Do the Marriageable Men Want to Protect and Provide? The Expectation of Black Professional Hybrid Masculinity

By Marbella Eboni Hill

Marriage is one of the most highly valued social institutions America. Being married is  as normative as being employed. Still, in the United States some groups have become less likely to ever marry over time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Black Americans, who face racism in every aspect of social life are also fairing the worst in terms of marriage outcomes. Their likelihood of ever marrying cannot be explained by differences in the desire to marry. Many people who want to marry face challenges beyond their control to achieving this goal..

One of the challenges impacting young people’s marriage behavior today is the growing confusion about what qualifies one for marriage in the first place. The pathway to marriage was more clear, and socially required, in the past. Gendered courtship processes once involved familial involvement. Men were expected to be protectors and providers of wives and families while women were confined to the world of homemaking and caretaking. This was, of course, a white-coded marriage model not accessible to most Black couples who have historically shared marital responsibilities. Black women have always had a central role in the labor force, both paid and unpaid. Black men’s access to higher education and well-paying jobs has been impeded by various forms of discrimination spanning centuries. The white coded “separate spheres model” was always out of sync with how Black couples have historically done marriage.

In spite of this historical context, academics and non-academics alike have blamed Black men for racial gaps in marriage. They have argued that compared to other groups, Black women have access to far fewer marriageable prospects, given many Black men’s economic disadvantage due to unemployment, incarceration, and low levels of educational attainment. Put another way, men’s marriageability in the U.S. has been tied to their ability to take on the role of dominant financial provider, and according to this definition many Black men have been dubbed unmarriageable. However, these arguments paint a monolithic portrait of the Black experience by ignoring the 50 percent of Black Americans who are not low-income, but still marry at disproportionately low rates.

In other words, although Black middle-class young adults have also experienced a marriage decline, they differ from their lower-status counterparts in that these declines cannot be explained by economic disadvantage. This paradox motivated me to query a group of never-married and college-educated Black men about their marriage aspirations and expectations. How do they define the role of a husband in marriage.

The findings, presented in my recent article in Gender & Society, show that high-earning single Black men do not draw on dominant prescriptions of hegemonic masculinity to define their expectations of being a husband, but instead center goals like balance and fairness in their expectations for their future marriages. Each of my respondents aspires to marry a Black professional woman, who they presume will be successful in her own right and committed to her own career. Given these expectations, the men emphasize that it is only fair to evenly share household responsibilities, including financial provision, cooking and cleaning.

However, men paired these egalitarian expectations for marriage with essentialist gender ideas about men as naturally better suited for activities involving risk. Despite arguing that the role of financial provider should be shared between spouses, men define husbands as natural protectors of wives and children. In line with this, they suggest that outdoor household tasks like taking out the trash and mowing the lawn are men’s work, presumably because they are risky, and should remain as such.

Considering Black professional men’s endorsement of both egalitarian and essentialist gender ideologies I characterize their unique racialized and classed gender identity as a form of Black professional hybrid masculinity. I conclude by arguing that although this construction of masculinity does not meet mainstream standards of feminism, as it leaves essentialist ideas about biological gender differences intact, it does challenge long-held controlling images of Black women as masculine and Black men as weak. Black professional hybrid masculinity also undermines academic and public narratives of Black middle-class men’s partnering preference for non-Black women, as not only do these men plan to marry Black women, but they also construct their masculine identities around their needs.

Marbella Eboni Hill is a Sociology Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University in the VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab. Her research focuses on how early career young professionals navigate family formation and work processes at various race, class, and gender intersections.

More Dads are Home Taking Care of Children than Ever Before – Are Views About Gender and Work Changing?

By Arielle Kuperberg and Pamela Stone

In 2021, the number of stay-at-home dads in the United States reached record highs. Does this mean that cultural views about gender, masculinity, work, and family—particularly the idea that men should be breadwinners—are changing? Not necessarily.

Our recent research in Gender & Society assesses cultural views of stay-at-home fathers over three decades, by examining their portrayal in leading newspapers and magazines between 1987 and 2016. We found that news portrayals of stay-at-home dads have indeed become more positive over time. But the growing support for full-time caregiver fathers is conditional. Dads who lost their jobs because of involuntary unemployment are viewed sympathetically, especially since the Great Recession. But dads who are able to work, but choose to stay home with children instead, are still described negatively. As much as we’d like to think that the gender-bending phenomenon of (slightly) increasing numbers of dads at home is a harbinger of more fundamental gender liberalization, our results suggest that this is not unambiguously the case.

News articles about stay-at-home dads often focused on the stigma and hardships that these dads faced in their everyday lives. In the 94 articles we analyzed, stay-at-home dads discussed being laughed at, dismissed, or even accused of being a pedophile while at the playground with their child. They were often described as being shunned by mothers and ridiculed by their friends. Fathers discussed feeling like “less of a man” because they could not financially provide for their families, and over half were described as feeling isolated and experiencing stress because of their role. Many recounted being called “Mr. Mom”, the title of a 1980s movie about an inept stay-at-home dad. This phrase reinforced the idea that active parenting was something that women do, not men. Further reinforcing this idea, some dads were instead excessively praised for doing the most basic chores with their child (like bringing them to the grocery store).

But the focus on stigma lessened over time, as more dads began to stay home with children. After the Great Recession resulted in high rates of unemployment, dads who had lost their jobs and took on caretaking roles at home were no longer described as experiencing stigma, and were discussed sympathetically and supportively. Accounts of stigma experiences didn’t disappear, however; instead they were mostly confined to another type of stay-at-home dad—those who had chosen to stay home with their children, and hadn’t been forced into the role by lay-offs.

In our article we also compared stay-at-home dads’ depictions to demographic trends. In the figure below, we extend this analysis to 2021 to include another major economic shock—the COVID pandemic. What is clear is that the rate at which fathers were at home rose in the wake of economic downturns, but eventually reversed course and reverted to near pre-downturn levels upon economic recovery. Over the period we studied, staying home became more common among dads—especially after the Great Recession of 2007-9. But the number of dads who reported they were home specifically to take care of children was still very low—less than two percent in 2021. And prior to the pandemic, rates of staying home had begun to go down among dads of younger children, declining almost to pre-Great Recession levels by 2019. These patterns also suggest that the post-recession increase in dads staying home was not a result of long-lasting changes in attitudes and ideologies about gender and work, but rather was a temporary response to economic precarity.

Figure 1: Percent of U.S. fathers out of the labor force, and out of the labor force specifically to care for children, 1980-2021.

Source: Authors’ analysis of Current Population Survey – March Supplement Data.

Taken together, our findings indicate that cultural views on stay-at-home dads may be changing, but mostly for dads who stay home because they don’t have any other choice. The stigma about stay-at- home dads has been reduced, but only because more dads are out of the workforce because of broader economic circumstances that make it impossible for them to be breadwinners. Dads who choose to stay home and not contribute financially to the family are still stigmatized, presumably seen as failures as breadwinners or as deadbeats for ducking this responsibility entirely. But dads who began to stay home because of the pandemic (or other future economic events) are likely to be viewed sympathetically, suggesting some relaxing of strong male-breadwinner social norms.

And cultural views may continue to change. A recent report found that over 70% of mothers will spend at least part of their children’s childhood as the main financial provider, with the average mother spending 6 years in this role. The pandemic also reversed the beginning of a decline in staying home rates among fathers of young children, and dads are now out of the labor force and home with kids at record high rates. The sustained rate of dads staying home with kids may reduce the stigma of this role even further, as more children grow up with dads at home as caregivers for at least some portion of their childhoods.

On the other hand, support for dads staying home may be reduced if economic conditions improve more broadly, reducing the number of men in that role involuntarily. And during the pandemic, while more dads withdrew from the labor force and increased the time they spent on housework and childcare, in 70% of families it was mothers who were primarily responsible for homeschooling when schools went virtual. Mothers were also far more likely than fathers to withdraw from the workforce or reduce their hours in paid work. These pandemic trends also reinforce the idea that the recent uptick in dads staying home is not an auger of radical gender change, but that traditional ideas about gender and parenting and divisions of labor are still going strong. Until these ideas change, and the stigma of men voluntarily staying home with children is reduced, few men will be willing to take on this role, preventing advancement towards full gender equality in work and family roles.

Arielle Kuperberg is Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families. Pamela Stone is Professor Emerita of Sociology at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Follow them on twitter @ATKuperberg and @profpamstone.

Fashioning Masculinity in Confinement

Image from Pixel

Clothing matters when we’re out in the world. The fabrics and silhouettes we wear each day help us establish our personal and professional identities. Wearing clothing that is deemed “appropriate” in distinct spaces provides access to jobs, networks and, for many of us, respect and dignity.

In my research published in Gender and Society, I interviewed men of all types, across a range of ages, races, sexualities, occupations. I wanted to understand how their clothes challenged or reinforced cultural ideas about masculinity. My interviews took place in men’s homes where they showed me their clothes and described their memories of them.

When my participants opened up their closets each morning, they asked themselves a series of questions: Who were they going to meet? What activities were they going to do? What spaces did they plan on visiting?  All of these men picked clothing that best allowed them to display their understanding of dominant masculine norms. They believed the clothes they wore would help them get the rewards they sought at the events and outings they attended, or protect them from being harassed and attacked.

All these interviews were conducted before COVID-19.  Many of us now do not go to different physical spaces each day but are primarily confined to our homes. Our social interactions are limited to Zoom. In this new social world, how might my participants decide what to wear each day? And what might be the impact of their decisions on the ways in which they trouble and reinforce masculine ideals?

Photo from Pixels

Our digital interactions present all of us with a new set of considerations when we open up our closets each morning. Our colleagues and friends will no longer observe our fully dressed bodies but instead primarily view our shoulders and faces. This narrowed frame poses two major consequences. Given my research focuses on men and masculinity, I will speculate about men specifically.

First, clothing that adorns the top halves of men’s bodies might take on greater importance.

Some men might still opt to wear a shirt and tie to establish their class position, but as the pandemic rages on, they might loosen up their workwear. As men work from home, they are likely to be multitasking. They work but also cook meals, homeschool kids, cope with anxiety. Perhaps wearing a suite becomes impractical while multi-taking, even if that includes video meetings.

Second, hair and skin might take on a heightened role.

Kirsten Barber charts professional white-collar men’s consumption of high-end salon services—from hair colouring to brow tweezing. Barber finds that these men engage in beauty work to construct their “professional” identity. For them, keeping their hair coiffed, browsshaped and skin smooth establishes masculine power. A virtual world might mean that these services become more important for the construction of middle-class masculinity, as stylists now offer virtual appointments to guide patrons through hair coloring and brow tweezing.

Beauty work might become even more important because participants now see their faces during each and every digital meeting. It becomes easy to focus on how their cheek bones, complexions and eyebrows appear on the screen. For many men, observations about their faces might be a new discovery because beauty work unlike body work is traditionally gendered feminine and avoided by men.      

Make-up might take on a new role for establishing a professional masculine identity in a Zoom-centered world, but men of color and Black men in particular will have limited options. Men who are balding might become more susceptible to hair growth pill subscription boxes designed to reduce hair loss and older men to anti-aging potions. Even Zoom now offers digital filters to instantly reduce the appearance of winkles.

Yet the loosening up of workwear could provide benefits. Mainstream menswear is designed for thin and non-disabled bodies. Clothing patterns are scaled up for larger sizes or adapted for physically disabled wearers. As a result, clothing often fails to comfortably fit fat and disabled men, if it’s available at all. They are often forced to spend hundreds of dollars on custom clothes for office jobs and other formal events. But in a digital world where clothes matter less, these men might no longer need formal and fashionable clothes to shore up masculine power in certain social spaces.

Perhaps some femme and queer men will feel less pressure to code switch. If they are no longer commuting around the city, they face less risk of violence. They might just feel freer and safer to wear whatever they want, including heels all day long.

While this pandemic has shifted how men dress each day, it is unlikely that the role of appearance has changed. The difference between this moment and before COVID-19 is that the contents of men’s bathroom vanities might become more important than the contents of their bedroom closets when it comes to displaying a masculine identity.

What I find intriguing is this shift from the full body to the face in our self-presentation.  This may reduce ableism, fat phobia and other oppressions based on visible cues because others only see one’s shoulders and face. Clothes don’t matter as much now. But the deep assumptions and attitudes that keep inequities structurally alive are not being challenged. They remain in place, just outside the purview of the Zoom frame. Some men might benefit in the short-term, but when they meet in-person once again, dominant masculine ideals could become even more entrenched because digital spaces have masked, not transformed, existing forms of discrimination.

Ben Barry is Chair and Associate Professor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the School of Fashion at Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada). His research explores masculinities and fashion at the intersections of fat and disability.

“Massive” Masculinity and the Mainstreaming of the Alt-Right in the West

By Kristen Myers and Kirk Miller

In July, 2016, we collected data about the impact of mass immigration of Syrian refugees on perceptions of safety in Western Europe.  We interviewed five people in Kaiserslautern, Germany, who had been instrumental in integrating Syrians into their community: providing housing, German classes, and family services.  These subjects hoped the refugees would reside permanently, would become Germans.  Our research assistant and interpreter, Sebastian Dodt, thought we should also hear opposing viewpoints.  He arranged for us to meet two members of the right-wing party, Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD).  We met a party candidate and a party member at a remote restaurant.  The table where they sat was covered with pamphlets, stacks of books, and miniature table-top German flags.  A ledge running around the room was filled with taxidermied animals—eagles, foxes, badgers—all poised for attack, teeth bared and claws out.  The men were eager to begin.  The candidate began to speak loudly, reading from prepared comments, gesticulating furiously, pounding on the table.  Although we do not speak German, we understood key words repeated throughout the conversation: “Kriminellen;” “Immigrant;” “Terrorismus;” “Angst;” “Muslim.”  The entire experience was disturbing.  Feeling déjà vu, we asked each other, who do they remind us of? The answer: Donald Trump.

Since then, we have been analyzing the similarities between the Trump campaign and the AfD.  They have many rhetorical parallels.  For example, in commenting about asylum-seekers and refugees in Germany, the party candidate said this:

All in all there has been a lot of changes in Germany. Our democracy is saying goodbye.  The will of the people is being ignored.  Critics are being criminalized.  Criminals are being spared and praised.  Our rights are being limited. Laws are flouted. Women are becoming victims. Continue reading ““Massive” Masculinity and the Mainstreaming of the Alt-Right in the West”

The Phenomenon of ‘Bud Sex’ Between Straight Rural Men

Tony Silva’s forthcoming article to be published in the February 31 (1) Gender & Society, “Bud-Sex: Constructing Normative Masculinity among Rural Straight Men That Have Sex With Men” was featured in NYmag.com/Science of Us and can be found here. In his qualitative study, Silva explores “normative rural masculinity”.

Congratulations, Tony.

Tona Silva is a doctoral student in the department of sociology at the University of Oregon. His dissertation includes interviews with rural straight men that have sex with men to explore how they understand their identity, practices, and gender. His primary primary interests include sexualities, gender, rurality, and qualitative and quantitative methods.

“If You’re A Good Guy, You Can’t Possibly Be A Rapist”

By C. Brian Smith

rapist
Illustration by Carly Jean Andrews

The University of Oregon dominated Florida State in the 2015 Rose Bowl. The Ducks’ converted four consecutive turnovers into 27 unanswered points, leading to a 59–20 rout. Afterward, several Oregon players were filmed singing “No means no!” to the tune of the FSU “War Chant.” An act that was presumably directed at star quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who’d recently been accused of raping a female student. Antirape activists heralded the mocking jibe as a victory: Finally, here was a group of normatively masculine men shaming other normatively masculine men for sexually assaulting women.

But two University of Oregon sociology professors, C.J. Pascoe and Jocelyn Hollander, saw it differently. What if the point of the chant wasn’t to make a statement about sexual assault, but rather to position their opponent as a failed man, thereby humiliating him both on and off the field? This question introduces a paper they published in October 2015 entitled “Good Guys Don’t Rape,” which documents how young men distance themselves from identities as rapists while simultaneously exhibiting dominance over women and other men with behavior that “mobilizes rape.”

It’s yet another form of “toxic masculinity,” they argue, which refers to attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional and sexually aggressive. Some refer to this as “classic masculinity” — a rite of passage of sorts. Others, like The Donald, chalk it up to “locker room talk.” Whatever you call it, Pascoe notes that many men who exemplify toxic masculinity actively seek to avoid the label. She points to Brock Turner, the Stanford student convicted of raping an unconscious woman in January 2015 as a perfect example. Continue reading ““If You’re A Good Guy, You Can’t Possibly Be A Rapist””

Goodbye to the barbershop?

By Kristen Barber

Cross-posted with permission from The Conversation on August 7, 2016 here

With their red, white and blue striped poles, dark Naugahyde chairs and straight razor shaves, barbershops hold a special place in American culture.

But numbers show that barbershops are dwindling. According to census data, from 1992 to 2012 we saw a 23 percent decrease in barbershops in the United States (with a slight uptick in 2013).

As a sociologist, I find barbershops fascinating because they’ve also traditionally been places where men spend time with other men, forming close relationships with one another in the absence of women. Many patrons will even stop by daily to simply chat with their barbers, discuss the news or play chess. A real community is created in these places, and community is important to health and well-being.

So how should we interpret the decline of the barbershop? Is it yet another sign that, according to Robert Putnam in “Bowling Alone,” our community ties are crumbling? Or should we really be looking at just what sort of men are no longer getting haircuts at a barbershop – and what sort of men still go there? Continue reading “Goodbye to the barbershop?”

What is a Men’s Salon? And What do Women Have to Do With It?

By Kristen Barber

When I explain my research to people, they often ask: “What is a men’s salon, exactly?”In a fleeting interaction I might sBarber_idea3imply describe it as a salon dedicated to the primping and preening of men. The high-service men’s salons in my study tout stylish haircuts, fine manicures, exfoliating facials, and meticulous waxing services. But to more accurately explain what a men’s salon is involves understanding that gender is actively produced, not a static characteristic of a person or place.

In my article, “Men Wanted”: Heterosexual Aesthetic Labor in the Masculinization of the Hair Salon, I tackle the organizational efforts that make the salon an “appropriate” place for well-to-do, straight, and often white men. This is significant since the salon is historically associated with women and seems an unlikely place in which men can approximate culturally valorized forms masculinity. One way both salons in my study masculinize the space is by demanding what I call heterosexual aesthetic labor from the mostly women workers. Aesthetic labor highlights the importance of workers’ appearances and use of their body in frontline service work, where employees interact face-to-face with customers. Workers are hired because they embody the aesthetic values of a retail brand, with white, middle-class workers, for example, reflecting the identities of white, middle-class consumers. This assures consumers they are in the “right place” for people like them and is a key mechanism in reproducing social differences and inequalities. Continue reading “What is a Men’s Salon? And What do Women Have to Do With It?”

Is the Metrosexual Extinct?

By Erynn Masi de Casanova

Try engaging in a conversation about the meaning of the term “metrosexual” without smiling.  It’s impossible.  The word and the concept just seem a bit silly.  In my interviews with 71 U.S. corporate men on the topic of work dress for my book, Buttoned Up: Clothing, Conformity, and White-Collar Masculinity, mentions of metrosexuality usually involved laughter and joking.  Yet I would argue that the hubbub around the figure of the metrosexual is rooted in something real.  Men’s bodies, grooming, and dress are subject to ever greater scrutiny, as scholars, GQ, and maybe even your dad have noticed and commented on.  Due to the heightened surveillance of their looks, some men are taking greater care in their appearance-related decisions and behavior.  Focusing on men’s work lives allows us to examine an everyday, but high-stakes, setting for self-presentation.

British journalist Mark Simpson coined the term metrosexual in the 1990s, but I am less interested in tracing its genealogy and public use than in ascertaining what it means to men in their daily lives.  How do white-collar guys define this term?  Interviewing corporate men in New York City, Cincinnati, and San Francisco, I uncovered a range of opinions on whether people still use the word “metrosexual” (turns out they do it more in SF), and whether it is a positive, affirming label or an insult.  Dave, a white 24-year-old finance professional in Cincinnati, said that a metrosexual was “always a hundred percent concerned with [his] appearance all the time.”  Other negative definitions of metrosexual included someone who “spends far too much time in front of the mirror,” who takes two hours “putting down [his] hair every morning,” and the gym-tanning-laundry proponents of MTV’s Jersey Shore.  Luke, a white man in his thirties who works in Manhattan, described the negative image memorably: being a metrosexual implied “an obsessive concern with appearance… to the point where it was almost like annoying.  It’s like, come on.  Be a man.”  Some of this resistance to the aesthetic aspects of metrosexuality comes from the idea that part of the privilege of being a man in U.S. society lies in not being judged on appearance in the way that women are.  Voluntarily giving up that privilege can cause a man to be looked down on by other men. Continue reading “Is the Metrosexual Extinct?”

“Cloudy Visibility”: Men’s inner emotional lives are more complicated than you might think

By Joseph R. Schwab, Michael E. Addis, Christopher S. Reigeluth, and Joshua L. Berger

Stereotypes of men tell us that they are stoic, unemotional, and in general not very interested in talking about their feelings. This is what women do, so the stereotype goes, and men are often assumed to be uninterested in engaging with the “feminine” side of life. And as stereotypes go, many of us are guilty of perpetuating this assumption about men’s inner emotional lives. We may not ask men about difficulties they may have recently experienced, or about “softer” emotions like sadness, grief, loneliness, or anxiety. Men themselves also perpetuate this stereotype by not talking to other people about the struggles they may be experiencing in order to appear strong and appropriately masculine.

Man walking

But if you talk to men about their emotional struggles––really sit down with them and ask the tough, introspective questions about what’s going on emotionally for them––you might be surprised by what they say. We recently did this in a study interviewing white adult men in the Northeast United States who were relatively educated and affluent. All of the men we interviewed had recently gone through a difficult life event, such as divorce, job loss, or severe illness, and we asked them questions about what that experience was like and who they talked to about it. What we found was a complicated picture of men both fulfilling the stereotype we have of them by not dealing with and talking about their feelings, while at the same time also counteracting that stereotype by openly expressing emotions about the difficulties they recently faced. What was most interesting about our findings is that every man we spoke with displayed both expression and concealment of emotion within the same interview. Continue reading ““Cloudy Visibility”: Men’s inner emotional lives are more complicated than you might think”