IWF regrets that an event on Raising Boys without Men, by Peggy Drexler, must be moved to 2007 because of unforeseen circumstances. Please watch our website for further details.
We did not, however, want 2006 to slip away without our having addressed the issues in this book. Senior Editor Charlotte Hays reviews it below. She will be available for an online chat at 10 am tomorrow (Thursday, Dec. 21) at www.iwf.org/chat_room.asp.
For Peggy Drexler, a boy’s best friend is his mother, or, as the case may be, his mothers. A “former gender scholar at Stanford University,” according to the dust jacket, Drexler, currently an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, argues that a mother or mothers are superior to the traditional mother/father family and that such “maverick mothers” are more likely to raise “exceptional” boys.
This is not an inspirational book for put upon divorced women forced to struggle valiantly to raise children alone–it is instead a tribute to “single-by-choice” women who have opted for motherhood. The divorced women in the book are portrayed as strong women who have made a positive choice, one that will be good for her children. Other mothers have used a sperm donor (or a “seed daddy,” as Drexel approvingly refers to these gents, who may or may not be involved in the subsequent lives of the children). Drexler, by the way, a mother of two, is married to “a husband of 36 years.” He is the CEO of J. Crew, the preppy clothing chain.
Fathers advocate and radio host Glenn Sacks has noted in a perceptive reviewthat Drexler’s research is flawed. The families she studies are volunteers and therefore may be presumed to be doing well. Some of those she quotes come across as advocates for alternative “families.” This is therefore not a random selection of mother-only families. Drexler admits that the “maverick moms” in the book are mostly affluent and able to do things for their children. The group also appears to be small in number for a book that makes such sweeping judgments. Even Publishers Weekly, which, predictably, gave the book a glowing review, notes that Drexler is “curiously cagey” about statistics. I don’t find it that curious at all–this is a manifesto. It looks to me as if Drexler has studied approximately sixteen kids and their mothers. But I am by no means certain.
But it is not just the statistics that I don’t trust. Drexler’s enthusiasm, if not downright giddiness, for mothers-only arrangements is so pronounced that I simply don’t trust her judgment. She asserts that “mom-raised sons are avatars of a new social moment, one that is producing boys who promise to become good, even exceptional, men.” But the anecdotes Drexler cites in support of this thesis are weak. For example, there is eight-year-old Quentin, who seems like quite a charmer, and who is being raised by two lesbians, along with little brother Mac. Both boys were conceived with the aid of an anonymous sperm donor.
In one anecdote, Drexler is hurrying down the street laden with briefcase and packages. Everybody rushes past her, except Quentin, who is “concerned” and stops to help her. This leads to an epiphany: Quentin is so much more considerate than the other passers-by because he is the son of two moms. But isn’t it more likely that, since Quentin was (apparently) the only one who knew Drexler, he is the most likely to stop and help her? She also quotes Gene, the product of a moms-only upbringing, saying that, when he became a Peace Corp volunteer, he could handle stress better than those who had grown up in households with fathers. Says who? Drexler takes this at face value, citing Gene’s claim almost as if it were scientifically-verified.
Drexler calls boys of mom/moms-only households “head and heart” boys because of what she sees as their emotional aptitude. But there are a number of anecdotes in the book that hint that what Drexler regards as emotional balance might seem to others a youthful and unthinking embrace of touchy feely ideals prevalent in liberal society. Indeed there were passages that left me thinking, “You can’t make this stuff up.” For example:
“That’s not to say that dealing with these sensitive sons doesn’t tax even the most patient parents. Sometimes kids are so hard to understand, and every mom can remember being ready to pull out her hair. When Bailey asked his mother, a financial manager who described herself as a moderate Democrat, about the different political parties during the presidential debates, she told him that “the Democrats were real humanitarians and that they cared about people more.” Bailey promptly burst into tears.
“Son, what’s wrong?” his bewildered mother asked.
“I’m afraid,” the boy replied. “What if I become a Republican?”
“‘Bailey’s fear I think was, what if I don’t care about people?’ his mother explained to me during his interview.”
One son does the next best thing to becoming a Republican – he joins the military, much to the chagrin of his mother, who deems it a ‘godsend’ when asthma finally keeps him out. Another son worries about world politics at the ripe old age of eight. As the wit Dorothy Parker once wrote in different circumstances, ‘Tonstant wreader throwed up.’
Conveniently, Drexler finds that the masculinity of mom-raised boys is “hardwired” and therefore a lesbian household is unlikely to create gender confusion. This is an interesting subject, especially with the number of lesbians now raising children. We need somebody with more detachment than Drexler to investigate the phenomenon, however. Drexler also portrays that the devotion some of the boys have to sports figures is not “father hunger” but rather a healthy ability to find male role models in society at large. She also thinks that extended families, including perhaps grandparents or “seed daddies,” when interested, provide sufficient male models for kids.
As befits an author with Drexler’s connections, this book comes with blurbs by all sorts of famous people–the actress Rita Wilson, best-selling author Richard North Patterson, feminist theoretician Carol Gilligan, divorce scholar Judith Wallerstein, and the Washington Post’s Elsa Walsh. But it is a pretend social study that will make those not too depressed by it dissolve into laughter.
Unfortunately, it is a purely ideological treatment of an increasingly familiar phenomenon. With so many lesbians opting to bear or adopt children, we need to know more about the effects of such child rearing. Drexler’s blinders prevent her from evaluating these families with anything approaching objectivity.
Charlotte Hays is senior editor at the Independent Women’s Forum.