Sperm, Testosterone, Masculinities and Fatherhood
20 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2015
Date Written: 2013
Two intriguing stories hit the news within days of each other in the fall of 2011: one about sperm, one about testosterone. Both separate men from fatherhood, and suggest manhood and fatherhood are at odds. One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring told of a sperm donor who provided information to a website that collects information about children conceived by sperm or egg donation. This donor had assisted in conceiving 150 children (and there was no indication that this was the final count of children from this donor). The story generated a debate over the question of whether the United States should regulate sperm donation (including the number of children that could be conceived with the same sperm donor) more rigorously, similar to practices in other countries. Opinions were solicited from the private sperm donor industry, from legal and medical academics, from a child born from sperm donation, and from other interested parties. Missing from this debate was anyone identified as a sperm donor or an infertile man, or anyone associated with fatherhood research or advocacy organizations.
The second story, in the New York Times, just a few days later also boasted an eye-catching headline: In Study, Fatherhood Leads to Drop in Testosterone. The story detailed a study that measured men’s testosterone levels when men became fathers and when they engaged significantly in the daily care of their children. Men’s level of testosterone drops significantly when they nurture their children, according to the study. “If the sound of becoming Mr. Mom is emasculating, that’s because it, in fact, is,” declared the opening line of a blog devoted to men’s issues that also reported the study. The position of most stories about the study cast it as evidencing a conflict between manhood and fatherhood, although the study also supports the conclusion that men’s hormones function as a biological support system for caregiving.
Both of these stories raise interesting questions about the relationship between fatherhood and masculinities. In this Essay, I analyze these two stories from the perspective of masculinities analysis as well as consider how they relate to the project of achieving more engaged, egalitarian fatherhood. My goal is to suggest the kind of analysis that we must persistently engage in to expose the functioning of masculinities as well as to point to ways in which law and policy can support egalitarian norms and social justice. I argue that we must engage in cultural change in the form of a public health approach to reimagining and re-envisioning fatherhood, in addition to providing better structural support.
Keywords: masculinities, fatherhood
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