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How (and why) do men use Mumsnet? Please help with my university research into male use of parenting forums

(497 Posts)
MEDIA: SarahPedersen Mon 10-Jun-13 10:29:35

Hello. I am a Mumsnetter (been here since 2002) and a Professor of Communication and Media at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.

My research focuses mainly on gendered use of social media - and at the moment I'm particularly interested in the way men use Mumsnet (and other parenting forums).
My reading so far has thrown up some interesting ideas - and I'd love to know what you think of them, as would MNHQ (I've been in touch with them about this).
So, I'd really appreciate it if you could spare some time to comment on the following questions.
Everyone is welcome to comment but, obviously, replies from male Mumsnetters would be particularly appreciated. Please do say, when you post, whether you are male or female.

1. Previous researchers have found that fathers have a strong desire for information relating to parenting and childcare but the vast majority of parenting information and programmes is targeted at mothers. In your experience, is this still true?

2. Men report finding themselves dismissed as the secondary parent, by healthcare professionals for example. They are said to feel invisible, disregarded and patronised. Would you agree with this?

3. It is suggested that online parenting forums such as Mumsnet can therefore offer a place for fathers to make their fathering more visible. On these forums, they can also express their feelings and fears about fatherhood in a way they perhaps might not do with people they know in real life. If you're male, do you use Mumsnet in this way?

4. It seems to be generally thought that men need men-only spaces to fully explore their feelings around fatherhood. But male Mumsnetters consciously choose to enter a female-dominated community. Why is that? And, if you are male, do you also use male-only communities or support groups (on or off-line)?

Many thanks for any insights you can offer.
For those of you who might like to know more, in the past I have worked with Mumsnet and Dr Janet Smithson of Exeter University to explore some of the motivations for using Mumsnet. Some of you may remember a survey we conducted with Mumsnet a few years ago looking at this subject, and we have had a couple of articles published relating to that research. If anyone would like further details of that please take a look at my university webpage, which has links to the article (disclaimer: that is a very bad and very old photo of me): http://www.rgu.ac.uk/dmstaff/pedersen-sarah or you're very welcome to PM me.

SarahPedersen Mon 10-Jun-13 13:10:01

Sorry - the link does not work. Try again:

www.rgu.ac.uk/dmstaff/pedersen-sarah

NotDead Tue 11-Jun-13 09:07:34

I can helo. not as parent exactly but I read MN because friends and family have kids and I am bowled iver by them and fascinated by parenting. I am also someone who has and had a load of female friends and who often did flatshares with women and the conversational style and debates on other subjects on MN are interesting examined well and some of the support on here is amazing.

Have started posting recently and get attacked because I admit I'm male but so be it!

To answer qs..

1. yes.. and male resources are often depressingly practical and 'baseball throwing' cliches.

2. Not sure. On one hand I understand this. Physically ..and also logically emotionally.. women HAVE to be at the forefront in a lot of the care, but friends who went through adoption were completely equally involved, which wax very heartening. I think men may feel sidelined a bit as naturally attention shifts in the relationship and as we know this can mean a reinterpreting of feeling sad to ascribe that intention onto those around where really properly addressed it might well be fear for the future. .

3. yes.. and I would hate it if it became more male as a result. I know that's contradictory but it is how I feel. I prefer the assumptiin that I'm female first when I express emotion. don't know why but there it is.

4. don't agree that male-only environments are more appropriate. .not for me. I think partly I am 'ahead' in that I am not blinking in a nervous sunlight of trying to learn my feelings. I don't feel comfortable with a lot of men as to me their feeling self feels like ..struggling to define but like talking to a child- it feels undeveloped in a lot of men. Curiously though often men's conversation is deeper than it might appear, but I just feel more comfortable with emotions when I am in a more female environment.

It took a lot to admit I am male on here as I felt better heard and appreciated when it is ambiguous but have realised that it is only a few posters who perpetuate a sort of mobbing behaviour. Often this is actually productive as there are some idiots men who play up to their stereotype ..or who are actually idiots! I am gulity of this sometimes. but as noone can see your face its best not to try the wry or the glorifying in an exaggeration of a cliche..you get taken seriously and hounded!!

SarahPedersen Tue 11-Jun-13 09:12:08

Thank you NotDead.

It is interesting that you 'admitted' to being male on here. Were you accepted as female before that? If so, when did you feel that you needed to make it clear that you were male?

NotDead Tue 11-Jun-13 09:20:46

I felt I needed that 'admit' to being male rather than being ambiguous when I wanted some serious relationship advice that needed me.. for several reasons .. to explain it face up. There are some situations where the prevailing wisdom gives men the responsibility and I wanted to move a friend ship with a younger woman into a relationship and wanted the perspective of women as the younger party. Don't know why exactly but I suppose the cliche of knowing vindictive older man and gullible young woman gains more traction than the other way around and that was what I was most concerned about. I am laughing as I write this as if I imagine my female peers when they were in their 20s they would find it ridiculous if the man thought he wad in control and they were the gullible one grin

I have been accepted as female on the site..at least not questioned as not being!

SarahPedersen Tue 11-Jun-13 10:21:51

Thank you. It is really interesting that you say that you prefer the assumption that you are female when you express emotion. Thus the anonymity of the Internet enables you to express what might be seen as a female behaviour?

YoniBottsBumgina Tue 11-Jun-13 10:35:17

I'm not male but I have a male partner. He doesn't use mumsnet and doesn't seem to seek out parenting "advice" at all. We are quite the opposite in that I definitely seek out advice, information on how development patterns go, read books etc and feel quite anxious at times about whether I am "doing" parenting well whereas he seems much more at home in his role, follows instinct rather than seeking advice and although he is equally as involved as I am (when we are both at home) he seems to see it in a different way. He definitely doesn't worry as much as I do.

NotDead Tue 11-Jun-13 10:35:41

yup! I think this is valuable - but similarly I am sure this is also true for women. I find that men can be seen as false when expressing emotion.. and can even feel it as it can mean using words and ideas that are also ridiculed.

The internet..with its written form. for me also allows more honest contemplation before response or expression.

MN particularly manages its type of anonymity well. its easy for posters to namechange to express difficult issues that they even feel uncomfortable using an already anonymous persona to express. . the tradition and expectation seems to be to mention a namechange

NotDead Tue 11-Jun-13 10:36:35

yup! I think this is valuable - but similarly I am sure this is also true for women. I find that men can be seen as false when expressing emotion.. and can even feel it as it can mean using words and ideas that are also ridiculed.

The internet..with its written form. for me also allows more honest contemplation before response or expression.

MN particularly manages its type of anonymity well. its easy for posters to namechange to express difficult issues that they even feel uncomfortable using an already anonymous persona to express. . the tradition and expectation seems to be to mention a namechange

SarahPedersen Tue 11-Jun-13 10:44:38

Hi YoniBottsBumgina. That's interesting re your partner. There has been a little bit of research about men's attitude to parenting advice and it has been suggested that men are much more likely to seek informal advice from family and friends who are in the same position as them rather than more formal advice from books or websites.

It is also suggested that men can rely on their female partners to share the information they have gathered with them or even to point out bits of a book or a website that they think they should read. So for example reading out bits of Mumsnet to them!

Snorbs Tue 11-Jun-13 12:00:24

I'm a father. I'm also a lone parent. My use of social media for parenting information and advice largely started when my relationship with my children's mother was breaking down in an appallingly messy fashion and I needed advice for that as well as help with how to run things on my own.

1. Previous researchers have found that fathers have a strong desire for information relating to parenting and childcare but the vast majority of parenting information and programmes is targeted at mothers. In your experience, is this still true?

I think that is still largely the case. Most of the time it doesn't really matter as I don't think there are many - if any - significant differences in parenting whether you're a father or a mother. So the basic advice and information is just as good (or bad) regardless of whether it's written for a female audience or a male one. Sometimes the whole "As busy mums, we know that it's difficult to x, y or z" style of writing that you sometimes see does get a bit grating though.

2. Men report finding themselves dismissed as the secondary parent, by healthcare professionals for example. They are said to feel invisible, disregarded and patronised. Would you agree with this?

Yes. It doesn't happen all the time but it does happen. There does seem to be a general tendency for people to view fathers as second-class parents and I think that's a real shame. It seems pretty obvious why this state of affairs has come about - generations of men off-loading parenting responsibilities onto women - but I would like to see it change.

A trivial example but one that could have had serious consequences - my DD goes to after-school club. One day due to bad weather the club was unexpectedly closed. I'm on their list as the primary contact, I'm the person who always picks her up, and I'm the person who always pays the bills. They didn't call me to let me know the club was closed. They contacted my ex. Why? Because she's the mum. Luckily my ex then let me know but she can't be relied upon to do that.

3. It is suggested that online parenting forums such as Mumsnet can therefore offer a place for fathers to make their fathering more visible. On these forums, they can also express their feelings and fears about fatherhood in a way they perhaps might not do with people they know in real life. If you're male, do you use Mumsnet in this way?

I'm not sure how to answer this. I don't really see a distinction between "fathering" and "parenting" and I'm not sure if that's what you're driving at here. Yes, I do use mumsnet to talk about parenting, but rarely from a specifically male-based viewpoint. Sometimes I do - I've asked questions about my DD starting periods and made it clear that as I'm a man I don't have the personal experience that a woman would have. Most of the time, though, when it comes to parenting information it doesn't make much difference what sex I am.

As an aside, every now and then I'll post something on MN that does make it clear that I'm a man (not that I go out of my way to hide that fact) and then someone or other will post saying "Blimey! I didn't realise Snorbs was a bloke!" I'm not sure what that says about me or them grin

4. It seems to be generally thought that men need men-only spaces to fully explore their feelings around fatherhood. But male Mumsnetters consciously choose to enter a female-dominated community. Why is that? And, if you are male, do you also use male-only communities or support groups (on or off-line)?

Interesting question. I think there may well be value for largely male-specific spaces to talk about fatherhood. If you're a new father then your role is necessarily one that largely consists of propping up your partner. She may be suffering from the after-effects of giving birth, she may be struggling with breast-feeding, she may be experiencing PND. YOu're needed as a prop for her to lean on and that's fine - that's just the way it is. But at the same time, and exacerbated by the general view that men don't talk about their feelings and combined with the effects of sleep-deprivation and all the rest - you can be feeling very isolated yourself. But while you're propping her up you may not have anyone to prop you up. An anonymous site could well be helpful.

All that being said I haven't ever used a male-dominated parenting site because, quite frankly, the ones I've seen tend not to appeal to me. They all tend to be a bit serious and po-faced. I have seen a lot male-dominated sites that are aimed at interests a long way from parenting be used as places where male experiences of parenting are aired. Places such as reddit's various parenting topics are interesting as well as they seem to have a fairly equitable mix of both men and women.

I think the point NotDead made about anonymity is a very important one. Anonymity online can be a problem as it encourages trolling etc but it does also allow someone to be open about stuff they would hate to have to answer to face-to-face. People who know me in RL could probably quite easily work out who I am on MN so I am careful about what I say under the "Snorbs" name. But there have been particularly difficult situations regarding my ex that I have needed to discuss that I do not want linked to me so I namechange and camouflage some of the identifying detail. It's been incredibly helpful.

All that being said, I originally came to mumsnet as a place to get some advice about lone parenting. I stayed primarily because it's fun. I waste spend much more time on mumsnet talking about things that have nothing to do with parenting than I do about anything particularly child-specific.

Jux Tue 11-Jun-13 12:31:49

I'm not a man, first of all.

I agree with questions 1 and 2. Everything during the ante-natal period was aimed at me - except the scans, where dh was acknowledged and we were spoken to more like we were both involved and interested.

Obviously I can't answer 3 or 4. What happens with us, though, is that there are times when dh will ask me to ask MN about something - not often to do with parenting though. It has mostly been about issues with his demented mother (clinically, I mean, she is senile). Particularly about involving social services in her care.

He does seem to see MN as some sort of oracle, and will ask me when he's stumped about something. I doubt he would ever use it himself though. He tends to look at pix of guitars online and isn't overly interested in online chat or advice, in general.

SarahPedersen Tue 11-Jun-13 12:41:29

Thank you Snorbs.

I like the fact that sometimes Mumsnetters are surprised to find out that you are female. A long time ago I did some research into women who wrote letters to newspapers 1900-18. What was really interesting is that sometimes a debate would be started between one of the women (using a gender-neutral pen name) and a male correspondent over a series of issues. Then the woman would reveal her sex and the male correspondent would then refuse to correspond any more 'because she was a woman'.

Sorry if I confused you with references to fathering rather than parenting, The studies that I have been looking at about fathers online make great use of the term. They have tended to emphasise that fathers need to go somewhere (either physically or online) with other fathers only in order to explore their identity as a father (?)

SarahPedersen Tue 11-Jun-13 12:43:16

Jux that was what I was referring to up the thread. Research has found that frequently men will rely on their partners to filter relevant information through to them. This is not just about parenting. There is a lot of research about the use of health-related online information and the way in which women will take on the role of the 'information provider' in families.

Snorbs Tue 11-Jun-13 13:09:24

They have tended to emphasise that fathers need to go somewhere (either physically or online) with other fathers only in order to explore their identity as a father

That makes sense. As I said I can see the value in having male-dominated areas of discussion of parenting issues even if I haven't made much use of them myself. Anecdotal evidence suggests that not many other people do either.

However I do strongly believe that, for the vast majority of intents and purposes, there isn't any fundamental difference between male parenting and female parenting. It's all just parenting. Sure in the very early days there is a difference that is down to plain old biology - women can give birth and breast-feed, men can't - but that's only significant for a relatively short amount of time out of an entire childhood.

But then I also accept that as a male lone parent I am in a relatively unusual position so my outlook and needs may be very different from a man who goes out to work while his wife is at home looking after the 2.4 DCs.

SarahPedersen Tue 11-Jun-13 13:18:23

I think that, for both males and females, online parenting communities such as this one allow them to perform their parenting roles even when away from their children.

OddSockMonster Tue 11-Jun-13 13:20:34

I have to say, I have actually thought "Blimey! I didn't realise Snorbs was a bloke!". Can't think what the thread was about but I whatever it was you were saying, I do remember thinking 'yep, that's spot on'.

I was quite suprised at my own reaction, I guess there's just a big assumption that most posters here are female, in fact I'd suggest that's probably a default assumption unless a poster says otherwise.

In answer to your questions Sarah (in not particular order),

Yes I agree that alot of info is targetted at mothers, which I sometimes find irritating when it's not something mother-specific (like breastfeeding or PND). It does seem to be changing however, and the more that men are involved, the more it should continue to change.

However, I'm with YoniBotts that out of the two of us, I'm the one that will go and look for infomation and advice, including online, whereas my DH will tend to chat with other dads over a beer (or with me, I also like beer).

JacqueslePeacock Tue 11-Jun-13 13:23:43

As the information provider in our family, I very much identify with you have just said, SarahPedersen. Although my husband is equally, if not more, involved in our toddler's upbringing as I am, he would never go online to search out this kind of info as he knows I will do it - both from official sources and from fora like Mumsnet. I can't imagine him ever posting on here. Partly this is probably because the name puts him off as a man, partly because he prefers to read online rather than contribute, but mostly because (I think) he sees it as something I do. I do often read bits out to him, and he appreciates that, and if I've left the computer open on Mumsnet he will often have a read and then comment to me about it, but I couldn't in a million years imagine him joining in.

This is despite the fact that he is much the greater worrier in terms of things like our child's development. I tend to do a lot of research first, including online, and then sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that if something goes wrong I will probably be able to spot it. He just tends to worry about things in a general, low-key way, without seeking outside advice other than through me.

In general, I would say that if there was a serious issue he would go direct to real life sources of information (the doctor, the health visitor, the nursery our child attends, a specialist...) whereas my first approach would be to google it to gain a greater level of knowledge before I approach any necessary people. Since joining mumsnet, I might now ask Mumsnet as well. In fact, asking a question on Mumsnet a few months ago saved me from going to the dentist with an embarrassing non-issue about our child's teeth. My husband was in favour of calling the dentist for an appointment instead, but was reassured when I told him what I had learnt on this site.

JacqueslePeacock Tue 11-Jun-13 13:24:42

Sorry, cross posts. I meant your post of 12.43.

SarahPedersen Tue 11-Jun-13 13:30:04

Thank you OddSockMonster and JacqueslePeacock.
It's interesting that the default assumption is that the poster is a woman because there are quite a few male mumsnetters.

The information provider thing is interesting isn't it? You would think that men are more information oriented and women are more communication oriented, but as far as health/parenting information is concerned that definitely seems to be the mother's role.

OddSockMonster Tue 11-Jun-13 13:45:10

In terms of that default assumption, after that initial surprise I think I now tend to now think of posters as fairly gender neutral unless they say one way or the other. I value or discount (if they're idiots) mens and womens opinions equally in real life, and do on here too.

Snorbs Tue 11-Jun-13 13:46:27

To be honest I also tend to assume that people posting on MN are women unless I find out otherwise. There really aren't that many men posting on here.

WRT getting information about parenting I suspect it's sometimes simply that the man regards anything to do with childcare as the woman's responsibility. Therefore anything to do with finding stuff out about raising children is Not His Problem. Be that laziness, assumptions about gender roles or whatever it is something that you do see quite a lot.

In other situations though it can be that the woman subconsciously or overtly assumes control over parenting by criticising anything the man does if it doesn't match how she would do it. I was on the receiving end of that for a while and it severely dented my confidence as a parent. You end up deliberately asking no-one but your partner for information regarding parenting as that's the only way you've got even a hope of getting it "right". Again, though, I'm not saying this is always the case.

JacqueslePeacock Tue 11-Jun-13 13:52:29

I would always assume a poster was a woman unless told otherwise. i know there are quite a few men, but proportionately, surely the vast majority of people on here are female?

JacqueslePeacock Tue 11-Jun-13 13:54:12

Snorbs I don't think either of those assumptions hold true for me and my DH. He actually does more than I do in terms of childcare, as I have a much longer commute, and is probably more in control of day-to-day child issues. Nonetheless, it would always be me as "information gatherer". I really don't know why.

Snorbs Tue 11-Jun-13 13:59:41

JacqueslePeacock fair enough. Have you asked him?

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