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.