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«In DISPLAYING FAMILIES: A NEW CONCEPT FOR THE SOCIOLOGY OF FAMILY LIFE Edited by: Esther Dermott, University of Bristol, UK, and Julie Seymour, ...»

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While there has been some change over the past decade, there is still a recurring thread of suspicion about the proximity between male bodies and children, especially the children of others. As indicated ealier, notable instances of strong community scrutiny can occur in households where single fathers are raising teenage girls, where men enter female-dominated childrearing venues or what one father termed ‘estrogen-filled worlds’ (Doucet, 2006b), and where men are primary caregivers of infants (and concurrently, where women do not take up maternity or parental leave to care for their infants). In spite of the points made here, I would also posit that over time, there has, nevertheless, been some change in the community acceptance of male caregivers.

That is, changing ideologies over time, and the increased presence of fathers in community sites with children are easing at least some of this scrutiny. In my recent work on breadwinning mothers, I have returned to interview 12 individuals that I interviewed over 8 years ago. That is, my research program has a longitudinal focus that spans a decade around a small case study of men and women. One example is Richard and Aileen who I interviewed three times between 2000-2005 and recently returned to visit them in

2009. While Richard, a stay at home dad, tried to open a home daycare in 2002, he was told by the local authorities that a day care run by a male would not work in the community. But recently he informed me that things had changed, at least somewhat. He


“About three years ago things were getting tight financially. So I decided to try again to open my daycare. I didn’t know how they would react to me, but I approached the ‘ABC’ daycare agency. To my great relief I was greeted with open arms –literally- by a team of open minded individuals who were excited at the prospect of having a male childcare provider on there team. But one question remained: would a stranger trust a man to care for their child? Well - The answer came quickly. Before all the paperwork and security checks were finalized I already had my first kids! Today my daycare is full with five kids and I have 8 kids on my waiting list who want to come to my daycare specifically. But I am not accepted by all. Some parents refuse to have a man as childcare provider, and I can respect that. But to many, it is an alternative they favor”.

Where fathers are actively involved in care work, they must work to display not only family forms that ‘work’ but also that their display of caring and working arrangements with reversed gender roles are acceptable within gendered community norms and judgments.


This chapter has argued that Janet Finch’s concept of ‘display’ can enrich sociological understandings of family forms that challenge traditional or hegemonic gendered assumptions around work and caregiving. Building on two decades of research on fatherhood, with a particular focus on research conducted in Canadian households where fathers are primary caregivers and mothers are primary breadwinners, I developed three key arguments from Finch’s seminal article on the display of families.

First, building from Finch’ argument that narratives and domestic objects are tools for displaying family, I discussed how narratives, as well as domestic objects, can be used as tools to convey heroic acts towards making families ‘work’, as well as the display of gendered domestic space, ‘happy families’ and appropriate masculinities. Second, family forms where men are primary caregivers require an on-going “process of seeking legitimacy (which) necessarily entails displaying one’s chosen family relationships to relevant others and having them accepted” (Finch, 2007, 71). Here, I pointed to how particular groups of men must work to display legitimacy, while also managing their displays of care; such groupings include low-income or unemployed fathers, gay fathers, and fathers caring for the children of others.

Finally, drawing from Finch’s point (2007, 72) about how it is important “ to think about degrees of intensity in the need for display, depending on circumstances”, I have argued in this chapter that the intensity of such displays is less related to change at the level of particular families but more related to social and ideological changes.

Nevertheless, these ideological shifts are still lagging behind actual patterns of gendered work and care in most western countries where processes of globalization, economic restructuring, and neo-liberalism have led to situations where women are primary breadwinners in families and where men, by choice or not, become caregivers of young children. I have also argued that there is a particular intensity, or urgency, to the display of care, in households where fathers are caring for infants, where women give up the care of infants, and where fathers are moving through child-centered spaced where they may not always be welcome.


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