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? 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 involved in discussions around family
life, it is usually nothing more than their financial contribution 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 the focus on the mother-child bond.

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). In 2013 Diane Abbott discussed in a lecture 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, it is no longer clear what
role men need to fulfil, 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. 

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In an attempt to answer the question of what it means to be
a man, Heilman et al (2017) 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. 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.

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? 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 (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.

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. Alternatively, to find men to participate in this study, advertisements
will be placed in various environments – family planning units, gyms, pub,
libraries, local newspapers 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. 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, 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.

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. 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 number
rather than their real name. 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.

Steps of Analysis

The data from the focus group sessions shall be analysed
using Nvivo in order to produce a thematic analysis, whereby the focus is on
what has been said (Bryman, 2004).  

Broader real-life experience

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. 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 child development or strategies in how to support
fathers as well as mothers – particularly single parent fathers. 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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