This topic is specifically designed for media or other requests for information / help from Mumsnet members. We ask those organisations requesting help here to pay a fee of £30 per request as a contribution to the site (when you've typed in your request, you will automatically be taken to a WorldPay page where you can pay by credit card). Many thanks. NOTE: Mumsnet does not check the content of these requests nor verify any links posted here; we'd like to remind you that it's wise always to be cautious about disclosing any personal data.

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.

BelfastBloke Tue 11-Jun-13 14:01:03

I've never once had any issue over the fact that I'm a regular poster on a forum whose name appears to exclude me.

I'm the full-time SAH carer for my kids. I was surprised at how unusual this seemed to people, even in London.

BelfastBloke Tue 11-Jun-13 14:45:45

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?

Yeah, but it rarely bothers me. Only the term "Mother and Toddler groups/parking" bothers me, in this day and age.

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?

Not really, because it's clear to most people that I am the full-time parent while my wife works.

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 don't really have any feelings and fears about 'fathering' that isn't parenting-specific. Any gendered feelings I have about parenting, or my marriage relationship, I wouldn't often share on Mumsnet because there is a cadre of posters who will judge my words a lot harsher because I identify myself as male. (Sometimes, yes, my wife IS being unreasonable!)

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)?

I have been in a wonderfully enriching group of all fathers, but not any more. I use Mumsnet because the discussions outside of anything to do with parenting have critical mass: there are enough people to discuss most things I'm interested in. And I do find it valuable in my offline life, interacting mainly with women, to be mainlining female perspectives online.

I also have a practical (because I have a daughter) and an academic interest in feminism, and have found it valuable to read feminist threads. I've learned a lot from the perspectives of those feminists that I disagree with, and from those I do agree with.

Lastly, the relationships topics make me think about how to be a good person within my relationship. And my marriage relationship is one where the male/female stereotypes are reversed: my wife is much less emotionally communicative than I am.

SarahPedersen Tue 11-Jun-13 15:07:19

Belfastbloke - unlike Snorbs, who obviously surprises some people when they find out that he is a man, your name specifically gives away your gender. Was that a conscious decision when you joined Mumsnet?

BelfastBloke Tue 11-Jun-13 15:10:12

Yeah. Only fair, I thought.

I've got another nickname I use, but not very much. Am concerned that my main one makes me identifiable, having used it so long.

SarahPedersen Tue 11-Jun-13 15:47:20

Both you and Snorbs are full-time carers for your children - can I ask anyone else (male) if they are also the primary carer? I wonder if that is a motivating factor for using Mumsnet?

SarahPedersen Tue 11-Jun-13 18:20:22

Bump for the evening

Pan Tue 11-Jun-13 22:18:23

Marking here. Am a male, NRP though with daily doingings with my now teenage dd. MNer intermitently since 2006, I think, and will post properly soon when RL permits. Good subject with good questions tho'.

Dadthelion Tue 11-Jun-13 22:31:53

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?

Yes

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, and I'm the resident parent. It bothers my ex more that people are a bit stunned that she isn't the resident parent. They look at her and I answer the question. They still look at her to see if she agrees. It doesn't bother me though.

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 think fathers are treated with suspicion on here by a minority. If I post as Dad I get treated differently than if my name is neutral.

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)?

Generally thought by who?
There aren't any men only parenting sites are there?

SarahPedersen Wed 12-Jun-13 08:53:49

Hi Dadthelion. You ask 'thought by who?' There is a small amount of academic research on this subject, mostly based on European or Australian groups. In Australia there have been government sponsored online father's only groups and also face to face group meetings for fathers only. The same has occurred in some of the Scandinavian countries.

Both types of group, on or offline, has received praise from the fathers involved for allowing them the opportunity to talk to other fathers. However, the offline groups were problematic because of the fathers'other commitments.

Interestingly the online Australian group was riven with arguments because sometimes mothers posted. While some of the fathers welcomed this, others were more defensive of 'their' space.

I believe that in the UK there are some online groups associated with different organisations. I think that Fathers Direct had one at one point.

DanFmDorking Wed 12-Jun-13 11:03:38

1. Yep
2. Sort of
3. No
4. Like to read the chat. Yes.

SarahPedersen Wed 12-Jun-13 11:11:03

Thank you DanfrmDorking. If I can ask, you say that you like to read the chat - does that mean that you are not really looking for parenting information?

SarahPedersen Wed 12-Jun-13 13:24:31

Hi Dadthelion. You said 'If I post as Dad I get treated differently than if my name is neutral.'

Does that mean that you are treated in a more negative way because your name marks you out as male?

Have you posted under a more neutral name as well?

MoreBeta Wed 12-Jun-13 15:37:45

Sarah - I ama Dad and have been on MN for about 5 years.

Here are my answers:

1. The vast majority of parenting information and programmes is targeted at mothers. In your experience, is this still true?

Yes. On the other hand us Dads need to know the same stuff and I looked long and hard for advice on all sorts of websites and frankly there jsut isnt a 'Dad' site so it had to be MN.

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 I find that ALL the time. Healthcare professionals talk to 'Mum'. Not all helathcare professional sar ethgsi way but I even had one health visitor who visited our home when my oldest son was a baby very obviously extremely uncomfortable talking to me about him. My wife happened to be out at work.

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?

Sort of. I can and do ask friends for advice, other Mums and Dads basically and tell them my concerns and they tell me theirs. Places where men typically are congregated with other men in real life or on the internet - you just dont talk about kids and definitley NOT at work. Talking about kids in the places I used to work marked you out as not a serious player.

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)?

I didnt conciously decide to enter MN. It was a place I found and it worked and I stayed. It felt really weird at first. There were so few men here. Probably the only time in my life I had been outnumbered 1000:1 by women. It is a very female place still on MN. Men have to tread very very carefully. There are more of us now here but we are still such a tiny minority. I do go on a lot of other very male dominated forums but not to talk about my family or children.

SarahPedersen Wed 12-Jun-13 15:45:32

Many thanks MoreBeta. Do you think that you would want to be on an all-men discussion forum about parenting if one existed or would you still prefer to be on Mumsnet?

WhatHo Wed 12-Jun-13 16:40:59

From the perspective (from the partner) of a non-SAHF:
My DH is very involved - with DD1 I was refused flexible working hours and his more enlightened work allowed him to go to 4 days a week.

Though we're now 'traditional' (I'm SAH, he's fulltime work) his involvement has never waned, which is sometimes frustrating as I can't make unilateral childcare decisions the way my friends do! grin

He loves Mumsnet for the advice but he would hate to be visible as a man on it and posts under my name. I'm a long-term poster who has name-changed because I was getting too recognisable in RL. When he posted as me I would get comments long the lines of 'why are you being so curt?'

His attitude to parenting info is simply to extract the information he needs in the minimum time possible - caring that many childcare books are mum-centric, or that he could 'make fathering more visible' for example, would not occur to him. But he does have a certain fear of being a man in a female space I guess, or he would post independently.

...Or maybe he is and I don't know...

MoreBeta Wed 12-Jun-13 16:43:11

Sarah - the top of this page says 'By parents for parents' and I am a parent so I dont really want a 'Dad' site as such. I want/need a parenting site.

It is a bit unfortunate it is called Mumsnet and I strongly supect some Dads are put off by the name alone. There have been various attempts to launch Dad sites but they dont work. They never reach critical mass. Posts take months to get replies to things I posted. MN is fast moving and you can always find a dozen people who faced your issue as a parent.

To be frank, I don't think there ever will be a Dad oriented parenting site. Women are still very largely the main caregivers for children so inevitably these types of forums will always be dominated by women at least for my generation and the next.

There are lots of other sites to post on about non-parenting issues so as a 'Dad' I just post on those when I want/need to and they are always dominated by men so posting on MN is just another welcome choice on the specialist topic of 'parenting' - that just happens to be unusually dominated by women.

MoreBeta Wed 12-Jun-13 17:19:07

Sarah - on the issue of being identified as a man.

I first posted using an identifiable 'Dad' name. I felt that it was only fair to the obvious female majority to let people know I was a man. I suppose I thought it good manners to do so.

There is a some tendency on MN for men who are new joiners to be treated with some suspicion at first and even given quite a rough ride. Especially if a man honestly posts on a controversial topic or honestly voices strong views at odds with the majority female view. There is a history of trolling by men or groups of men coming on MN to cause trouble so I can see why.

On occassions I have posted under various gender neutral names and people have naturally assumed I was a woman. A few times posters have been surprised, shocked, embarrased and annoyed when they find out I am a man. It is a fairly rare occurence though. Most regular posters know me as a man now though and I dont hide the fact but only specifically mention it if it is really relevant to the topic.

In general, like all real life social situations the sex of a person makes some difference to how they are perceived and how their words are interpreted by the recipient.

Mostly my sex is not an issue at all on MN - or indeed on any internet site.

SarahPedersen Wed 12-Jun-13 17:56:32

Whatho - it is interesting that people can spot when it is not you posting. There has been a lot of research into gendered computer-mediated communication and whether it is possible to spot someone's gender from their postings.

When the Internet first came along people thought that it would be this great anonymous place where people could be what they wanted - that you change identities at a drop of a hat and that no one would be prejudiced against you because you were a woman or a man or a penguin or whatever you wanted to be.

Then in the 1990s a lot of research was done that suggested that this was not true and that the way in which people posted gave clues to readers. So you could spot whether a man or a woman was posting. It was suggested, for example, that men flamed more than women and that women were more polite than men.

I don't think that we can make this sort of division that easily, myself, and my own research suggests a more nuanced approach.

But it is an interesting issue to debate.

SarahPedersen Wed 12-Jun-13 18:00:49

MoreBeta many thanks for your detailed replies.

I agree with you that Mumsnet simply has more critical mass.

The research I have reading about - the Australian and Scandinavian communities that I mentioned above - have such a small sample size. The journal articles talk about four men talking together over a few months or at the most 75 posts on an issue. It makes me laugh when I consider the sheer volume of posts on here.

Of course it may be that the equivalent mothers' communities are as busy as Mumsnet. I know that there is at least one very large Swedish website for mothers.

Pan Wed 12-Jun-13 18:54:53

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’m not so sure there is a ‘strong desire for information’ from dads per se. ime most dads are quite happy to recognise a division of labour which means this doesn’t operate. And this includes the well-meaning liberally chaps I know and have known for years who are dads. But yes, the idea of stuff directed at mums remains, I think partly because in many/most families the spending decisions on consumption (child-related, holidays, food, clothing etc) are done by women and so it’s smart for companies to direct their efforts at mums and not dads.

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?

Well a bit, and echoing MoreBeta the mum is likely to be the main care-giver so this is a consequence. I have very occasionally felt sidelined by the education institutions, but not to the extent described, and when I’ve pointed out my role I’ve been met with apologies and no problems following.

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 came to this parenting malarky fairly late in life, on average, and my male friends had all done this years before, with now teenage or grown up children – so whilst being great and supportive, they really weren’t up to speed about the detail of lots of stuff, and had sort of consigned issues to ‘gone, done that’ and it was awkward sometimes for them to revisit things. So I realised I had to develop my own resources, as I wasn’t going to, heroically, be relying on dd’s mum for all the answers as she was also a ‘first time and only’ parent who was as essentially clueless as I. I tripped into MN after googling “Highly Sensitive Children”, which I hadn’t heard of but instinctively I knew that if it existed my dd would fit the bill. So I wasn’t using MN by gender or sex, just as a parent. dd’s mum could have done exactly the same with the same result. And yes seeing ‘mumsnet’ on the search led me to think ‘well this isn’t for me then’, but saw also ‘by parents for parents’ so then that changed things.
Thereafter it has been a mix of dd-centred stuff and accessing a bunch of people who had been there and done that and were funny, interesting, well-informed and a bit rude with it.

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)?

Really, the fact that MN is female dominated wasn’t a factor – it was parenting, so it could have been 50/50 for all I knew or cared. Having been here for a bit, yes I’d agree that new males are treated a little sceptically at first, especially if they aren’t au fait with the finer filigree of gender politics – and even then it can get quite tricky. A lot of posters know I am male, but the site is so large now it isn’t something to be relied upon. Having said that it’s really refreshing to see female posters NOT accepting male stereo-typing in discussion and when it happens someone usually comes along and ends it pretty quickly.
No, I don’t use other ‘support’ forums – I don’t have the time and don’t feel a need to.

hth

DanFmDorking Wed 12-Jun-13 18:56:01

SarahPedersen yes

Pan Wed 12-Jun-13 18:56:05

oh and evening chaps! Hope you are all well.

SarahPedersen Wed 12-Jun-13 19:42:20

Thanks Pan. It's interesting that you say that you came here because you didn't have the informal networks - friends having moved on from that stage, etc. That was one of the findings of the Australian research, and also some research from the US focused on members of the air force, that they preferred to access their parenting information from their social circle first and only accessed more 'formal' information sources afterwards.

Pan Wed 12-Jun-13 19:54:09

yes it's a feature of the 'specialised' nature of society, isn't it? Social mobility, increasingly specialised occupational skills, development of transport infrastructure to support geographic re-location etc tips a balance toward non immediate family guidance. Which of course isn't a bad thing? The template for parenting seems to have been 'how you were parented' no matter how good or bad that had been done. So having a 'separate' view point to learn from, and breaking up damaging family habits is a Good Thing, it seems to me.

SarahPedersen Wed 12-Jun-13 20:03:10

Exactly. Whereas we would have learned from our mothers and aunt in previous generations, post-modern society has meant that we have moved away from living near them because of education or work. We may not know anyone in our immediate circle who is going through parenthood at the same time as us, but go online and you can talk to someone who is at precisely the same moment as you as far as pregnancy or parenting or even problems. The fact that they are in Texas is not a problem.

The other advantage to getting parenting advice over the Internet, of course, is that you do not have to use it! Unlike advice from your mother.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now