New study on Swiss media discourse shows growing interest in men’s caregiving

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This blog was authored by Markus Theunert, mä

mä – the umbrella organization for Swiss organizations working on gender equality issues related to boys, men, and fathers – has implemented the MenCare campaign as a national program since 2014. Its overarching objectives are to promote social norms change and establish men’s caregiving and paternal involvement as a viable and widespread way of life: an indispensable contribution toward advancing gender equality and social justice.

At the end of the second program phase in late 2020, we wanted to conduct research to clarify if social norms around men’s caregiving have effectively changed. Our methodological assumption: When values change, it is accompanied by social negotiation processes which become visible in media discourse. Therefore, by systematically analyzing the popular media discourse, we should be able to identify signs of an intensified public negotiation as an expression of shifting norms and values. We assume that shifts in social values are reflected in media discourse and that these shifts in media discourse serve as qualitative evidence that social norms do change. Based on this methodological premise, MenCare Switzerland conducted two analyses of Swiss media discourse: one for 2010 and one for 2020. The principal question of interest: is there a quantitative and qualitative shift on how male care engagement is being discussed in popular Swiss media between 2010 and 2020? 

The results show that Swiss media were significantly more interested in the topic of male care engagement in 2020. The total scope of reporting roughly doubled as compared to 2010. The growth in volume of media coverage was particularly strong in the field of fatherhood (by a factor 2.5), while it stagnated in the field of self-care. In the discourse field around care work, it was remarkable that the term “care work”, a term which was hardly ever used in media discourse ten years ago, had established itself and become increasingly common.

From a qualitative point of view, it was striking that care was increasingly discussed in the context of distributive gender inequalities (the gender care gap) and the reconciliation of professional and private life. In general, care was discussed significantly more frequently in connection with gender and equality issues in 2020 as compared to 2010. The ‘new’ ideal of involved fatherhood had caught on while an independent debate, with an explicit focus on masculinity and care, was only partially detected.

Conclusion: The topic of care work has experienced a significant increase in public attention in Switzerland over the past ten years. While hardly any leading media used the term “care work” ten years ago, it is ubiquitous today. The comparative analysis provides evidence that social norms around men’s caregiving are changing. These changes do not happen like landslides and are often tied to issues of gender equality and the distribution of workload. However, the national debate on paternal involvement and caring masculinities indicates that equal division of care work and engaged fatherhood are more and more seen as social norms.