Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mama's Boys

I've begun reading Peggy Drexler's Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men recently, and so far I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Full disclosure: I hardly am objective about the subject, being mostly raised by a single mother. Drexler's main research focuses on the effects of parenting when boys are raised without a male parent. She originally was studying lesbian couples who were raising boys, but expanded her research to include single mothers.

The thing that I like about the way Drexler begins the book is that she's basically examining some long-held stereotypes about the way boys become men; these stereotypes are so long-held to seem to be unassailable truths to lots of people. Even very liberal adoption agencies who like to place children with lesbian couples, for instance, have a policy of questioning what male influences the kid will have, though they don't have a similar policy of questioning what female influences a kid adopted by two men will have. The stereotypes that Drexler is examining are (again) pervasive in the extreme:

According to Freud and others who followed him, June alone could not have achieved everything required to bring up “the Beav” successfully. During the first 3 to 4 years of Beaver's life, he would have needed Ward to imitate, long for, and react to, in order to gain the prize of being like his father. This theory—that boys acquire masculinity only with an in-house male in the mother's bedroom—has prevailed to the detriment of both mothers and their sons. It presumes that the earliest relationship between infant and mother is simply a caretaking one. The assumption is that the mother is only a need provider for her son, while he in turn becomes physically and emotionally depending on her. Eventually, assuming there is a present father in the home, the mother must withdraw herself from the child if her son is to become independent of her and escape the dire fate of being a mama's boy.(pp ix)
And , and as it turns out, women get all of the blame and none of the praise for raising sons:
It's a double bind for moms because fathers seem to carry much less responsibility for the problems their sons may have, but in the political and popular culture of today, they are considered absolutely essential to raising good sons.
Dads get lots of the praise, but little of the blame. They are essential, but they can do little wrong, as long as they are around. This is also part of the devaluing of men, really, because they somehow exist to just be around, but there's nothing that they do, except be role models somehow.

And then we have custody fights. More and more when the father wants custody, he uses the successful mother's career as a strategy to get the children. Pamela McGee, who plays for the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks, lost custody of her 4-year-old daughter while the court investigated whether McGee's work prevented her from being a good mother. In his motion for temporary sole custody, McGee's ex-husband, the Reverend Kevin E. Stafford, asserted that a career and motherhood are mutually exclusive. McGee's “level of achievement,” he argued, impaired her ability to parent their child. McGee was on the road 44 weeks a year. And the father said it tok away too much from the daughter. But the court did not investigate whether the father's travel schedule, which took him on the road 7 to 8 weeks a year, made him an unfit father.(pp 6)
I'll be getting more into Drexler's ideas the further I get into the book. She seems to have some wrong-ish ideas centering around gender essentialism (she seems to put a lot of weight on some sort of inherent boyishness that boys have regardless of their parents or anything else, which asserts itself), but I'm hoping that most of her points are like some of these first few--she has a bold voice which calls out wrongs which are so pervasive that they can be difficult to draw our attention to.
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