Separated Parents Reproducing and Undoing Gender Through Defining Legitimate Uses of Child Support

Gender and Society 28 (6):904-925 (2014)
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The use of child support is a politically and personally contested issue and a policy challenge across developed countries. This offers an opportunity to identify family practices and relationships through which hegemonic masculinity and socially valued femininities are reproduced and challenged. We present data from interviews with 28 fathers and 30 mothers to argue that when people discuss how child support is or should be spent, they are managing gendered parenting identities. Most fathers defined child support as “special money.” This position buttresses the hegemonic masculine characteristics of authority and breadwinning, discursively de-genders the care of children, and challenges mothers’ conformity to feminine and good mothering ideals. A minority of fathers presented an alternative definition of child support and fathering that underplayed the relevance of money and values mothers’ and fathers’ care and financial contributions. Mothers’ accounts of using child support emphasized their financial authority and child-centered consumption in ways that both challenge and reproduce socially valued femininity. We conclude that definitions of how child support should be used reproduce relationships of dominance and subordination that constitute the gender order.



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