Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands / Edition 1

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In the wake of dramatic, recent changes in American family life, evangelical and mainline Protestant churches took markedly different positions on family change. This work explains why these two traditions responded so differently to family change and then goes on to explore how the stances of evangelical and mainline Protestant churches toward marriage and parenting influenced the husbands and fathers that fill their pews.

According to W. Bradford Wilcox, the divergent family ideologies of evangelical and mainline churches do not translate into large differences in family behavior between evangelical and mainline Protestant men who are married with children. Mainline Protestant men, he contends, are "new men" who take a more egalitarian approach to the division of household labor than their conservative peers and a more involved approach to parenting than men with no religious affiliation. Evangelical Protestant men, meanwhile, are "soft patriarchs"—not as authoritarian as some would expect, and given to being more emotional and dedicated to their wives and children than both their mainline and secular counterparts. Thus, Wilcox argues that religion domesticates men in ways that make them more responsive to the aspirations and needs of their immediate families.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226897097
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2004
  • Series: Morality and Society Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 337
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

W. Bradford Wilcox is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.

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Read an Excerpt

How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands
The University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2004 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-89709-7

Chapter One

The primary cause of this national crisis [the decline of the family] is the feminization of the American male.... The first thing you do is sit down with your wife and say something like this: "Honey, I've made a terrible mistake. I've given you my role. I gave up leading this family, and I forced you to take my place. Now I must reclaim that role." Don't misunderstand what I am saying here. I'm not suggesting that you ask for your role back; I'm urging you to take it back. If you simply ask for it, your wife is likely to say, "Look, for the last 10 years, I've had to raise these kids, look after the house, and pay the bills.... I've had to do my job and yours. You think I'm just going to turn everything back over to you?" Your wife's concerns may be justified. Unfortunately, however, there can be no compromise here.... Treat the lady gently and lovingly. But lead! ... To you ladies who may be reading this: "Give it back! For the sake of your family and the survival of our culture, let your man be a man if he's willing."

-Tony Evans, Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper

IN 1994, Tony Evans, a black evangelical pastor from Dallas, Texas, delivered variations of the message quoted in the epigraph above to more than 200,000 men across the United States who attended stadium events sponsored by Promise Keepers (PK) that year. Evans struck themes that were characteristic of this social movement, mixing a gendered diagnosis of the sources of family change in the United States with blunt calls for the reassertion of male authority and responsibility in the family. Since the 1970s, conservative Protestant churches and family-oriented organizations like Focus on the Family have devoted countless radio shows, sermons, videos, and books to the task of shoring up the American family. Promise Keepers, which enjoyed a burst of popularity from 1994 to 1997, when more than a million American men attended its events, is only the most visible expression of these recent conservative Protestant efforts to respond to dramatic changes in American family life, a recurrent theme of which is the need for men to focus on their responsibilities as husbands and fathers.

These efforts have occasioned sustained media attention, along with considerable criticism from feminist and academic circles. Observers and critics alike have raised important questions about the sources and consequences of the distinctive family-related culture produced by conservative Protestant institutions in recent years and, more broadly, about the relationship between religion and the family in the United States. How do we account for the popularity of a traditional message about gender and family in a subculture that is embraced by approximately 30 percent of the U.S. population even as the surrounding society has moved in the last thirty years to embrace an egalitarian outlook (see table 1.1)?

Is the conservative Protestant message about family life and gender connected to the everyday practice of family life for conservative Protestant men, or is it simply a mechanism for building a collective identity by asserting strong symbolic boundaries with the secular world? Is conservative Protestantism a reactionary force in American families, or does this subculture's stress on male responsibility translate into a progressive style of male familial involvement? Given the long-standing association between religion and family in the United States, is the conservative Protestant concern with family life unique to this subculture or is it also characteristic of other religious traditions in the United States, and do other religious traditions influence the family practices of men in much the same way that conservative Protestantism does? And, finally, is conservative Protestantism in the United States successfully resisting the pull of family modernization-marked by declines in the family's social functions, stability, and moral authority-which has exerted so much influence over contemporary family trends in the West?

In this book, I set out to answer these questions first by examining the family and gender ideologies produced by conservative and mainline Protestant churches in the second half of the twentieth century. I then explore how the family-related ideologies produced by these churches are connected to the attitudes of the married men with children who are affiliated with these religious bodies, and how these attitudes compare to those of married men with children who have no religious affiliation. Finally, I analyze the effects that religious affiliation, belief, and practice, along with the family-related ideologies produced and legitimated by these religious traditions, have on three domains of male familial involvement-parenting, household labor, and marriage-for these mainline, conservative, and religiously unaffiliated married men with children.

I include mainline Protestant men and churches in this study for three reasons. First, mainline Protestantism is, in many ways, the most conventional form of religiosity in the United States. By including mainline men, I am able to distinguish the distinctive effects of conservative Protestant belief and practice on men's familial involvement from the generic effects of religious participation on such involvement. Until the second half of the twentieth century, mainline Protestantism was the largest and most influential religious group in the United States. Second, in contrast to conservative Protestant churches, mainline churches have adopted a largely accommodationist stance toward the dramatic cultural and demographic changes in American family life since the 1960s. By focusing on mainline Protestant churches' response to contemporary family change, I am able to view the conservative Protestant response through a comparative lens. Third, mainline Protestantism has long played a central role in American family life, and mainline Protestants make up approximately 25 percent of the population of married men with children.

Men with no religious affiliation make up 13 percent of the population of married men with children. I included them in my empirical analyses of attitudes and family behaviors in order to determine the ways in which the mainline and conservative Protestant men I studied do and do not differ from their secular peers.

The questions addressed by this book take on particular importance in light of the fact that married men with children seem to be the primary obstacles to the complete triumph of the gender revolution that gathered steam in the second half of the twentieth century. This revolution, which is marked by the declining significance of gender in the organization of public and private life and by greater equality between the sexes, has already had a dramatic impact on the socioeconomic status of women and on popular support for gender equality.

In the world of paid work, the labor-force participation rates of working-age women more than doubled in the latter half of the twentieth century, from 37 percent in 1950 to 75 percent in 1994. Even women with families have been deeply involved in this revolution. From 1970 to 1990, the percentage of married women with children working outside the home rose from 51 to 73 percent. Equally dramatic shifts have occurred in the cultural arena. The public has become much more supportive of working mothers. In 1977, 78 percent of Americans thought that preschoolers suffer if their mothers work; less than twenty years later, in 1993, only 45 percent of Americans thought so. Popular opinion has tracked even more strongly in the direction of egalitarianism with respect to the division of family labor. In 1977, 76 percent of Americans believed that it was better for the man to work outside the home and for the woman to focus on the care of the home and family. By 1993, only 37 percent of Americans took that view. The gender revolution, then, made marked strides in the twentieth century.

But this revolution has not completely triumphed, in large part because men in families have not taken up an equal share of the parental, domestic, and emotional work associated with family life. Sixty-eight percent of households with children have married parents, but women in these homes bear a disproportionate share of family responsibilities. Scholars such as Paula England and Arlie Hochschild point out that most gender inequality now found in the labor market and other public venues can be tied to the responsibilities women take on in the private world of the family. The work that women do in the home limits their ability to devote the same level of attention and effort as men to the world of paid work and public life. These scholars also argue that investment in the "second shift" of child care and housework can take a severe toll on women's mental health and on the quality and stability of their marriages. Hochschild thinks men's reluctance to embrace gender equality in the family puts the success of the gender revolution in doubt; she goes so far as to describe the situation as a "stalled revolution."

A close look at the state of gender change in the United States suggests that Hochschild's characterization is overstated. It is fairer to say that men have slowed, but not stalled, the gender revolution. This study focuses on the contributions that men make to three important domains of family life: parenting, household labor, and "emotion work" in marriage. In these domains married men have not yet reached parity with their wives, but they are taking up a significantly larger share of family responsibilities than men did in previous generations. A number of studies by Suzanne Bianchi and her colleagues support this conclusion. One time-diary study of married parents with children under eighteen found that married fathers spent an average of 3.8 hours a day with their children in 1998, up 36 percent from 2.8 hours in 1965. This means that family men are now spending 65 percent as much time as mothers spend with their children, up from 51 percent in 1965. Another time-diary study indicates that married men have increased their weekly hours of household labor more than 100 percent, from 4.7 hours in 1965 to 10.4 hours in 1995. This means they are now doing about half as much household labor as their wives, a dramatic increase from 1965, when they did about one-seventh as much as their wives.

We know less about the emotion work that men do in their marriages. Here I am referring to the effort men devote to expressing positive emotion to their wives, attending to the dynamics of the relationship and the needs of their wives, setting aside time for couple activities, and refraining from engaging in destructive forms of marital conflict, such as domestic violence. There is no longitudinal research on this subject, but a 1991 study of more than three hundred couples in Connecticut found that younger husbands (under thirty-six years old) were significantly more willing to address serious issues about their marriages than were older husbands. Specifically, 38 percent of wives of younger husbands indicated that it was very easy to raise marital issues, compared with only 25 percent of wives of older husbands. This finding could reflect a life-course effect in which husbands do less positive emotion work as they age, but I suspect that it instead indicates a cohort effect such that younger husbands are more progressive-minded and willing to devote greater attention to the dynamics of their relationships.

Even though men in families have moved to take up a larger share of the practical and emotional work associated with family life, they still have not come close to shouldering an equal share. Our society has taken an egalitarian trajectory in the public worlds of law, education, work, politics, and the cultural understanding of gender, but the private institution of the family has not changed as quickly as our public institutions, largely because men have failed to take on an equal portion of the responsibility for family life. Men's behavior in this regard has two important consequences: first, it contributes to gender inequality in public and private life as women's domestic responsibilities limit their public opportunities; and second, it places tremendous practical and psychological pressure on women, especially mothers who work outside the home. Thus, as Frances Goldscheider and Linda Waite have observed, the way to an egalitarian "new family" order "will lead through men."

Given the long-standing association between religion and traditional family practices, and especially the largely patriarchal vision of gender and family life advanced by conservative Protestant institutions, I explore the possibility that religion, particularly conservative Protestantism, is a central source of the gender inequality that persists in American homes. This possibility is especially important given that about a quarter of American fathers are conservative Protestants and about a quarter of them are mainline Protestants (see table 1.1).

The questions addressed by this book are also important because the contributions that men make to the family are vital to the well-being of women and children. This is especially true in the domains of parenting and marital emotion work. Paternal involvement is positively associated with the economic achievement, educational attainment, and emotional health of children. Indeed, some studies have found that the contributions fathers make to their children's well-being are almost as important as those made by their mothers.

Likewise, the amount of effort men devote to being affectionate and understanding and to spending time alone with their wives is deeply important for the quality and stability of their marriages. Women report significantly higher levels of marital quality when men invest themselves in the emotional life of the marriage. Indeed, men's emotion work in marriage is the most important predictor of women's evaluation of marital quality, easily surpassing other factors, such as marital commitment, participation in household labor, perceptions of equality, and the presence of children. Women formally initiate most of the divorces in this country, so it is not surprising that men's positive emotion work dramatically reduces the risk of divorce.

The amount of time men devote to household labor and the percentage of the household labor they perform do not play a central role in women's evaluation of marital quality or stability. Surprisingly, one study even suggests that couples are more likely to divorce when men do a greater share of household labor. What matters for women is not so much the precise division of labor as their perception that it is fair to them, and most women perceive the division of household labor as fair even when they are responsible for the lion's share of housework. Married women who do feel that the division of household labor is unfair to them-about 30 percent of all married women-are much less happy in their marriages. And it turns out that men's emotion work in marriage plays an important role in determining whether women view the division of labor as fair. Thus, the influence of conservative Protestantism, and of religion more generally, on the practical and especially the emotional work that men do in their families has a profound effect on the welfare of women and children.


Excerpted from SOFT PATRIARCHS, NEW MEN by W. BRADFORD WILCOX Copyright © 2004 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Religion : a force for reaction in the gender revolution? 1
Ch. 2 Mainline and conservative Protestant production of family and gender culture, 1950-1995 21
Ch. 3 Family and gender attitudes among mainline and conservative Protestants 74
Ch. 4 Soft patriarchs, new fathers : religion, ideology, and fatherhood 97
Ch. 5 Domestic rites and enchanted relations : religion, ideology, and household labor 132
Ch. 6 Tending her heart : religion, ideology and emotion work in marriage 157
Ch. 7 Conclusion : family modernization, the domestication of men, and the futures of fatherhood 190
App. : data, methods, and tables 213
Notes 261
List of works cited 299
Index 323
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