By Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., with Linden GrossRodale
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 of you.
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 public policy.
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 the ninth.
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.