Research by sociologists at Brigham Young University and Ball State University shows that fathers who buy into hypermasculine roles don’t make the best parents.
Their work showed that men who “strongly … adhere to really traditional attitudes about masculinity” are far less likely to be nurturing fathers who spend a lot of time with their children, according to BYU sociology professor Kevin Shafer, a co-author of the study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
“That includes really negative things like misogynistic attitudes toward women, inability to emotionally connect with others or an unwillingness to do it, not asking for help from other people — those kinds of things,” Shafer said. “Men that were way higher on those kinds of measures tend toward breadwinner, disciplinarian dads.
“Those who don’t score very high on those were way more likely to be warm and affectionate toward their kids, way more likely to care-give, way more likely to punish in developmentally appropriate ways, way less likely to spank or yell at their kids.
“Those attitudes played a pretty substantial role in how dads behaved.”
Some are taking the study as an attack on men. Comments on a Reddit post about the study include:
• “Do academics of social science even know how to not attack men anymore?”
• “All you need to see is the feminist term ‘toxic masculinity’ to know the authors are ideologues, not scientists.”
• “It is merely an attempt to slander and malign men through the use of a metric they know to be flawed.”
None of this came as a surprise to Shafer, who co-wrote the paper with Ball State’s Richard J. Petts and BYU’s Lee Essig. The researchers insist they aren’t anti-men, and they aren’t attacking the concept of masculinity.
“There’s always going to be the folks online who say, ‘Oh, they’re trashing what it means to be a man and traditional masculinity’ and ‘Back in my day ...,‘” Shafer said. “The response is — those have just never been really positive attributes in terms of family life in any generation.”
And the study indicates that more fathers fall into the nurturer/caregiver category.
“The amount of time that dads are spending with their kids has been steadily increasing over time. More and more dads see themselves as equal parents to moms,” Shafer said. “And they reject this idea of — well, I make money and I come home and I discipline if necessary, and that’s sort of the extent of what I do as a parent.”
More than 2,000 fathers across the United States — about half with children ages 2-8 and about half with children 9-18 — participated in the study. The demographic breakdown was 72 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic, 10 percent African-American and 7 percent “other”; 12 percent were single fathers.
And while some hypermasculine traits are associated with distant, disengaged fathers, “It’s not to say that every masculine trait is negative. There’s certainly really positive ones,” Shafer said, pointing to qualities such as being goal-oriented and loyal.
“Those are really positive traits that have a positive effect on kids’ well-being and how men parent,” Shafer said.
He said he and his fellow researchers operated from the thesis that it’s better for children if their father spends more time with them and is more involved in their lives.
“There’s been a ton of research on that. This is — what are you doing in terms of how you behave with your kids? And how do your attitudes about who you are as a person inform that?”
Nothing in the research indicates that men work to support their families are bad dads.
“There certainly are some who are breadwinners and they’re highly involved, highly engaged dads,” Shafer said. “In no way is that something we’re looking at as problematic.”
Despite how some are misinterpreting their results.
“I’m just waiting for the emails to come in,” Shafer said with a laugh. “I fully expect the ‘I can’t believe BYU is on the I-hate-men bandwagon.’ That should be coming in any time now. That’ll be fun.”