As female researchers in the field of men and masculinities we occupy an interesting position. We are not men, but we talk to men, we like them, we love them, we are their friends, girlfriends/wives, their daughters and their grand-daughters and we care about men's issues and focus our research around those issues. We believe that gender equality for both men and women is of benefit to society, and within our work we navigate the issue of being female academics who are focusing solely on men. We do not assume being a women in the 21st Century is unproblematic or all challenges are resolved, rather we seek to enable healthier approaches for men, and their families, which often includes women, to be more central in social life. Between us we have researched men's experiences of caring (as fathers and as grandfather), emotional experiences, of role modeling and their health and well being. Our research questions are ultimately driven by a desire to interrogate how men might best be supported, particularly with regards to their health and their care responsibilities and in doing so, foreground and what it means to be a man in the twenty-first century.
Via our work, it is becoming increasingly clear that the roles of modern fathers are more firmly on the research agenda. This is particularly positive in terms of developing our understanding of fatherhood, but also how men's involvement might have positive consequences for child well-being and relationships between couples and within families. In our research, we endeavor to encourage broader support and visibility for men; for Anna this is particularly around those who become kinship carers for children (as grandfathers, uncles and brothers) and for Esmée, young men who are fathers, and the emotional challenges of men whose journey to fatherhood is difficult. Men are engaged in all kinds of caring relationships and experience a wealth of emotions, but in a culture where care is often feminized they can be met with suspicion; viewed as a risk rather than a resource.
What is apparent is that many men face various vulnerabilities at different stages of the life course. These vulnerabilities are not solely a product of gender inequality (although social norms around being a man often constrain many men) but also of broader structural inequalities relating to socio-economic disadvantage, age, race and so on. Recent research (including Following Young Fathers, the Men, Poverty and Lifetimes of Care study and Promoting Mental Health and Wellbeing with Men and Boys: What Works?), that addresses what works or doesn't work for men in particular policy and practice contexts, indicates that when men are worked with, these vulnerabilities might begin to be addressed. There is a need however, to engage men much earlier than points of crisis and to provide inclusive support across the life course.
Assumptions that men are "hard to reach" or that "men don't talk" are unhelpful and present challenges to services that seek to engage with men and encourage their involvement. There is more to do to develop our understandings in terms of research, policy and practice, and recognition of men's roles in families and as carers might be a key signifier for broader change.
Dr Anna Tarrant, Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, @dratarrant
Dr Esmee Hanna, Centre for Men's Health, Leeds Beckett University, @DrEsmeeSuggest a correction