Study examines gender roles in parenting magazines

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Study examines gender roles in parenting magazines

Rachel Schmitz

The days when men were the family’s sole breadwinners and women stayed home with the children are mostly gone. But a new University of Nebraska-Lincoln study suggests popular parenting magazines lag in reflecting changing parenting dynamics.

In the study, UNL’s Rachel Schmitz examined the messages in magazine articles about fatherhood from five of the most popular parenting magazines in the United States. Instead of dispelling the notion that fathers are too masculine to be nurturing, Schmitz found that a majority of the articles perpetuated it.

Schmitz gathered all articles on the topic over a four-year period, then narrowed her focus to qualitatively examine 50 articles. She found the concept of hegemonic masculinity – the promotion of men's dominant social position and the privileging of masculinity – was prevalent in the articles.

“It was evident that this was the model that was being perpetuated in most of these articles and was really reinforced,” Schmitz said. “Men’s masculinity was overriding their roles as parents, as fathers.”

The study found a large majority of fatherhood articles were written by men or from a traditionally masculine point of view. For example, a story in one article discussed how a man felt genetically wired to worry about college tuition and his son’s trips abroad, and whether or not his child would grow up to be “penniless Picasso.”

Of the articles examined, only five articles or 10 percent challenged the notion of the mother as the primary caregiver, the study showed.

Schmitz, a sociology graduate student, emphasized that research shows that family dynamics are changing and that a dual-earner household is now the norm in the United States. Further, an increasing number of men are staying home and acting as primary caregivers. Schmitz said the study could open the door for future research, which could include analyses on how fatherhood can differ, based on race, class or sexual orientation.

Reinforcing gender stereotypes in the media can have a negative impact on fathers and their partners, she said.

“In that way, it’s limiting what individual men and women can believe their roles to be in terms of parenting,” she said. “If men are reading these magazines seeking out advice and they’re not seeing themselves represented, or if they see themselves represented as more of a type of mockery, they may not see themselves as legitimate parents or they may questions their own ability to parent.”

The study was published in January in the Journal of Men’s Studies.