Fatherhood and Feminism

In her influential book, In a Different Voice, psychologist Carol Gilligan, famously distinguished between an masculine ethic of justice and a feminine ethic of care. Since then and across many disciplines, the ethic of care has been strongly linked to women’s experience of motherhood. But what role do fathers play in families? Is there a paternal ethic of care? The United States Supreme Court has vacillated back and forth between considering paternity to be a matter of biology or the product of an ongoing relationship to their children in its decisions on fatherhood.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, fatherhood movements arose in the United States and around the world to draw attention to “father’s rights” and the the benefits of fatherhood for men and for children. Perhaps ironically, the global fatherhood movement arose at just the time that global economic and cultural shifts have reconfigured men’s roles in the work force and families. Popular commentaries today now focus on “The End of Men” and “The Death of Macho.” Some have prognisticate ominously about the global rise of a cohort of young men locked out of the global economy and unattached to families.

Could more robust notions of fatherhood be a benefit not only to fathers and children, but to feminism, too? “Gynocentric” or “difference” feminists focused on women’s capacities for care have tended to dismiss the fatherhood movements as a vestige of patriarchy, even as “liberal” or “humanist” feminists have called for a more just and equal division of care responsibilities in the family.

A long line of thinkers in the Western philosophical, theological, and political traditions–Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, and theologians in the Protestant and Catholic traditions have have envisioned a more extensive role for fathers, beyond the economic “breadwinner” model. This project examines the relevance of those fatherhood traditions for fatherhood and feminism today. This project has been supported by the Religion, Culture, and Family Project, the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion, and the Center for the Study of Law and Religion. It will culminate in the manuscript Fatherhood and Feminism: Justice, Care, and Gender in the Family.

Related:

Fatherhood and Feminism: Justice, Care, and Gender in the Family (manuscript in progress, see Table of Contents)

“Inequality, Masculinity, and Modernity,” (Notre Dame, IN: Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, March 7, 2011).

“Gender, Altruism, and Family,” in The Equal Regard Family and Its Friendly Critics, John Witte, Jr., M. Christian Green, and Amy Wheeler eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 69-94.

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