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Raising Boys Without Men: Lesbian parents good, dads bad

By Glenn Sacks
web posted September 26, 2005

It's one thing to be respectful of gays and gay parents. It's quite another to engineer a deceptive study and use it to assert that lesbian families are a better environment in which to raise boys than heterosexual families. That's what former Stanford University gender scholar Peggy F. Drexler, Ph.D. does in her new book Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men. Unfortunately the mainstream media is helping her promote her claims.

In the book's opening pages Drexler's message is one of tolerance for various family forms, as she notes that lesbian and single mother families "can" effectively raise boys. But Raising Boys soon devolves into outright advocacy of lesbian parenting. In Drexler's world, lesbian families -- protected from fathers and their toxic masculinity -- are the best environments in which to raise boys. Married heterosexual mothers try their best, but the positive influence these hapless moms try to impart to their children is overwhelmed by that of the malevolent family patriarch.

According to Drexler, lesbian moms are "more sophisticated about how they teach their sons right from wrong" than heterosexual couples, and there are "real advantages for a boy being raised in this new type of family." Heterosexual mothers don't measure up in "moral attitude," and are less likely than lesbian moms to "create opportunities for their sons to examine moral and values issues." This in turn slows the "moral development in their sons."

Furthermore, Drexler asserts that boys raised by lesbians "grow up emotionally stronger," "have a wider range of interests and friendships," and "appear more at ease in situations of conflict" than boys from "traditional" (i.e., father-present) households. Fatherless boys "exhibit a high degree of emotional savvy, an intuitive grasp of people and situations." Best of all, sons of lesbian couples are much more willing to discard traditional masculinity than boys trapped in heterosexual households.

For example, Fiona's son paints his nails, while both of Maria's sons dance ballet. Ursula's son chose sewing and cooking for his electives in 7th grade. Kathy's son has rejected playing baseball as being "too competitive" -- no surprise, because in their local, father-led baseball league, "the better players get more playing time."

Yet Drexler's research has obvious flaws. For one, the families she studied were middle to upper class, older women who volunteered to have their lives intimately scrutinized over a multiyear period--an unrepresentative, self-selected sample.

More importantly, her research suffers from confirmatory bias -- Drexler saw what she wanted to see. Drexler is not an objective social scientist, but instead a passionate advocate for lesbian mothers. She calls the "maverick mothers" raising sons without men "avatars of a new social movement," and says her book's "stories, voices, data, and findings will reassure, hearten, and empower" them. Her research did not measure objective indices of child well-being, such as rates of juvenile crime, dropouts or teen pregnancy. Instead Drexler personally conducted interviews of mothers and their sons and made subjective judgments about their family lives. It is not surprising that Drexler found lesbian families to her liking. In fact, her dogged determination to see only good in lesbian couples and problems in heterosexual ones at times reaches absurd proportions.

For example, though Drexler doesn't seem to notice, her lesbian moms, particularly the "social" (i.e., nonbiological moms), cheerfully endure insults and disrespect that no parent should ever tolerate. Carol's son calls her "stupid." Bianca's son calls her "lazy." Martha's son hops into her bed and effectively tells Martha tough luck, sucker--go sleep somewhere else. Thankfully, in each case progressive lesbian mom dealt with the problem through patience and talking. By contrast dad -- who Drexler usually portrays as being overly strict--would probably have had junior pull weeds in the yard for a few hours as he waves goodbye to his PlayStation. He is (sigh) sadly unenlightened.

For Drexler, boys raised by lesbians are a better breed than those raised by heterosexual couples. One day when Drexler was struggling to hold on to her briefcase and her bags, 11 year-old Damien saw "that I needed help and immediately offered it." Drexler is taken aback -- a boy being helpful and caring? She notes "when I thought about it later, it clicked in my head: This is a boy being raised by two moms."

Lesbian-raised Cody helps clean up the playroom. Lesbian-raised Brad offers Drexler a stool to sit on when she comes to his room to interview her. Both considerations are the product, we are assured, of their special upbringings. Yet if Drexler had been willing to look she could have found many kind, helpful, empathetic boys raised by heterosexual couples -- like my 12 year-old son, who recently told his grandparents "I want you to move next door to us, even though it will mean more chores for me."

At the same time, Drexler refuses to see obvious indications that the boys she interviews need fathers. When one of Brad's two moms picks him up from the daycare center after work, every day she has to pry the six year-old off of the leg of an after-school worker named Ron to whom Brad is -- pun intended -- quite attached. A less determined researcher might see this as evidence of Brad's need for a dad. Not Drexler, who instead tells us that, given Ron's presence, Brad's mom "knew she didn't need to worry about Brad's lack of an everyday father in his life."

Julia's little boy says "I want a daddy." Darlene's little boy tells his mom "we could find a daddy and he could move in with us." Three year-old Ian--fatherless by the decision of his "single mother by choice" mom Leslie--watches TV with mom, continually pointing at male figures on the screen and saying "there's my daddy." Leslie explains "no, we don't have a daddy in our family," but little Ian doesn't get it and continues to point and ask. A problem? Not according to Drexler, who writes "Will some little boys trail after men they don't even know, perk up at lower-decibel voices, or hang on to the pant legs of the men who cross their paths? Maybe." But whatever it is, she assures us, it isn't father hunger.

She enthuses that "sons of lesbians went to great efforts to define the terms of the bonds and relationships in their lives that the boys from straight families seemed to take for granted. All terms in their lives were complex." Is this a good thing?

Drexler does allow that some male figures can be positive for boys. Who? "Grandfathers, godfathers, uncles, family friends, coaches" -- in short, anybody but dad. In fact, boys being raised without fathers benefit because they enjoy "more male figures in their lives than boys from traditional families." But more does not mean better, and a group of men with little stake in a boy's life are a poor substitute for a father's love and devotion to his children. Nor can they provide the modeling that boys need--the best way for a boy to learn how to become a good husband and father is to watch his father do it.

Drexler believes that boys in heterosexual families are worse off because they are "stuck with a single male role model" -- dad--whereas in lesbian families boys are free to choose their own. Yet a child does not have the judgment to properly select his own role models, even with a parent's input. The fact that fatherless boys usually choose older, rebellious, thuggish boys as their role models -- and are often led by them to their perdition -- eludes Drexler.

Drexler holds up a variety of other family forms and "nonofficial parenting figures" as alternatives to heterosexual, married families, including Hillary Clinton's village, "communal living," and "seed daddies." She approvingly quotes a columnist who writes "with so many single mothers around, and double mothers becoming less of a novelty, it is the children of traditional couples who are going to be asked 'who is that man in your house?'"

The boys Drexler studied don't need their dads, but instead benefit because their absence helps create what one might call the "maternal dictatorship." For Ursula, the single mother of two boys, Drexler enthuses that there's "no discussion about parenting methodologies. No crossed signals, no compromising, the decisions, the choices, the priorities were all hers." Better yet, "Lesbian co-parents 'achieve a particularly high level of parenting skills, [and] a greater level of agreement than heterosexual couples. A higher degree of consensus cut down on conflict in the home, enabling a clear message of love and support to be heard by the kids."

Drexler has it exactly wrong -- conflict over parenting methods and strategies is not a negative but a positive, for two competing and different viewpoints wean out bad ideas and help preserve good ones. This is particularly true in heterosexual couples, where both male and female perspectives are considered in decision-making. By contrast, in single parent homes ideas and parenting strategies are implemented without consultation, and the effect can be harmful. In lesbian homes, parenting strategies are used on boys without input from anyone who actually knows what it's like to be a boy.

While Raising Boys is being promoted as a harmless, feel-good affirmation for "maverick moms," it is in fact an attack on the institution that research shows is the best-suited to raising children -- the family. Drexler encourages women thinking of having fatherless children to make that "leap of faith." But the rates of all major youth pathologies, including juvenile crime, teen pregnancy, teen drug abuse, and school dropouts, are tightly correlated with fatherlessness. Drexler waxes poetic about the nebulous benefits of fatherless parenting, but makes little attempt to explain why fatherless families produce so many troubled and pathological children.

The boys raised by the well-heeled, educated San Francisco lesbian couples Drexler studied will probably do better than most fatherless boys because their socioeconomic status is higher. But nothing in Drexler's research indicates that an extra mom can replace the strength, tough love and modeling a father gives his son.


Glenn Sacks taught elementary school and high school in Los Angeles Unified School District and others, and was named to "Who's Who Among America's Teachers" three times. His columns on men's and fathers' issues have appeared in dozens of the largest newspapers in the United States. He invites readers to visit his website at www.GlennSacks.com. This column first appeared in World Net Daily (9/10/05).

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