Transitions Towards Equality: Sociological Analysis of Contemporary Irish Fathering

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 41 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Barbara MOORE, University College Dublin, Ireland
Fatherhood is the most commonly shared experience of adult men (Clare, 2000).  Consequently, how men construct this role and the influence of fathers in family life remains a critical issue for social enquiry.  In the midst of rapid transformative social changes for families within Irish society, various narratives of fatherhood have emerged.  There are indications that men are becoming considerably more ‘involved’ in fathering, implying greater engagement with the physical, nurturing and emotional care of children (Pleck, 2012).  Yet, although men appear to be forging new ways of fathering,  what is unclear is; how this process is evolving, what models of fatherhood men are following, and to what extent these changes indicate greater equality in gender relations. 

A recurring theme across scholarship on fathers and the family is that gender equality has ‘stalled’ because of a lack of understanding of men’s relationship to family life.  Deutsch (2007) proposes that the ‘missing’ piece in gender equality research is the potential of interactional levels in society, to embrace changes in attitudes and practices, providing opportunity for ‘undoing’ gender, i.e. embracing beliefs and behaviours that reduce gender difference in families, thus advancing gender equality.

This paper discusses the findings of a qualitative study, conducted with fathers in stable relationships and resident with their children. Utilising, thematic analysis of the data, it examined how fatherhood is constructed and practiced, and specifically explores the extent and nature of involved fathering as described by Pleck (2012).  Fathers’ engagement with their children is examined as part of a process of ‘undoing’ gender difference (Deutsch, 2007), i.e. as it contributes to gender equality.  ‘Undoing’ gender was explored within the interactional context of family life by examining the extent to which fathers’ attitudes and practices in relation to childcare embrace inclusive rather than separate roles for parents.