The Emotional Toll of Postfeminist Fatherhood
Postfeminism shapes the political economy of the workforce and household, constituting a re-entrenchment of traditional heterosexual gender regimes and the pressure to transgress them. Focusing on the understudied area of postfeminist masculinity, we analyze the emotional toll some fathers experience as a result of the fraught expectations to be the breadwinner, nurturing parent, and enlightened feminist spouse who completes equal domestic duties. Using empirical data of parents’ participation in a family-based health intervention, we argue that the paradoxical expectation to enact traditional gender relations and to adopt gender egalitarianism is exhausting, upsetting, and confusing for fathers. By focusing on the affective dimensions of postfeminism, we demonstrate how working to achieve the impossible expectation of doing “it all,” a bind that women have been caught in for centuries, takes an emotional toll on fathers and couples, leading to discontent at work and home, and in regard to their self-concept, parental role, and spousal relationship. We close by offering counter examples of fathers and couples who have disengaged from postfeminist parenting relations and have reached a state of contentment. Contrary to the alignment of postfeminism with positive affect, the experience of resisting postfeminist resulted in feelings of joy, pride, and satisfaction.