Caitlin “I Checked My Nuance At The Door” Flanagan Strikes Again

From the What the Fuck Department comes this Caitlin Flanagan review (no surprise) of Peggy Drexler‘s book Raising Boys Without Men (as discovered by Scott). Flangan’s essay originally appeared in The Atlantic and has, much to a thinker’s regret, invaded Powell’s fortifications. Drexler has apparently posited a fascinating thesis: boys raised by women without men (read: lesbians and single mothers, referred to here as “maverick moms”) turn out better than boys raised by mothers and fathers. Instead of examining this interesting premise with some nuance, Flanagan takes umbrage against it, failing to realize that a son “better” raised by a maverick mom doesn’t necessarily translate into a “flawless” adolescence or, obversely, a mom and dad there to “fuck you up” — to use Flanagan’s hyperbole.

Scott argues that the problem with Drexler’s book is that there’s no middle ground. But I would argue that it is Flanagan herself who is incapable of walking the middle ground. This means we have a great problem with how the book is being presented. Because when it comes to something as complex as parental roles and child development, a critic cannot cling to cheap dichotomies like a life preserver if she expects to think her way up the river.

Even if we accept Flanagan’s notion that Drexler presents “the low-down rottenness of men” (nowhere in her review does she present a quote from Drexler’s book supporting this idea, other than the “wounded rhinos” thing, which strikes me as more metaphor than calumny), I’m wondering if Flanagan is threatened by the idea of someone not only pointing out “competition, dominance and control” as male issues, but also Drexler’s suggestion that women can instill some variant of these issues. (By way of contrast, both this review from the San Francisco Bay Guardian and this Library Journal review seem to suggest that Drexler is only stating that “maverick mom” relationships exist as a viable alternative and that might, in fact, be better for the developing child.)

A real critic, even a cogent conservative (cogency seems to have escaped Ms. Flanagan from Day One), might have challenged Drexler on whether or not paternally imbued masculinity is essential to child development. Instead, Flanagan puts crass metaphors into Drexler’s mouth (“In her opinion, maleness is a bit like Jiffy Pop”) and then proceeds to categorize Drexler’s book as “the latest entry” in “‘You go, girl!’ studies,” ending with an antifeminist tirade that has little to do with the book, much less Drexler’s argument.

This is reviewing? I certainly hope that this sort of black-and-white depiction of gender roles isn’t what the Atlantic considers to be the apotheosis of criticism.


  1. I am going to break the cardinal rule of readers here and begin with, “I haven’t read the review, but…I LOVE CAITLIN FLANAGAN! I DO I DO I DO!”

    I know she is kind of (“Kind of!”–Ed) a crackpot, but her prose is good. She’s like the restaurant where the food is amazing but the chef sometimes spits on your meal.

  2. Wasn’t it the Atlantic who, some years ago, put “Dan Quayle Was Right” on their cover in reference to the whole Murphy Brown-single mom deal? Couldn’t Flanagan have marshaled some of that data (assuming it exists)?

  3. Flanagan is right on the money – Drexler’s book is just more non-sense from the liberal Left who are attempting (and failing) to backhandedly implicate Men as the cause of our social ills. The days of males being evil, war-mongering, neanderthals should be left where they belong – on the campuses of 60’s student radicals.

    I don’t think your blog contributes much (though this is premature as I haven’t read any of your works) to the discourse of single parenthood – there is plenty of data to show that the kids of single parents get “fucked up”. The data also shows that kids with 2 same-gender parents do grow up much healthier than their single-parent counterparts.

    Just my $0.02

    The Left is “tolerant” only of those with their same views. Intereting, no?

  4. Michel: Anyone, left or right, can be guilty of drawing the kind of silly generalizations that you have. If you had presented examples to support your argument instead of resorting to an ad hominen technique, then I wouldn’t declare your comment as such and would read your comment, irrespective of ideology, on its own terms.

    I myself am something of a liberal, but I do not implicate men as the cause of social ills. So your thesis fails. However, it would be foolhardy to discount the social obstacles presented to women and their impact on families and life at large. By society’s current standards, a woman cannot wear the same dress twice if she expects to be presentable. The man can. A woman must make sure her hair and makeup help to make her presentable. The man doesn’t have this obligation. As this Boston Glolbe article notes, a woman, on average, earns less income that a man occupying a similar position does. Time and money thus become substantial factors to women. And if Drexler’s conclusions are to be believed, it is remarkable that women excel as mothers in single-parent and same-sex families. It is not a question of demonizing men, but of bringing these issues to the forefront. I recommend that you read Naomi Wolf’s excellent book on the subject, The Beauty Myth, which examines much of the issues using comprehensive sources that I am exploring here.

    As to your “data,” to what elusive information are you referring to? Or are you making up statistics as you go along?

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