The Social Construction of Stay-at-Home Fathering Across Everyday Spaces

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Stay-at-home fathers, male primary caretakers of their children, represent an emergent form of fatherhood challenging gendered stereotypes related to breadwinning, caretaking, and parenting. This study explores, from a social constructionist and feminist perspective informed by critical men’s studies, social psychology, and psychoanalysis, how stay-at-home fathering is socially constructed across gendered everyday social spaces and places. More specifically, the focus is on how the social dynamics within the everyday spaces and places of these men are shaped by cultural stereotypes and gendered interactions. Nine White, middle-class, college-educated, heterosexual, stay-at-home fathers taking care of at least one child under the age of 12 and married to a breadwinning wife were interviewed. The transcribed interviews were coded using an inductive thematic analysis applying a narrative methodology. A typology of five social spaces and places is proposed and theorized. Each gendered space and place identified is associated with distinct affective experiences by the stay-at-home fathers and gendered social dynamics that oppress, affirm, or validate the man’s identity as male caretaker. The gendered stereotypes of “the hero,” “the pervert of the playground,” “the unwelcome intruder,” “the man among men,” and “the communal father” are proposed. Conceptually, gender dualism, the repertoire of possible male caretaker identities, and the challenges of embodied masculine caretaking are discussed. Stay-at-home fathers struggle with documented loneliness and social isolation; the findings presented have important clinical implications for counselors and therapists working with stay-at-home fathers.

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