Riffed by Dr. Geek
from an idea by Vitriol


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fatherless boys

There are two things that women can do to men that really, really, really insult me. They are:

  1. Women can treat men like they exist solely for womens' economic betterment (i.e. they are wallets.)
  2. Woman can say that fathers are completely irrelevant when it comes to the raising of children.
I suppose there are others, but these top the list by a long stretch.

Therefore, my blood pressure rose a few points when I followed a link discovered by crazed parent pointing to an article entitled Are boys better off without fathers? The article itself is a skeptical review of Peggy Drexler's new book Raising Boys Without Men : How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men. It is difficult for me to peer through the highly charged discussion surrounding the book to get a full idea of what Drexler's thesis is. So I can only firmly fall back on a quote from Publisher's Weekly that appears as the description of the book:

In an upbeat but never preachy tone, Drexler retells anecdote after anecdote illustrating her point (namely, that female-headed households may be better for boys than households with men).

If Drexler's idea truly is that somehow all boys are better off without fathers, I think word "anecdote" is likely key to describing the book. Some observations on the part of an Amazon reviewer cut right to the part of the matter:

  1. Drexler's results are based on personally conducted in-depth surveys of a self-selected group of 90 households headed by single mothers (30 by choice, 30 by circumstance, and 30 lesbian moms.)
  2. Drexler measures the well being of the boys in those 90 families against a single control group: her own family.
  3. The measures for "well being" are evidently rather sketchy and touchy feely.
In short, these are some interesting case studies that single parent households headed by women can do an excellent job raising boys. This is hardly proof that "female-headed households may be better for boys than households with men." If I ever submitted research with the equivalent amount of academic rigor to a peer-reviewed journal, I would likely get reviews with comments that include the word "laughable" (which is not to say that papers of such quality have not been published in reputable journals and conferences... but I digress.)

If this assertion really was true, then the logical extension of Drexler's results is rather ridiculous. Consider this: if a boy is really better off in female-headed household, the best thing for a man to do after his children are born is leave . After the father's departure, the mother then can recruit male role models for her sons in the form of friends, uncles, grandfathers, coaches... etc. If the departed father is a good, responsible man, his duty will then be to become a role model for other people's children, rather than his own. That seems to defy any common sense notions of evolved primate behavior... since that is what we are, after all. Of course, the fact that more than a few of Drexler's intellectual opponents seem to doubt that we are evolved from apes may have something to do with it... but again I digress.

From all the commentary around Drexler's book, it seems that issues related to male identity and fatherhood are a hot topic these days. I think this is quite natural -- the emergence of women as independent economic entities capable of heading their own households is something new in the last 30-40 years not much seen in Western Civilization during the last couple of millenia. What role do fathers play in such households? We are still working out the answers.

God knows, men have a lot to answer for in terms of our forefathers treated their spouses and daughters. Making women into chattel traded between husbands and fathers is something women can hardly look back upon with joy. Likewise, tying the identity of women solely to domestic work, sex, and child bearing is hardly something to make anyone feel nostalgic either.

Yet at the same time, I begin to wonder when the reaction against that treatment moved past the point of gaining economic and social independence for women and moved to devaluing the man as father by making him into an interchangeable part whose existence is secondary when it comes to the well being of children. This seems to be hardly a better social compromise. It smacks of being the reverse of an old Victorian notion that if a man and a woman are not getting along, the man can keep the children, throw the woman on the junk heap, keep the kids, and just marry another woman.

Let me conclude by saying this: I firmly do not believe that forcing couples to continue loveless marriages is the way to go either. I don't think that a bad father is better than no father at all. Men can be dogs... no doubt about it. I just don't think that always raising boys in households without fathers is the best way to keep less of them from turning into dogs.

said drgeek on 2005-09-07 at 12:15 p.m.


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