‘Estrogen-filled worlds’: fathers as primary caregivers and embodiment

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Abstract

Within the wide body of scholarship on gender work and caring, sub-strands of research have grown tremendously in the past decade, including largely separate studies on fatherhood and embodiment. Drawing on a qualitative research project with Canadian fathers who self-identify as primary caregivers of their children, this article focuses on recovering largely invisible links between theoretical and empirical understandings of fatherhood, caring and embodiment. The article builds on the work of key sociologists of the body as well as the work of Goffman and Merleau-Ponty. Specifically, Merleau-Ponty's concept of ‘body subjects’ and Goffman's work on the ‘moral’ quality of bodily movements through public spaces are utilized as lenses for understanding fathers' narratives of caring, particularly how men speak about their movements with children through what several fathers refer to as “estrogen-filled” worlds. As caring for others involves forming social networks and relations, embodiment can matter in the spaces between men, between male and female caregivers, and between men and the children of others. This article argues that through the changing stages of caring for children, male embodiment constantly shifts in the weight of its salience in the identities and practices of fathers and caregiving.

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