Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men
by Peggy Drexler Ph. D.
Boys Will Be Boys
A review by Caitlin Flanagan
Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., is a renowned gender scholar at Cornell who has also held
a prestigious post at Stanford. Raising Boys Without Men is the result
of her "groundbreaking study" into "maverick moms" -- lesbians and "single mothers
by choice" who are raising sons. It turns out that boys raised by women without
men are actually better off than boys raised by mothers and fathers. They may
fuck you up, your mum and dad, but two mums can make a "head-and-heart boy" out
Drexler asserts that the most important element in predicting how a child turns
out is not the number or gender of his parents but their economic status. Since
most maverick moms are relatively affluent and highly educated, their sons are
less likely to end up in trouble -- legal, educational, or emotional -- than
are those of the general population. This essential truth trumps almost all
arguments against gay and single-by-choice parenthood. What's left are religious
objections and distaste for a lifestyle, and those are hardly the basis for
No sooner, however, is the reader nodding in agreement than Drexler kicks the
book into high gear: not since the SCUM Manifesto have we had such a comprehensive
accounting of the low-down rottenness of men. A household with a dad in it is
a place where "competition, dominance, and control" are the mainstays. Men,
if roused to emotion, become like "wounded rhinos" -- verbally or physically
aggressive. Dads demand too much of sons, expect athletic excellence, bully
them. "Not having a dad has let Henry off the hook," one lesbian mom reports;
"he doesn't do well if he's pushed into things." The book is full of bad dads,
from Austin Powers's crappy father (who missed a school event) to Ward Cleaver,
whose crimes are beyond number. (Most feminists consider the producers of Leave
It to Beaver to be Burbank's answer to Leni Riefenstahl.)
Like Gunsmoke's Miss Kitty, maverick moms affect a jaded familiarity
with male behavior, but the little rascals succeed in shocking their delicate
mothers time and again. One mother gives her son a toy hair dryer for Christmas
and then is horrified when he pretends it's a gun instead of a styling aid.
Two brothers are so full of aggro that they desperately gnaw their toast into
guns and start shooting. Occasionally, male problem-solving techniques give
the moms a happy surprise. One son gave a broken washing machine a hard kick
(a prelude to gnawing it into a rocket launcher?) and -- shazam! -- the thing
cut back on and has been working ever since. Like boys the world over, these
ones tend to brood silently over baseball cards and ball games. Of course, nothing
makes a woman go bananas like a man who won't talk, so the poor kids have to
yak, yak, yak about their feelings or they'll never get to see the bottom of
Drexler believes not that gender is a construct, layered on by the culture,
but that differences between the sexes are genetic. This is entirely correct -- but
Drexler takes the idea a step further. She believes that because masculinity
arises naturally, boys don't need an actual father on the premises to shape
or inform it. In her opinion, maleness is a bit like Jiffy Pop -- put the
thing on the stove, give it a shake now and then to keep it from overheating,
and voilà: let's eat!
Raising Boys Without Men is as much a work of advocacy as objective
research. As such, it's the latest entry in the ever growing field of "You go,
girl!" studies. There is nothing a woman can do that is so fundamentally self-centered
that it won't be met with a cackle of "You go, girl!" from a female somewhere
on the planet. It's a way of transforming an essentially selfish act into one
of liberation, and thereby protecting it from male criticism.
I've decided to stop cooking and let the kids nuke potpies for dinner.
You go, girl!
I made my husband clean the whole house.
You go, girl!
I stopped dating losers and got myself inseminated.
You go, girl -- and here's a groundbreaking study to prove you're doing the
little shaver a world of good!
The boys in the study pine for their fathers. Drexler notes that they share
a peculiarly intense fascination with father-son athletes from the world of
professional sports, and that they have an outsize interest in superheroes.
Those who have ongoing relationships with their "seed daddies" mourn
piteously when the men fail to take a fatherly interest in them. A humane assessment
of these impulses would be that boys want fathers, but when the world does not
mete them out (because of either tragedy or maternal intention), good mothers
can ease the pain and do what widows and abandoned women have done throughout
time: raise their sons as best they can, often with great success.
But this is "You go, girl!" territory, and no quarter can be given to
any fact that might suggest the women are slighting their children. None of
these boys is exhibiting "father hunger," Drexler reports; it's only natural
"to long for what you don't have." Not having a father is a bit like not having
a skateboard -- kind of a bummer, but at least you don't have to worry about
One could logically conclude from this report that the very worst situation
for a boy would be to have two fathers raise him -- but I'm sure Drexler doesn't
mean that. It's straight men she's afraid of, and it's been open season on them
for such a long time that her preposterous book is unlikely to raise a ripple
beyond its intended audience. Yet the book and its conclusions are not without
consequence beyond the tightly circumscribed world she describes.
We are all building a culture together, and it is one with a remarkably consistent
message. From the shady groves of our elite universities to the Hollywood offices
of Interscope Records, a chorus of powerful voices is telling us that men don't
need to stand by their women and children anymore. Male rappers delight in this
notion because there is sexual power to be gained by impregnating many women.
Feminists like it because it allows them to enjoy the delights of being a mother
without the hassles of being a wife.
The ramifications of this new attitude are going to be grave. Belittle men's
responsibilities to their families, raise boys to believe that fatherhood is
not a worthy aspiration, and the people who will suffer are women and children.
For the past forty years women have been insisting that they be able to enjoy
the same sexual freedoms as men (You go, girl!), and to become single
mothers by choice (ditto!). Surprise, surprise: men have been more than
happy to comply. Someday American women may realize that the great achievement
of civilization wasn't Erica Jong's zipless fuck of yesteryear. It was convincing
men that they had an obligation to contain their sexual energies within marriage
and to support -- economically and emotionally -- the children they created
in that marriage. You go, June Cleaver!
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