Diversity and difference in communication
Diversity and difference in communication

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Diversity and difference in communication

4.14 Changing fatherhood identities

Click to read: Men Talking About Fatherhood: Discourse and Identities [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Activity 21

Timing: 0 hours 45 minutes

Read Martin Robb's chapter on ‘Men talking about fatherhood: discourse and identities’. As you read, think about and make notes on the following questions.

  • How do the ways in which the men interviewed talk about their experience as fathers reflect changing discourses of fatherhood?

  • What dilemmas and tensions do the men mention?

  • How do men ‘position’ themselves as fathers?


The men's depiction of fatherhood as being primarily about emotional and practical involvement reflects changing discourses about fathers’ roles. The men who were interviewed expressed tensions between responsibility and freedom, and between a sense of fatherhood as struggle and fatherhood as pleasure and enjoyment. They position themselves mainly in relation to other men, especially their own fathers.

This reading gave one illustration of the dynamic and changing nature of gender identities. As you reach the end of this section, you may still be debating whether gender differences are innate within people, or the result of conditioning within the family and society, or simply ‘constructions’ that reflect inequalities of power and status between men and women. You are not expected to reach a fixed conclusion at this point, but you may want to review your thinking at the end of this free course, once you have finished working on the third and final ‘dimension’ of difference: disability.

Key points

  1. Feminists have argued that ideas about fixed gender difference serve to reinforce unequal power relationships between men and women.

  2. Ideas about gender differences, including supposed differences in communication style, have enjoyed influence at an academic level and popularity at an everyday level.

  3. Essentialist notions of gender differences have been associated with the view that women are ‘natural’ carers and are better at interpersonal communication and relationships than men.

  4. Some feminists have used psychodynamic ideas to argue that, while gender differences exist, they are not inevitable and might disappear if family and social structures were changed.

  5. Social constructionists claim that gender differences are produced by specific social and cultural contexts and that these can change.


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