[Excerpt below is from Chapter 4 of War and Gender]

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War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System
      and Vice Versa

Joshua S. Goldstein
(Cambridge University Press, September 2001)

Photo, father and son
Father and son at outdoor worship service, Wrigley Field, Chicago.

The role of fathers

According to theories of “male gender-identity conflict,” distant fathers make for aggressive sons. “In male-dominated cultures where fathers are distant and aloof from their children, frustration develops when young boys, who grow up with especially strong bonds to their mothers, must sever these bonds to meet the societal expectations of adult male behavior.” Mothers’ ambivalence towards their sons in patrilocal, polygynous societies also contributes to boys’ fears of intimacy. Boys with gender-identity confusion act out aggressively as a compensatory mechanism, according to this theory.156

Object-relations theorists (see p. 46) consider maternal child care to be a cultural arrangement that could be altered. Margaret Mead argues that if breast feeding were superseded and fathers took equal responsibility for children, the “male drive towards assertion of maleness by differentiation from females” could diminish. “Cultures like the Arapesh show how easily, where parents do not discriminate strongly between the sexes of their children and men take over a nurturing role, this drive in the male may be muted.” McBride points out that in North America “the image of grown males caring for infants is so incongruous as to be uproariously funny,” as, for example, in the 1987 movie, Three Men and a Baby. This may be changing in recent years, however, as US culture modestly promotes men’s greater involvement as parents. For example, in 2000 when State Department spokesperson Jamie Rubin quit to stay home for a year with a new baby while spouse Christiane Amanpour worked, he was not treated as crazy. Amanpour called him “incredibly masculine and brave” for doing so, and Secretary of State Albright noted approvingly that Rubin had “figured out a way to rock the baby with one hand and hold the phone with the other.”157

No biological mandate pushes fathers away from caring for children. Infants form attachments with one or more adults by 6-12 months (see Figure Figure 4.7). Attachment responses to fathers and mothers differ little, compared with responses to a stranger. Among primates, the three species “notorious for paternal aloofness” are gorillas, patas monkeys, and Hanuman langurs. Yet even in these species, “when the occasion arises, these same males play a crucial role in infant survival, even taking on the role of primary caretaker.”158

Figure 4.7 Father and son at outdoor worship service, Wrigley Field, Chicago, 1973. [US National Archives, NWDNS-412-DA-13694.]

As infants and toddlers, “[b]oys do not appear to be more interested in their fathers than girls are, nor are girls more likely than boys to seek closeness to their mothers rather than their fathers.” Both genders, rather, tend to look to their mothers for comfort and to their fathers for “fun and games.” Typical fathers’ games with babies move the babies’ limbs in arousing ways; one study found this arousal in 70 percent of father-infant games and only 4 percent of mother-infant ones. Fathers do more bouncing and lifting. As babies become toddlers, fathers use rough-and-tumble play more, whereas mothers offer more toys to initiate interaction. “Both boys and girls…enjoy this kind of play with their fathers very much,” and neither gender usually finds the father’s size and strength threatening. Various other differences in mothers’ and fathers’ relationships with their children reflect the fact that mothers spend more time with the children. When fathers are present, they participate in teaching and disciplining children. In various cultures such as the !Kung, fathers’ presence is strong.159

How involved are fathers? Despite talk of a “new fatherhood,” in the United States recently, “male participation in the lives of their children” has probably decreased in recent years, and possibly during the last half-century as well. Women assume most day-to-day childcare responsibility in “all known societies.” Whiting and Whiting’s 1975 survey of six cultures found that “[f]athers are present considerably less often than mothers.” One review of various studies of intact, two-parent families found the ratio of mothers’ to fathers’ contribution to be 10:1 in responsibility for a child’s daily activities, 2:1 in availability, and 3:1 in parent-child interactions.160

Even among US couples where both work and they had planned to share child care equally, “the reality usually turns out to be different.” Differential earning power - a result of sexism and the average husband’s greater age and work experience - becomes a vicious circle after women interrupt work (however briefly) for childbirth. Mothers reduce work to take care of children, and fathers often increase work hours to fill this gap and make ends meet. Divorce sharpens this differentiation. In those few cases where fathers take a primary role in child care, they risk “scornful or contemptuous reactions from other men…and…are not readily accepted into informal groups of mothers” such as at playgrounds.161

Some changes are occurring, however. The number of US single fathers with children rose by one-quarter in 1995-98, to over 2 million, while single mothers remained constant at nearly 10 million. Patterns also differ by age. In England in the mid-1950s, in a major longitudinal study, about six times more children lived with only their mother than only their father at age 7, but only about four times more by age 11.162

Effects of fathers’ involvement Children who get more par-ental attention do better on school achievement tests, and fathers can substantially impact this dimension. The longitudinal National Child Development Study, which tracked all children born in England during one week in 1958, leaves “little doubt…that an actively involved father benefits his children.” The child’s best situation is “to be one of few siblings or an older child in a family without financial problems in which the father takes an active interest in his children’s development.” One study found fathers’ involvement in child care to be the most important factor correlated with children’s development of empathy decades later. Another study found early paternal attachment correlated with individual feelings of patriotism (love of one’s country) but not nationalism (desire for that country’s superiority).163

Recent research on fathers has struggled with methodological problems, and is too young to have developed sophisticated replications and longitudinal studies necessary to reach firmer empirical results. Causality becomes tangled easily. Furthermore, the key in two-parent families may be the parents’ relationship - collaborative or conflictual - and the presence of some absent fathers (e.g., wife beaters) would not benefit children.164

Although fathers’ involvement in child care helps children, it also reinforces gender norms. Fathers in contemporary US culture enforce gender identities on young children more than mothers do, and on boys more than on girls. In one study where toddlers started playing in a room with gender-typed toys and then their parents joined them, mothers intervened to discourage cross-gender play for boys and girls equally, whereas fathers disapproved five times more often of boys’ cross-gender play than that of girls. Fathers in a 1983 study interacted differently with their 12-month-old boys and their girls. In their fathers’ presence, girls played with dolls about twice as often as boys, while boys touched tempting objects twice as often as girls (these were the two most significant gender differences). In their child’s presence, fathers gave dolls two or three times as often to girls as boys, and gave prohibitions two to three times as often to boys as girls (again the two most significant items).165

Not only do fathers enforce gender norms more than mothers, they do so more strongly on boys than girls. For “most men…an effeminate son is far more worrying than a tomboy daughter. The father places heavy emphasis on the avoidance of feminine behaviors, rather than on the active encouragement of masculine ones.” Fathers’ own “masculinity” influences boys’ development in ways that are unclear at best. Overall, the most important variable seems to be fathers’ active involvement rather than any particular high rating on some scale of “masculinity.” Some empirical studies show that boys with absent fathers develop fewer aggressive behaviors, or more accurately develop them later - part of a pattern of weaker “masculinity” in these boys (contrary to gender-identity conflict theory). Fathers who seek achievement primarily in the world of work and who leave the home to their wives may find their sons do not share their masculine preferences.”166

In offering gender-appropriate toys and themes, fathers are more active towards sons than mothers towards either gender. (Of course, fathers spend much less time with children than mothers do.) For example, when one toddler boy fell and hurt himself, his mother said, “Come here, honey. I’ll kiss it better,” while his father said “Oh, toughen up. Quit your bellyaching.” In a study of mothers’ and fathers’ reactions to their preschool children’s play, fathers were five times more likely to show a negative reaction to a son playing with feminine materials than to a daughter playing with masculine ones, whereas mothers reacted equally to both sons and daughters. A comparison of 39 studies found a “clear” trend showing that fathers differentiate between sons and daughters more than mothers do, often by being “stricter with boys.” Fathers “maintain a stance of male dominance toward their sons, as an older boy might do,” thereby inducting them into the male status hierarchy, despite fathers’ sometimes contradictory role as nurturing parent. Fathers’ greater role in socializing daughters for gender, if any, is less clear.167

There is “extensive evidence that fathers use more imperatives and other forms of power-assertion in talking to children.” Mothers by comparison soften demands by using polite language, endearments, and questions. Fathers also use “disparaging remarks and name-calling” more often than mothers, and direct such language more to sons than daughters. Children address “their fathers more deferentially, using questions and polite forms,” see them as having more authority, and comply more quickly with their demands than those of mothers. These aspects all add up to a power and status differential between fathers and mothers with respect to their children. However, Maccoby cautions that “average differences between mothers and fathers are not large,” and both parents may arrive at similar outcomes (intimacy, influence) by different routes. Although parents may differ in skills and styles, they both primarily react to their children as individuals rather than to the child’s gender or the gender match of parent and child.168

156 Ross 1993a, 64, aloof 63, 56; Ross 1990; Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, and Levinson 1950; Ember 1980; Whiting and Whiting 1975, 45, 147.

157 Mead 1949, muted 149; McBride 1995, funny 205; Rubin: Goldberg 2000.

158 Archer and Lloyd 1985, little 219; Hrdy 1981, notorious-caretaker 75; Alcorta 1982.

159 Maccoby 1998, seek-fun 16, arousal 266, enjoy 267, participate 273-76; Parke 1981; !Kung: Shostak 1981, 45-46, 238-39.

160 Maccoby 1998, new-societies 256-58, review 259-65; Whiting and Whiting 1975, 45.

161 Maccoby 1998, 256-63.

162 Number: Associated Press 1998b; England: Archer and Lloyd 1985, 214.

163 Pollack 1998, 113-44; Gerzon 1982, 157-58; Kindlon and Thompson 1999, 94-100; England: Archer and Lloyd 1985, doubt-best 217; empathy: Koestner, Franz, and Weinberger 1990; patriotism: Feshbach 1987.

164 Cohen 1998; Archer and Lloyd 1985, 213-14; Bianchi ed. 1998.

165 Campbell 1993, enforce-toddlers 20-21; Snow, Jacklin, and Maccoby 1983, dolls 229; Archer and Lloyd 1985, 213-22.

166 Campbell 1993, strongly 20-21, avoidance 30; Archer and Lloyd 1985, own-preferences 221-22; Green 1987, empirical 56-58, 33; Gerzon 1982, 197-215.

167 Maccoby 1998, 142-43.

168 Maccoby 1998, 270-78, extensive 270, disparaging 271, large 273.

To book website:
War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System
      and Vice Versa

Joshua S. Goldstein
(Cambridge University Press, September 2001)