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Explain How Theories of Masculinity Have Transformed the Sociology of the Family?

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Explain how theories of masculinity have transformed the sociology of the family? Finbarr Lawton,
University College Cork, Department of Sociology.

Student Number: 111310236,
Module title/code: Sociology of Family, SC2026,
Module Coordinator: Linda Connolly
Submission Date: 14/1/13

Throughout my essay I will attempt to look at different theories of masculinity and try to show how these theories have transformed the sociology of family in recent decades. I will start by looking at the sociology of family, giving a brief insight into the main theory’s and how it helps us to understand what the sociology of family is essentially about. Following on from this I will look at masculinity giving the main ideas of it and how it has changed and shifted roles in past decades. Before going into detail about masculinity and how it has changed by looking at theories of fatherhood, work, and unemployment and Hegemonic masculinity. Finally I will finish by looking at the main advantages and disadvantages of this change in masculinity in recent decades looking also at how it has changed the sociology of family.

When looking at the sociology of family we see that it is an extremely broad field of study and can really be split into four main theories of which to look at the sociology of family, these being: 1. “Functionalist theory: Looks at the essential tasks provided by the family e.g. Socialisation: Regulation of sexual activity.
Social placement: Material and emotional security. 2. Marxist theory: focuses on the way in which the family perpetuates and enables the continuity of the capitalist system and inequality. 3. Feminist theory: Emphasises gender inequalities in the family, such as, unequal division of power between husband and wife, domestic violence and sexual abuse. 4. Postmodern theories: Emphasise the plurality of family forms in contemporary societies and the individualisation of family life, Ulrick Beck has done much research on this theory” (Connolly 13/11/12).

“Is the characteristics that are appropriate to the male sex” (Scott & Marshall 2009). “What has become interesting in recent years is the idea that feminist theory is very influential, but for the early writers on gender it was almost as if men's gender was taken for granted or overlooked” (Connolly 13/11/12). Men were seen as bread-winners who worked long days in order to look after their family and allow mothers to raise their kids, and that was it, but in the past century we have begun to look at a man’s role in the family a lot more differently. “There has been a shift by which we used to analyse women’s roles in the family in the last four decades we are now using these roles to analyse men's part in the family” (Connolly 13/11/12). This shift has mainly been down to the economic downturn we are currently seeing. Where men that used to work in the construction industry have lost their jobs and cannot find work so the female of the household has to go and work while the male stays at home to raise the family and look after the house which was previously perceived to be the women’s role. This is seen as a major social change in relation to the role of the man.
“Traditional masculinity roles: New masculinity roles (Metrosexual):
Strong (physically and mentally) Young
Rationality Urban
In control/self-control (keeping emotions in check) Fashion Conscious
Objective Body Conscious
Unemotional Heterosexual” (Connolly 13/11/12). By looking at these differences we see a huge change in men’s roles which I will discusses throughout my essay.
One of the key tales of men's studies is 'men as a problem' - this could be that men are a problem in society or men have a problem in society.
‘Men as a problem’, Key issues: 1. “Elevated negative health outcomes: Men's life expectancy is lower than women’s (in Ireland it is a 10 year difference). 2. Educational performance: Workforce participation. In school girls are outperforming boys. In recent years we have seen the feminisation of the work force in such areas as services that were traditionally more masculine roles. 3. Violence, accidents and risk-taking: The masculine construct of this is for example boy racers. 4. Sexual difficulties: There is more pressure in being a man in the realm of sexuality. 5. Suicide. 6. Drug and alcohol use” (Connolly 13/11/12).
Looking at the points above we see that the idea of ‘Men as a problem’ is interesting as life expectancy has been greatly reduced because of the long hours and stress they were subjected to in previous decades. We also see that females are outperforming males in school as they are more pushed to succeed in school in order to get a good job. For these reasons we see that men are more involved in drug and alcohol abuse as they feel they are not following their so called mescaline role within the family by being the main bread winners and main support of the family they feel they have then let their family down resulting in higher rates of suicide among males mainly due to stress.
Family, Work, Unemployment: (Fatherhood).
When looking at family we see that the role of the male has changed hugely as in the past decades as they have changed from being the main bread winner to the stay at home father as discussed above. Fathers are now involved in the everyday parts of the child’s life from changing nappies to cocking dinners compared to past decades where fathers where not asked to be involved in the child’s life only on matters concerned with discipline this saw the father having little or no contact with the family.
‘Parsons’ was quite clear and certain about what he believed the role of fathers should be. “Men in families were the instrumental leaders, the authority figures who provided the economic resources for the family. Women were the expressive ones, the carers and followers. Socialisation practices ensured that these gender-specific roles were reproduced” (Kimmel 2000). Parsons idea was based on the past decades ideas of how a father was.
The idea of the ‘New Father’ with enthusiasm is being expressed in this generation. “Families are rejecting the idea of the father as a detached, distant, largely disinterested figure and turning towards a new, attentive, caring or nurturing father who begins by being present at antenatal classes and at the birth” (Henwood & Procter 2003). With this idea we see not only men becoming involved when they are out of work but become interested in the child’s life from the very beginning, the ‘new father’ also wants to be actively participating in the raising of his children, and generally shares all commitments and responsibility for maintaining family life and the home with his partner.
Fathers who leave:
When we look at the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s we see a lot of single parent families where fathers have just left their family behind, but the introduction of the child support act in 1991 made fathers be financially responible for their kids. “This in turn greatly reduced the number of family’s that where below the poverty line as most family seen below this line where single parent households” (Connolly 13/11/12). The Child Support Act 1991 was the catalyst toward the collective organisation of fathers. Work & Unemployment: Underpinning men's roles within the family is the changing nature at work. When looking at work and Masculinity we see that there has been a big change as in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s male’s main objective was to be the main bread winner of the family. They worked long hours in order to look after their family with most work being in the construction industry, but in 00’s we saw a shift in this as many males found themselves out of work due the halt in the construction industry due to the rescission, many males did not have the skills in order to hold down a job as they had not got the right educational qualificians this brought about a shift in work as some men became stay at home parents as their female counterpart went out and became the main bread winner for the family. Looking at this as discussed above it does cause men to become more conscious as they feel it is not their job to be at home they feel they should be out providing for their family.
‘Ulrich Beck (1992) argues that as work ceases to be the main determinant of identity, men invest more in family relationships. When men are increasingly likely to be unemployed or in insecure work the old-style split in the family which left the father with a job and no children, and the mother with the children and no job, is less likely to be acceptable to those involved. Also with marriage relationships becoming more fragile, relationships with children become more important. Men turn to their children as a source of personal fulfilment’. He sees these changes as the outcome of a society which challenges men's traditional role in relation to the family.
If we take John Goodwin’s ‘piece on Irish men and work in north Dublin’ we see that males may have changed for the sake of the family but still feel that they should be the ones providing for their families, we see when male lose their jobs and are unable to provide for their family and turn to drug and alcohol abuse and in extreme case suicide they feel they are losing their sense of Masculinity.
When looking at the findings of the survey below us sees that most men still agree with the ‘Bread-winner’ ideologue:
“In examining the responses, the data imply that amongst all the men there is a majority who agreed with the statements that having any job was better than being unemployed and that work gives men a sense of purpose. The majority also agreed that work is an important part of being an Irish male. Likewise there seems to be a uniform agreement amongst the men in the survey that all men should have an opportunity to work full-time and that they were happy if they had money to do the things they enjoyed” (Goodwin 2002).
“When gender and work, or more speciacally, women and work issues were introduced into the questions. For example, a higher percentage of men who perceived themselves as working class agreed with the view that men gain more from work than women and that men should get more training and work opportunities. Likewise, this group of men were more likely to think that it was less important for a woman to go out to work and those they should not do so if they did not want to. A larger proportion of this group of men thought that they should be paid more than women. These assertions were justified by these participants in their responses to the open-ended questions contained within the questionnaire. It was suggested by the participants that it was their responsibility to provide for the family and bring income into the house. Conversely, they suggested that women’s earnings could not provide for the family adequately and, therefore, should not be relied upon Generally speaking, the majority of men interviewed thought that it was important for men to work regardless of whether or not they were employed at the present time. However, there seemed to be some differences in the rustications as to why men should work depending on whether or not the interviewees were currently employed” (Goodwin 2002).
When looking at the themes explored in the questionnaire, men were asked whether it was important for Irish men to work and what it means to be an ‘Irish male’. The majority of the responses revolved around work and provision for the family. One example is shown below giving an insight into how males still believe they should be the main income to the family.
‘I don’t think—even in this day and age, there are not lots of women working
[Whilst] men are home watching the babies, you know? The Church wouldn’t
Like it [laughs]. No. That’s not the way it should be at all. You see, a man to
Be a man has to be out of the house… earning the money—or getting the
Money at least. It is important—I can’t really explain it—but… I wouldn’t feel
Right with my missus bringing home the money. I need to go it—it makes me
Feel right’ (Goodwin 2002).

Hegemonic masculinity:
"Hegemonic masculinity is a social ascendancy achieved in a play of social forces that extends beyond contests of brute power into the organization of private life and cultural processes."(Connell 13/1/13). Hegemonic masculinity is based on the image of masculinity, power, and subordination of women and decline of different groups of men. “Hegemonic Inclusion and exclusion in society in terms of masculinity is first and foremost determined by gainful employment, work is key with family second” (Connolly 13/11/12). The breadwinner model, the housewife is the part time employee model. Gainful employment is a key element of male power in society; the breadwinner term gives the man a sense of masculinity.

Advantages and disadvantages: (Towards the change of Masculinity in recent decades)
Advantages: In previous decades an advantage to males working was that they were getting a sense of accomplishment for looking after their family and being able to have disposal income to buy what they want when they want it, other advantages include getting the chance to spend time with children and see them grow up if the male becomes a stay at home father.
Disadvantages: A limited presence in the family due to work commonest, “Denial of one's emotional and physical needs as males are supposed to stay strong for their family, stress and male illnesses linked to masculinity and being less likely to go to the doctor, keeping feelings/emotions in check” (Connolly 13/11/12).
Research on masculinity in modern society indicates that role change can have a negative impact on the individual as well. ‘A recent survey on men's perceptions of masculinity in modern society demonstrates that as the role of men begins to change, many males are experiencing ambiguity about their roles and behaviours goes on to note that as a direct result of this transition and the manner in which masculinity is constructed many males are now unsure about their masculinity is and how to be a man’ (Kimmel, Connell, Hearn, 2005).

Throughout my essay I feel I have accomplished what I set out to achieve. I showed how roles of masculinity have shifted in the past four decades from what used to be females roles to what is now becoming a males or father roles in the family. I then showed what males think of work through the example of Goodwin’s survey of ‘North Dublin’, Finally I showed the advantages and disadvantages of this shift in so called masculinity showing that there is mainly positives in that males get to see their family grow up and cherish all the times they may have missed if they were the typical 80’s ‘Bread-winners’.

Bibliography: * Scott, J, Marshall, G, Oxford, Dictionary of sociology, Tired Edition Revised, New York, 2009. * Connolly, L, Lecture Notes, (13/11/12). * Kimmel, M, S, The Gendered Society, Published 2000, New York, (Accessed 13/1/13), * Henwood, K, Procter, J, The Good Father, Published 2003, (Accessed 9/1/13), * Beck, U, Risk Society, Towards a new modernity, Published 1992, (Accessed 10/1/13), * Goodwin, J, Irish Men and Work in North-County Dublin, Published 2002, (Accessed 12/1/13), * Connell, R, (Accessed 13/1/12), * Kimmel, M, S, Hearn, J, Connell, R, Men and Masculinities, Published 2005, (Accessed 12/1/13),

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