Men, Masculinity and Maternity in Britain, from the 1950s to the Present

A photo of a man in a blue shirt holding a baby wrapped in a blanket.


From Channel 4’s One Born Every Minute and the BBC’s drama series Call the Midwife to the endless numbers of articles that both criticise and celebrate the father’s ‘new’ role, there is currently a lot of discussion about men's role around childbirth. As part of my ongoing research into fatherhood, masculinity and family life in modern Britain, this project examines a crucial part of men’s life-course as they become a father for the first time. I am researching men's decision to start a family and how men have situated the desire to have children within their gendered identities; through pregnancy, fertility issues, antenatal care, childbirth, postnatal care; and then the ways in which men have cared for a newborn and infant, up until their first birthday. The research starts in a period when presence at childbirth was seen as ‘unmanly’ through the radical rethinking of gender and masculinity in the 1960s and 1970s, and finally, considers the paradoxical celebration of involved, ‘modern’ fatherhood with the persistence of breadwinning and work as the core of masculinity. By examining the last fifty to sixty years, this research will have particular contemporary relevance; the research will shed new light on the current situation, in which men are expected to participate in pregnancy, childbirth and the care of babies, yet can feel excluded.

This project has three parts: I am researching medical literature and policies on men's involvement in the process of having a child, I'll be examining how fathers are portrayed in popular culture, and finally, I will be interviewing fathers of all ages to find out more about how men navigate their new identities as fathers.