitting for this study because understanding the male identity and fatherhood
is multi-dimensional. A key element of this
framework is coding the data. Open coding will be adopted specifically for this
study. This involves rechecking the transcripts and labelling elements – ideas or
even specific words- that reoccur amongst data (Bryman,
2004). By coding the data, the results of this study will be presented
in a thematic analysis – identifying key themes derived from the discussions in
the focus groups. By coding the data to present a thematic analysis,
comparisons between the two focus groups can be clearly displayed.




Wider significance

In summary, the aim of the research is to present men’s
perceptions of fatherhood and what it is like to be a man and father in
contemporary society, where traditional gender roles have fragmented and in
doing so have transformed family life (Chambers,
2012). This research is important, because in discussions around family,
the opinions of men have tended to be overlooked, and when men are spoken
about, it is merely the acknowledgement of their financial contribution to the
family, or their absence. Previously, being the sole breadwinner in the family
provided men with a status; it gave men a sense of security of power (Brennan, 2016). Now that this is not necessarily
the case, it is of crucial importance to reconsider men’s position in intimate
and personal relationships – by asking hearing from men themselves. By
conducting focus groups, this study will consider Heilman et al (2017b) question as to whether the investigation of
what it means to be a man has become irrelevant as a result of women’s ongoing
success in overcoming years of gender-based discrimination. For policy-makers
in the area of family, the insight gained from this study could in fact change
the direction/priorities of future policies – whether that be in relation to
child development or strategies in how to support fathers as well as mothers –
particularly single parent fathers as they are on the rise (Golombok, 2015). Moreover, academically speaking,
from this study we can consider the ways in which gender and ‘doing’ doing is
constantly changing, continuing the current debates around intimacy as a way of
conceptualising personal relationships in contemporary society (Dermott, 2008)


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