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Masculinities and families in transformation

Masculinités et familles en transformation
Sacha Genest Dufault et Christine Castelain Meunier
Traduction de Aaron Marchand
Cet article est une traduction de :
Masculinités et familles en transformation [fr]


Cadre de la recherche : La famille est un lieu important de la socialisation genrée, de la manière dont les individus se construisent en tant qu’êtres sexués au sein d’un contexte social et culturel normatif. La famille contribue à la reproduction des masculinités, mais elle peut aussi constituer un lieu d’émancipation et de subversion par rapport aux normes de genre.

Objectifs : Cet article introductif du numéro sur les masculinités et les familles de la revue Enfances Familles Générations vise à présenter un état de la recherche et des pistes de réflexion sur l’articulation entre les réalités masculines et celles des familles.

Méthodologie : L’article introductif s’appuie sur une recension des écrits ayant porté sur le développement de la recherche sur les masculinités et des pratiques auprès des hommes. Cette analyse est mise en relation avec le champ des études sur les familles, notamment quant aux transformations actuelles qui les traversent.

Résultats : Les études sur la famille et sur les hommes sont des champs de recherche politisés et étroitement liés. Malgré la reconnaissance des transformations en présence, la volonté de savoir si les masculinités au sein des familles se réinventent ou si elles participent au contraire à la reproduction d’un ordre social genré demeure un enjeu complexe à approfondir dans les recherches à venir.

Conclusions : Plusieurs thématiques reliées aux masculinités restent peu explorées dans la recherche. Les contributions de ce numéro permettront de combler en partie ces manques. Ces thématiques touchent aux nouvelles réalités des hommes dans la famille, par exemple les pères au foyer, les pères d’enfants prématurés et l’évolution des discours sociaux sur le masculin.

Contribution : Cet article fait une revue des enjeux des transformations de la masculinité et des pluralités familiales, et identifie des pistes à approfondir pour la recherche sur ces thèmes.

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Texte intégral

Masculinity and Families: Context and Definitions

1Families, men and masculinity are all in a transformational period. Families are currently the cornerstone of what some might even call a gender revolution (Goldscheider et al., 2014a). Based on recent research on the presence and engagement of men in families in several countries (United States, Canada and 25 European countries), these authors explore the profound changes occurring in the institution of marriage (Goldscheider et al., 2014a, 2014b). They have also observed a movement in two parts. The first transformation is based on the emancipation of women in the intimate and domestic sphere. This is especially visible via their integration into the workforce and more globally, the public sphere. The second transformation noted is the increased involvement of men in families including a greater involvement in domestic tasks, shared parental leave and a marked increase in fathers caring for their children (Goldscheider et al., 2014a; 2014b).

2These changes are also visible through an increased interest in masculine realities. For example, studies on masculinity and male intervention have made their appearance and have begun being consolidated over the last forty years. After having been a taboo subject for a long period, especially in Europe (Castelain Meunier, 1988), it has become a field of study in full expansion in most English-speaking countries as well as around the world. Over a decade ago, Connell and his collaborators (2005) mentioned the existence of tens of thousands of international articles written about men and masculinity including scientific journals on the topic, specific databases available online (Flood, 2016), and research collectives presenting the subject in dozens of countries. We also researched publications on the international aspects of masculinity as a part of a research project implicating ten European countries (Hearn et al., 2002) and a UNESCO study (Breines et al., 2000). Most recently, a report on Men and the Family was conducted by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2011), highlighting paternity as one of the most explored topics internationally on the subject of men and masculinity. Additionally, an inventory of writings on questions surrounding masculinity was conducted in Quebec. This inventory revealed that paternity represented 40% of the publications looking into masculinity (Genest Dufault and Dulac, 2010). The topic of masculinity and families are clearly closely connected.

3To best understand the context of this issue, it is important to begin by defining notions of gender and masculinity. The Western concept of gender studies began in the 1960s with feminist studies that questioned how society was created byand formen, and serving as normative references. This concept was introduced to study and identify the construction of social and cultural specificities of women and their impact on the emergence and maintenance of inequalities between men and women. In this sense, though genderis used to refer to physiological aspects including hormones, genes and anatomical structures, genderalso refers to social roles and behaviour as well as the norms that feed them— particularly regarding attitudes and social roles (Connell, 2002; Kilmartin, 2007).

4Definitions of masculinityare diverse and vary according to the sociohistorical contexts to which they refer (Adams and Coltrane, 2005). In general, masculinity serves to qualify the roles, behaviour and identities of men. Gender has a certain plasticity within society at any given time. It is a fluid assembly of meanings and behaviours that are constantly in flux (Addis and Cohane, 2005). The co-existence of multiple possibilities of being, acting and identifying as male refutes the idea of a single model for masculinity—hence the use of the term ‘masculinities’ as a plural (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005; Kimmel, 2004). This plurality highlights the evolution of masculinities according to culture and historical period, but also the variable nature of its character over the lives of individuals.

5Just as gender and masculinities are plural, the analytical perspectives are also equally plural. Different paradigms and interpretive frameworks coexist in the related studies and practices (Genest Dufault and Tremblay, 2010; Kilmartin, 2007). Historically speaking, three paradigms have co-existed. The first theoretical approach focuses on the processes of the gendered socialization of men (and the constraints on the roles involving them), by taking into account their effects on physical and mental health (ONeil, 2008). The second approach constitutes a significant portion of the written works, taking a critical perspective on masculinities. This approach is interested in an understanding of the power dynamics that exist between men and women and that exist between men themselves. In this regard, the concept of masculine hegemony is often used as proof that men belong to a privileged group in several domains, to the detriment of women, while still recognizing how different configurations of masculinity are prioritized between themselves (Connell, 1995; Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005). A third paradigm proposes approaching gender (Butler, 1990) and masculinities (Petersen, 2003) as a performance of oneself within highly normative contexts, highlighting the possibility, read necessity, of deconstructing or re-inventing gender itself.

6More recently, we have seen the emergence of a current of thought that recognizes the existence and effect of power relations while highlighting the necessity of situating them in their context. As a result, particular attention is paid to the living conditions of men and how it can be improved through means such as the adoption of social and public health policies that take their realities into account (e.g.: paternity leave and provision of psychosocial services) (Macdonald, 2005). Other approaches distinguish between an inclusive masculinity versus a more orthodoxversion of masculinity (Anderson, 2005, 2009). These approaches to the concept of masculinity demonstrate the change in masculinities from a perspective that includes the potential diversity of masculine models rather then a distinctive and segregated model (Anderson, 2005, 2009). This manner of approaching masculinity focuses on recognizing the subjectivity of men and the value of their experiences (Dulac, 2000; Kilmartin, 2007). It is interested in the meaning that men give to their lives and their identity, in the hopes of better understanding and extracting the logic of how they are essentially solely seen through their shortcomings (Dulac, 2001).

7Regarding the family, we are equally interested in change. Some would say that it remains uncertain (Roussel, 1992), and that we are even witnessing the end of the single model type—that of the modern family (Dagenais, 2000). This is seen through a dynamic of decomposition/rebuilding of its organization which is translated through the presence of a number of breaks between: relationships/alliances, sexuality/procreation, conjugality/parenthood and gender/roles (Castelain Meunier, 2005). Additionally, the plural character associated with masculinities is also present in the family (Godelier, 2010; Lacharité and Gagnier, 2009). There is even discussion of parenthood(Parent and al., 2008) and plural familiesthat take into account a diverse range of potential configurations (nuclear families as well as single, recomposed, adoptive, mixed, same sex and migrant parents, etc.).

8Beyond the common particularities of families and masculinities which are both multi-fold and in a state of transition, we have noted that these fields of study and actions are highly politicized. As a result, studies of masculinity remain a field of research with deep veins of ideology that run the gamut form anti-feminism to pro-feminism. The same is equally true for studies on the family, especially regarding male/female relationships and the contribution of each to domestic life. In this respect, the role of the State toward the family is also a thorny issue (Lacharité and Gagnier, 2009). There is even a form of politicization of the subject of the family as it constitutes a multifaceted reality. A polymorph that incites parties to attempt to harness, subdue and simplify by defining it as a function of convictions and personal and shared values within particular social groups(Lacharité and Gagnier, 2009: 4). The theme of men and the family is particularly complex as it is located at an intersection of several aspects including: identity, relations, institutions and politics.

The Family and Masculine Socialization

9The family serves multiple functions including biological reproduction, the protection of individuals, the social transmission of economic and cultural resources and the reproduction of social status and gender relations(Lacharité and Gagnier, 2009: 5). In advanced, modern, hypermodern and post-industrial society (Charles, 2007; Dulac, 2003; Taylor, 1992; Touraine, 2006), individuals have the opportunity, or responsibility, of inventing themselves and taking action (Ehrenberg, 1998). Increasingly, the function held by the family is as the primary instance for the personal development of individuals (Lacharité and Gagnier, 2009).

10As the family is the prime location for the socialization of boys and girls, men and women (through the manner in which they organize themselves, act in relation to each other and provide the framework for morality, behaviour and attitudes) are important vectors for gendered socialization (Adams and Coltrane, 2005; Dafflon Novelle, 2006). Other social structures and institutions in addition to the family, also contribute to the reproduction of masculinity including school and work (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005; Kimmel, 1987; Petersen, 2003). However, it is important to recognize that socialization is not a one-way process of subjugating individuals to social structures. Individual practices also transform institutions through their subversive potential (Connell, 2002). As a result, though family does influence men, they also have the power to modify it. While some sociologists note the importance of institutional interactionism (Bourdieu, 1972; Giddens, 1991, 1997), others such as Kaufmann (2004) and Seidler (2006) have found that there are also mutually reciprocal practices between individuals and institutions.

11As the family is one of the primary locations for the socialization of boys and men, it is important to properly describe the implications of the process of identity building as well as its effects. Boys are rapidly exposed to idealized versions of masculinity through a variety of stereotypes which they seek to replicate as standards for their gender (Kilmartin, 2007; Tremblay and Lheureux, 2010). Kilmartin (2007) highlights the principle characteristics of masculinity most often characterized as traditional. This involves supporting personality traits such as competitiveness, strength and aggressiveness and certain forms of actions and activities such as problem solving, being in control and making money as well as avoiding attitudes and behaviour such as emotional closeness between men, asking for help and crying. The configuration of this masculinity in the West has four basic tenets in common (Brannon, 1985):

  • Anti-femininity ("no sissy stuff"), in other words, avoiding ways of being, attitudes and interests associated with femininity (e.g.: care giving professions, vulnerability, expressing emotions);

  • Success, status and performance (the Big Wheel) constituted by sought-after masculine values (e.g.: work performance, competition in sports);

  • Independence and being stoic (The Sturdy Oak, The Male Machine) which involve being in control of situations, not showing weakness and solving difficult problems by oneself;

  • Lastly, aggressiveness and bravery (Give em Hell), attitudes that require risk taking in men including physical risk (e.g.: extreme sports) and even the use of violence.

12While these stereotypes are being questioned and that other models for masculinities co-exist alongside them (Anderson, 2005, 2009), they still largely constitute the frame of reference to which Western men tend to conform.

13In terms of the educational practices and the functioning of families, these stereotypes or gender standards share strong appreciation of independence in boys. Pollack (2001) highlighted that parents may tend to encourage attachment in girls and autonomy in boys. Additionally, these gender standards and educational practices that they imply are not without consequences for boys and men. It can lead to the development of what Pollack (2001) refers to as a straitjacket, a form of masculine code that restrains them in their relationships with the world and with themselves. On this subject, Tremblay and Lheureux (2010) highlight at least four effects of masculine socialization.

14The first consequence of masculine socialization is the presence of psychosocial adjustment difficulties especially regarding intimacy. Through their desire for autonomy, men tend to eschew various forms of affiliation and attachment (Dulac, 2003; Kilmartin 2007; Pollack, 2001) and modulate the ways in which they act in relationships. For example, the closer men are to the aforementioned traditional gender stereotypes, the more their behaviour with women falls into relations of seduction or domination. In general, this anti-feminine standard is related to homophobia and heterosexism in men. Welzer-Lang and collaborators (1994) suggest that homophobia is an internal form of intolerance and fear of others and that it may stem from pressure on men to not behave like women and therefore to not love or desire another man intimately. Heterosexism refers to a bias for a normal, or in their view, a heterosexual couple. The rejection of the feminine influence and close ties with other men, which can also implies avoiding close relationships and affection with other men, which can reinforce and engender affective isolation (Tremblay and Lheureux, 2010).

15Three types of dissociation brought about by masculine socialization was also raised by Tremblay and Lheureux, (2010). The first type of dissociation is physical and implies that men isolate themselves from their sensations and their bodies which is used as a machine or a tool. The effect of this is an overly positive view of their state of health and a lessening of their problems due to an optimism bias (Tremblay et al., 2005). The second type of dissociation is emotional. Men only rapidly integrate sadness into their lives as broader emotions are perceived as being feminine (with the exception of specific emotions such as anger and aggressiveness). The third dissociation is in the quality of relationships. Though many men have a broad network of acquaintances and friends, many are made through shared activities which is less supportive and rich from an affective perspective. This commonly implies an affective isolation; especially when faced with difficulties.

16The feeling of shame is another consequence of masculine socialization. Knowing that many men have the impression that they have to prove their masculine identity by complying with the above-mentioned stereotypes, some men feel inadequate when they do not succeed. This can lead to the emergence of a feeling of self shame regarding their value (Dulac, 2001; Keefler and Rondeau, 2002; Tremblay and Lheureux, 2010), an experience that is closely tied to the feeling of humiliation.

17The last consequence that can arise from masculine socialization stems from the feeling of shame which limits men in certain spheres of their lives, especially when asking for help. In fact, the issue for many men when asking for help, or when accepting formal or informal support, is well-documented (Brooks, 1998; Dulac, 2001; Kilmartin, 2007; Turcotte et al., 2002). As this triple dissociation distances men from their interior experiences, they resist asking for help, even in in crisis or under pressure from a third party such as a spouse or family member. Another consequence of triple dissociation is that men tend not to speak about their difficulties or distress, attempting to resolve their problems alone. When they do ask for help, men often maintain a form of mistrust and generally know very little about the resources that are available, particularly psychosocial help (Tremblay et al., 2005).

18In other words, the family plays a key role in the social construction of boys and men and consequently, it participates in the reproduction of their gender identity. Representations of men and masculinity are in a period of transformation which is not surprising as families are also experiencing change (Castelain Meunier, 2004, 2013). To clarify these changes to men and masculinities, it is important to address the process of social change at hand, especially in terms of the realities of younger men who are at the heart of this current transformation.

Masculinities, crisesand change

19Changes to the social benchmarks of masculinity particularly affect younger men and boys who are at a critical point in the development and adoption of gender standards, an important component in the construction of their identity (Seidler, 2006). For various reasons, masculine roles and values have been put into question in the last few years which has led several authors to surmise that the masculine identityis in a state of crisis(Clare, 2004; Dorais, 1988; Haddad, 1993). Regarding this situation in Quebec, this profound questioning of men emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, following the cultural revolution that Dumont (1968) called the death of the father. Additionally, the contributions of the gay movement and the appearance of new feminism also contributed to the criticism of men and masculinities (Lindsay et al., 2010). According to this analysis, certain men, confronted by women who were more present than ever in the public sphere (e.g.: the workplace), felt that masculinity was being questioned or undergoing a major redefinition. How were they supposed to be men when women worked, when technology had made physical strength less important and that reproduction only required a minimal contribution from men? What is the meaning of manhood if they were no longer being defined by their role as a provider, reproducer and protector (Dulac, 2001)? While women jumped head first into their new roles at the time, men struggled to commit themselves to the intimate and domestic spheres of life (Dulac, 2003).

20While the stereotypes of so-called traditional masculinity still remain present today, other benchmarks have appeared (Welzer-Lang, 2004). For example, roles in fatherhood (Castelain-Meunier, 2005) and intimate relationships are changing (Giddens, 1992; Seidler, 2006). Quéniart (2004) has shown that young fathers are more present and show more affection to their children than do older fathers. In the face of this change, the younger cohort is confronted with a double constraint we ask them to he strong and virile, to carve out their place in the workforce but also to take care of children and refuse to engage in any path that could lead to the displacement of women(Dulac, 2003: 29). These boys and men are facing a delicate issue as the beginning of adulthood is a critical period for the development of gender identity (Catlett, 1998). In some ways, its a paradoxical situation as they are torn between the desire to conform and feel like they belong to part of a referring social group versus the drive to emancipate themselves from standards that are being questioned socially. Though some men have difficulty living with this paradox, others are implicating themselves in the renegotiation of their masculinity by choosing to subscribe to certain behaviours and norms and not to others. For example, we have seen media coverage of the expression of emotions, where men decide to allow themselves to cry and express sadness whereas before, this was only done in private or on very limited occasions (Dulac, 2003).

21Above and beyond the identity of roles and social discourse, masculinity is also in transition and the necessity of responding to the needs of men has never been more public. The development of areas of intervention and research on men and masculinity is very telling. In general, though the attributes and characteristics of traditionalmasculinity are well known, the possible alternative identifying benchmarks for men remains under documented despite change having already begun (Anderson, 2005, 2009). How are these new masculinities characterized? One of the difficulties encountered in isolating them is that clearly defined one-dimensional identity models are not the standard in current society which focuses instead on the invention of the self (Kaufmann, 2004). Nevertheless, while contemporary benchmarks for masculinity are in transition and are clearly difficult to grasp, the generating resources of individual and collective lives that are socially available can shed new light on change among menchanges which are perceived as being less of a crisis of masculinity but rather a crisis of modernity.

22The term crisis of modernity refers to the transition from one type of social organization to the next is known by several names including: post-modern (Lyotard, 1979), advanced modern (Giddens, 1991), liquid modernity (Bauman, 2006) and hypermodernity (Charles, 2007; Lipovetsky and Charles 2004). In all these instances, this passage refers to significant individual and collective transformations, particularly the democratization of social relationships, intimacy and love (Giddens, 1992) as well as a more fluid and malleable conception of identities (Butler, 1990; Taylor, 1998). We have also noted a form of tension relating to the erosion of traditional benchmarks. This tension is based on the fear of an uncertain, globalized and complex future. In other words, almost everything can be a source of anxiety and fear (Charles, 2007). Each person is confronted with freedom, if not the necessity, of living their life as they wish, while flying the flag of ontological responsibility that it entails. As Ehrenberg (1998) suggests, this is the weight of the possible and the fatigue of being oneself.

23Taking into account this double movement of freedom and responsibility of individuals allows us to reconsider the issue of the crisisof masculinity and its identified causes, not just as a transformation of gender roles but also in regard to the sociohistorical changes that are far more vast.

24In this sense, this passing to a new form of social organization, one where the construction of the self is not only possible but is required, has a distinct effect on current masculinity. For example, does the symbolic death of the father (pater familias or paternal authority) (Dumont, 1968) signify the end of restrictive masculinity? Additionally, the discourse surrounding masculinity in crisiscan be considered an attempt at political and social recuperation of men over women, as a sort of rhetoric of complaint (Dulac, 1994). However, it can also be seen as sign that things are not going very well. It becomes an opportunity to help men survive the redefinition of their identity and roles for the improved health and wellbeing of themselves and their loved ones.

25In other words, though it is complex to define new masculinities, it is clear that a deep-seated change is occurring. Though many are interested in these questions (Gutterman, 1994; Petersen, 1998, 2003; Whitehead, 2002), too little is known about young men. Several questions remain including: how do they conceive the relationship with their gender identity; how does socialization happen when the benchmarks for being a man have changed, are multi-faceted and even contradictory; how has this influenced their manner of being and acting in the world and with their families and loves ones? It is essential to broaden the scope of these questions to better understand the future of these youths and the family while still taking into consideration the issues which contemporary masculinity is facing:

The modern conception of being masculine devalues roles in favour of remaining faithful to ones own originality, though there is a subject which masculinity may yet discover - authenticity. Nevertheless, the key factor remains the expression of oneself— the part which is the most personal and intimate. The issue of masculinity and intimacy is especially crucial as we are experiencing a rapid devaluation of the recognition of social capital and the founding attributes of traditional masculinity. (Dulac, 2003: 10, translation).

26Seidler (2006) is particularly interested in young men in a global context. In his opinion, young men are especially conscious of the gendered aspects of their identity. In his opinion, they often feel trapped between their efforts to self-define versus the traditional benchmarks of masculinity. Some are experiencing a paradox between the necessity of equal relations in a world that is increasingly unequal from several points of view; especially financially. Additionally, younger men feel that they have more right to explore their desires and identities than ever before by refusing to subscribe to simple labels which can stigmatize their experience. Others prefer to not be identified by their gender or sexual orientation, preferring to search out softer and more authentic identities (Seidler, 2006). On this subject, Seidler notes that these men often prefer to maintain their personal lives secret while still exploring the Internet as young men who are questioning their sexual orientation. For Seidler, this confirms the necessity of reflecting on the current concerns of men which can be vastly different than those of older men. As an example, Seidler cites the processes of cross-pollination and migration that have participated in the emergence of new masculine identities. He then pursues this by mentioning how current society is struggling to rethink love and intimacy as experienced by younger men who have grown up in a global world which maybe unequal economically but which requires greater equality between the sexes. This concept of a central space for intimacy to understand men and masculinity dovetails with Dulacs proposal regarding how the relational sphere nevertheless implicates fluidity though it remains to be negotiated:

The debate has now shifted to private lives, more precisely in the intimacy of human relations and whether that means friends, lovers, spouses, parents or professional relationships. Understanding the functioning of intimacy in regard to codes of hegemonic masculinity is exactly what Giddens (1992: 3) called the postmodern recalibration of intimacy redefined as negotiation. (Dulac, 2003: 29-30, translation).

27In other words, regarding the realities of men in families, we have begun to speak about the democracy of intimacy, particularly in regard to younger generations (Castelain Meunier, 2013). For example, it has become possible for a man to be a househusbandand take care of the family and the education of the children. In terms of sexuality, we also see the point to which younger men are particularly attentive to the expectations and desires of their partners, especially in heterosexual relationships, where women are now freer than ever to express demands of men or whether that means more respect in terms of expressing sensitivity, sensations or their emotions. In a manner of speaking, women push men toward change, toward becoming a sensitive male, which is not especially easy given that they often also wish that their spouses remain virile and display more traditional attributes of masculinity (Castelain Meunier, 2013; Seidler, 2006).

Acknowledging and Accompanying the Transformations of Men and Families

28The indivisible links between families and masculinities have underlined the socialization of boys and men though it also sheds light on the deep transformations that masculinity is currently undergoing. This reflection has drawn attention to a major phenomenon of tension and contradiction (even incompatibility) that exists between traditional masculinity and vulnerability. Additionally, the contradictory nature of the characteristics of traditional masculinity and asking for help (Brooks, 1998) have certainly contributed to men not asking for it, and to their difficultly in accepting it (Dulac, 2001). This has led to two issues: 1) the legitimacy of interest in men and masculinity in research and intervention and 2) the importance of offering and creating adapted social responses in social services and health.

29The first issue, the field of study of men and masculinity, seems to remain socially unproven despite over 30 years of research and interventions. Kilmartin (2007) identified different issues of legitimacy that are raised in the study of masculinity. Some suggest for example that it is not legitimate to be interested in the problems associated with men when they are in a position of power. Mentioning any difficulties with masculinity therefore seems to contradict the struggles of women or that men do not experience difficulty. For Kilmartin (2007), these issues reveal a misunderstanding and a bias against men and masculinity. He offers several paths to counter this.

30To begin, Kilmartin highlights that men have power as a social group and that the gender balance remains a worthy pursuit. Nevertheless, the distribution of power between men is variable and unequal as Connell (1995) aptly demonstrates. In fact, not all men are in positions of power and some may be in precarious situations depending on characteristics such as sexual orientation, ethnic background or socio-economic situation, etc. (Connell, 1995). In general, this refers back to the paradox of suffering versus domination proposed by Cloutier (2004). According to his opinion, it is difficult to see people as belonging to identified social groups as dominant according to the vulnerabilities which may be affecting them. In fact, masculinity implies not only benefits but also cost, especially when it comes to health (Cloutier, 2004; Courtenay, 2000; Messner, 1997; Pleck, 1995; Roy and Tremblay, 2017; Tremblay and Déry, 2010).

31While some who study men take an anti-feminist approach and lean against the advancement of women, others take a largely pro-feminist stance. Above and beyond these polarized positions, there are also several other ways of looking at men (Clatterbaugh, 1997; Dulac, 1994; Lindsay et al., 2010; Messner, 1997). We are not interested in studying men to maintain the gender imbalance but rather to improve the quality of life for men and women as well as society as a whole.

32Men are struggling with various concerns and preoccupations which are increasingly well documented. Kilmartin (2007) and several other authors have identified several issues including: how men and boys are taught from a young age to suppress their emotions which can lead to several psychological, relational and social problems; how many men have great difficulty establishing and maintaining intimate relationships; how some experience major difficulties following the breakup of relationships; that men make up the majority of incarcerated and homeless people; etc. In addition, there are also many issues where men are heavily overrepresented including: drug addiction, suicide, acts of conjugal violence, homicides, dropping out of school, certain terminal illnesses and risk-taking behaviour (e.g. driving), etc. (Cloutier, 2004; Comité de travail en matière de prévention et d’aide aux hommes, 2004; Dulac, 2001; Levant, 1996; Tremblay et al., 2005).

33Large scale studies using public health data show promise for the documentation of the male population. The recent health portrait established by Roy and Tremblay (2017), ten years after the first portrait of this type was created in Quebec (Tremblay et al., 2005), presents clear findings that require action from the state as their mandate is to respond to the needs of the population and its health and well being. Additionally, while there are several paths of research on men, two are especially identifiable (Deslauriers et al., 2010).

34Though in general, the research done with men supports the womens movement and equality as a whole, there is a strong trend developing for interest in masculine realities:

Studies on male realties tend to distance themselves from the pathogenic model that only sees masculine socializations negative aspects and whose focus leans toward calling upon men to change. Increasingly, the opposite is found for research and interventions which tend to focus on strengths, a salutogenic approach that takes up Macdonalds (2005, 2010) assertions and which take a more positive and constructive approach to men and boys. (Deslauriers et al., 2010: 399, translation).

35This does not minimize the difficulties encountered by men nor their responsibility in several problems. Taking up the assertions of Dulac (2001), it is important however to depart from the type of logic that draws a sombre portrait of masculinity, of toxic and immoral men.

36As much as the public health data and broader studies are essential, the second approach thinks that it equally important to take into account the sense that men give to their experiences. In a manner of speaking, this implies returning credibility to the discourse on men (Dulac, 2000). Several articles in this edition address this issue. This implies attempting to properly identify the contexts in which men develop given aspects such as age, sexual diversity, ethnic background, etc. In a similar vein, it is also essential to identify the evolving nature of contemporary men to understand the benchmarks of how being a man or a boy have changed over time while understanding the implications this has on their lives and on those of their loved ones (Deslauriers et al., 2010; Seidler, 2006).

37Following this first issue of legitimacy, another major challenge is providing responses that are socially adapted to men, particularly in health and social services which is not the currently the case (Dulac, 2001). In fact, stakeholders are regularly confronted with issues when working with male clients, particularly regarding a lack of specialized resources for men, an ambivalent relationship with male clients when asking for help, weak follow up on the processes to be undertaken, and addressing the shame felt by men caused by being unable to resolve their problems on their own, etc. (Dulac, 2001). Additionally, men tend to adopt a distinct type of behaviour when meeting with stakeholders, compared to the general public, which is being action-oriented and rational (Brooks, 1998; Tremblay and Lheureux, 2010).

38We have also noted a strong presence of caregiving disciplines such as social workers and psychologists in the development of clinical practices for men, which testifies to the concerns that caregivers have in this regard (Genest Dufault and Dulac, 2010). Various models of action are now available (Tremblay and Lheureux, 2010) and training is increasingly being offered to psychosocial stakeholders and service managers. Directly related to the realities of families, we have also seen several promising initiatives which are addressed to men with the specific goal of facilitating paternal engagement (Dubeau et al., 2009). An example of this is found in the actions taken by the Father friendly initiative which is offered in Quebec. The approach of this program is particularly innovative as it works to connect with fathers in their homes and aims to promote the engagement of fathers within families and communities by developing and integrating professional practices that are inclusive when it comes to fathers(Father friendly initiative, 2017). There are also the services offered by the Réseau des Maisons Oxygène1 which provides housing for at-risk fathers and their children.

39In general, the research conducted on masculine realities highlights the legitimacy of interest in men and the possibility of providing social responses that are adapted to the problems that affect them. Several articles in this edition address this issue. The idea is to improve harmonization between difficulties and men and make services available to them and establish relevant social policies. In the current context of transforming families and masculinities, transformations that people just as much as groups and institutions, it is important to support men as well from a perspective of equality between both men and women. To accomplish this, the articulation between families and masculinities is a theme that must remain central in the future. It seems obvious that supporting families is also favourable to men and in exchange, showing interest in men will only benefit families as well.

40In short, this issue was created to present the numerous perspectives on masculinity and we hope that there will be a progression toward what Welzer-Lang (2009) called the negotiation of a new gender contract, while taking into consideration the emancipation of men, women and families in relation to patriarchal standards (Héfez, 2004).

The Structure of This Issue

41Several contributions of this issue touch upon themes that are often encountered in the study of men, masculinities and the family including fatherhood and marriage. Each covers a specific topic. For example, fatherhood is presented using the results of research conducted on househusbands (article by Chatot) and the fathers of premature newborns (article by Koliouli, Zaouche Gaudron, Casper, Berdot-Talmier and Raynaud). Marriage is discussed through a sociological analysis of perception (article by Braizaz). Another recurring theme is the topic of negotiation and conciliation between individual and family realities using the experience of male bodybuilders (article by Vallet). The same is also true for the question of intergenerational transmission within the family though in this instance, it is done as a function of the recreational culture of brotherhood (article by Perronnet). The perspectives used in the analysis of these realities are seen through the lens of power relations (article de Ben Salah, Henchoz and Wernli) as well as the reported experiences of men (article by Kettani, Zaouche Gaudron, Lacharité, Dubeau and Clément).

42Ben Salah, Henchoz and Wernli attempt to understand whether men with egalitarian attitudes put these attitudes into practise through increased engagement in domestic and family work. Based on the results of a broad ranging enquiry into households conducted between 2000 and 2011, they present a multifaceted perspective on masculinities and power relations within families and couples. By taking into consideration the presence of gender ideologies (masculinity, orthodoxy, inclusiveness, etc.), they hypothesize that across all Western countries, masculinity and femininity are essentially constructed through a gendered distribution of paid work and domestic tasks. They attempt to verify to which extent the model of hegemonic masculinity is contested by other alternatives, going above and beyond a single change of values and by investigating how this is transposed onto domestic practices. Though they conclude that the dominant model remains the male as the principle provider of household revenue, they identify several declinations (professional male, orthodox male, traditional manager and the inclusive male) that are influenced as much by institutional considerations as by pragmatic considerations.

43Braizaz prefers to take an interactionist perspective, peering into the power relationships between men and women in a very intimate, though decisive, context. She looks at conjugal relations in families using the relationships that spouses have with their appearance, particularly the appearance of mens bodies. She hypothesizes that appearance is a dramatizationof the gendered component of identity and that as a result, there is a means of reinvention (resistance/transformation) in the way of being gendered.Based on 60 interviews conducted with men and women, she concludes that men and women are not equal in their aesthetic practices, particularly when the couple has a space marked by gendered power relations that fluctuates with their social class. Highlighting what she refers to as feminine sovereignty, the author raises various resistance strategies and the search for balance used by men.

44Vallet is interested in a highly original subject (one that has barely been studied). It concerns the issues surrounding the negotiation and conciliation of individual goals and projects with those of the family. He looks into the relationships between physical work, identity affirmation and virility. He presents the results of research he conducted through direct observation and studious interviews with 30 bodybuilders. He is interested in how the family functions as a site of personal development in this age of the cult of oneself and working the body as a means of expression for gendered identities. The author specifically addresses the way in which these men interact with their family and their engagement according to their level of involvement in the sport. The author identifies four model types (self-centred, indifferent, negotiators and controlled). He concludes that the more intense the practitioners are engaged in the practise of bodybuilding, the more they prioritize these activities over the family.

45The issue of leisure transmission practices is addressed by Perronnet. The author has conducted qualitative research that includes direct observations and interviews with thirty children aged 10-11 in a popular neighbourhood with the goal of finding out how young boys build their gender identity through the practise of leisure activities. To accomplish this, he focuses on masculine sociability by looking into interactions with male models transmitted by their fathers as well as through fraternal relations with their friends. For the author, the question of preferences and practices constitutes an expression of the self and can be found in a social environment: If you play soccer, you like video games or if you listen to rap music... then you are a boy in a popular environment. Aside from this affirmation that is part of the hypothesis, the results allow for an assertion of how sociability of boys essentially works in a very masculine manner which is directly opposed to the feminine. The author also concludes that the ways of being a boy can vary and are hierarchical with strategies of social distinction that are present in what is referred to as a gendered order. As a whole, this questions the apparent homogeneity of masculine social groups within the same community.

46The last three articles are part of the theme of paternity, making use of newly emerging contexts and the experience of what makes a man.

47To begin, Chatot leads us to a place where the masculine and feminine roles are questioned and potentially transgressed. She questions how househusbands represent an inversion of traditional gender roles (provider of care and provider of resources), creating a new reality in the lives of families and men. The author's goals are a better understanding of the rebuilding of gender roles within couples where the father holds the principle domestic space without paid employment over a period of time. Based on a study of 25 fathers in a relationship and with children allowed for an analysis of how these men oscillate between a form exacerbated affirmation and their masculinity and the transgression of a role perceived as being feminine. Despite the risk of stigmatization and the desire to maintain their commitment as being responsible for care, these fathers negotiate their roles as househusbands by investing in several practices that are considered more masculine including games and outdoor activities.

48Koliouli, Zaouche Gaudron, Casper, Berdot-Talmier and Raynaud tackle another perspective on fatherhood where more traditional gender roles between fathers and mothers are put into question. They conducted a study that aimed to develop a comprehensive model of paternal experience with premature newborns. By studying the relationship with newborns, the experience of becoming a father and the level of prematurity, they aimed to rectify the lack of knowledge about the experiences of men in a potentially traumatic context that also might affect their relationship with their child. To accomplish this, they listened to fathers of 48 premature babies as they recounted their own experiences. The results revealed the establishment of a connection to their child as a part of a traumatic context and the importance of the relationship with the mother. The authors suggest several interesting paths for practical interventions, prevention in particular, and point out areas where specific attention should be paid to facilitate the affective implication of men in caring for their babies given that these men consider the caregiving team to be one of the most important sources of social support for the family.

49The last article focuses on the experience of fatherhood as reported by men. Kettani, Zaouche Gaudron, Lacharité, Dubeau and Clément attempt to draw up a portrait of the experience of fatherhood to partially explain the links between socioeconomic precariousness and the internalized behaviour of children. To accomplish this, they conducted a quantitative study with a sample of 187 fathers of children 2-6 years of age who were asked to fill out a questionnaire measuring the internalized behaviour of the children (e.g.: depression, anxiety, withdrawal), the paternal experience and their socio-economic situation. The results highlighted the increased presence of internalized problems in children living in precarious situations as well as the engagement of the fathers in question (who experience a higher level of stress and a feeling of lessened paternal competence than fathers in more well-off families). This analysis was based on the fact that the active role of fathers in the affective and social development of the child is well-documented, especially in situations of socio-economic precariousness. The research led the authors to highlight the necessity of considering the subjective role of precariousness and ways that this is experienced by fathers. For example, they suggest implementing preventative interventions in the home.

50Despite the diversity of topics addressed in this issue, certain subjects of interest and research contexts remain absent which might constitute interesting paths of research for future publications including research into mixed, migrant and same sex relationships. Additionally, this issue essentially takes stock of the Northwestern experience and it would be interesting for future publications to include reflections on and results of studies conducted on families and men in countries of the southern hemisphere, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

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Sacha Genest Dufault et Christine Castelain Meunier, « Masculinities and families in transformation  »Enfances Familles Générations [En ligne], 26 | 2017, mis en ligne le 14 mars 2017, consulté le 02 juin 2023. URL :

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Sacha Genest Dufault

professeur régulier, Département de psychosociologie et travail social, Université du Québec à Rimouski (Canada),

Christine Castelain Meunier

sociologue au CNRS, École des hautes études en sciences sociales à Paris (France),

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