Saturday, April 28, 2007

Fathers, autonomy, models

Personal political is the website of an Australian lesbian feminist who is raising a young son with a female partner. She recently wrote an entry on the topic of role models for boys. I found it interesting in revealing some of the ideological contradictions at play.

The writer is clearly into autonomy theory. This is the mainstream idea within liberalism that what matters is that we remain unimpeded (and therefore autonomous) in choosing to do or be anything we wish. The emphasis is usually on the self-determining, self-creating individual.

The writer's brother gave her son a book about boys who have achieved great things. Her instinctive feminist response to the book is this:

It's a strange kind of book. I mean, does anyone - including boys - really need to be told that "boys can do anything"?

This is the usual feminist assumption that since autonomy is what matters, and since men have power in society, that men must have autonomy.

However, the writer then backtracks and adds:

Which isn't to say that boys face no obstacles in being and becoming anything they want to be ...

This comment clearly reveals the writer's commitment to autonomy theory. But why backtrack? If I reproduce the quote in full, the answer is revealed: she believes that boys are restricted by masculinity itself:

Which isn't to say that boys face no obstacles in being and becoming anything they want to be - or even in getting to the point where they might feel a wish to somehow step outside of the accepted masculine constraints.

One thing to note here is that autonomy theory turns something that most men take to be a positive (their masculinity) into a negative (as masculinity is thought of as a constraint on being anything you want to be).

This is an undesirable feature of autonomy theory but not a contradiction. The contradiction comes at the end of the entry when we learn that the writer doesn't really want her son to be anything he wants to be after all. The writer has definite preferences for her son which she is actively guiding him toward. In her own words:

... we do take care to point out to Olle positive examples of men and boys. What, for me, is a positive example? I suppose it does incorporate men doing atypical things like dance ... I lean towards drawing his attention to men who are able to use their bodies with sensitivity, men who are expressive and intellectually creative, as a counterweight to all the bottled-up boofheads who get the mainstream kudos in our society.

What happened to the "be anything" ideal? The writer is here being quite particular in pointing out what she takes to be ideal types of character and behaviour for her son to follow, and reprehensible types to be shunned.

So even someone who is highly committed to autonomy theory doesn't stick to it in a consistent way in practice. The instinct to raise a child according to a positive ideal of character and behaviour proves too strong after all.

This means that the important issue, the one normally hidden by an emphasis on autonomy, is what a worthy ideal for boys is. There doesn't have to be a single, simplistic answer, of course, but nor is it helpful to deny the reality that such ideals will be brought forward.

The other area of ideological confusion in the entry concerns role models. The writer tells us, first, that she doesn't like the notion of role models. She believes that the formation of gender is much more complex than copying masculine or feminine behaviour. Therefore, she doesn't believe that her son, by having no father, is missing out:

That is, of course, why the claim that sons of lesbians are missing the essential role model has always struck me as nonsense.

Again, she then quickly backtracks when she adds:

(Which is different from the proposition that boys need men in their lives.)

So boys don't need a paternal role model, but they do need men in their lives.

Later, though, she states:

I don't think parenthood requires anything especially different from mothers or fathers.

I suppose this could all fit together subtly. It's not easy to put together, though. If there is no purpose to gender in our closest and most formative relationships (with our parents) then why do boys need men in their lives at all? In other words, if it's not important to our socialisation whether our primary carers are male or female, then why should it matter to our socialisation if our lesser relationships involve males or females?

I might be wrong, but I wonder if the writer is trying to justify her son having no father, without drawing the very radical conclusion that men aren’t needed in family life.

This, though, is the logical conclusion to draw: if two women are as likely to raise a son as successfully as a father and mother, then fathers aren’t necessary to family life. If men and women were truly to believe this, then the intrinsic motivation for men to feel responsible to stay with their families, and for women to encourage them to do so, is considerably weakened.

In short, the writer isn't able to present a view of gender and parenting which is both moderate and coherent (and she does seem to be trying to be moderate).


  1. Mr. Richardson,

    It seems that the argument also must include the irrelevancy of a lesbian mother if one is to be consistent. If mothers and fathers provide essentially the same things in childrearing then a motherless couple (two fathers) would be just as capable. Both lesbian and homosexual couples actually undermine their own importance by claiming their essential equality to traditional heterosexual couples.

  2. Well thordaddy, I think you are onto something. I would say that gay and lesbian relationships (or even the notion of gay marriage) are inherently sexist.

    Surefire way of losing readers to your blog as I found out too :-)


  3. I find it reprehensible that this 'lesbian' even managed to get herself into a position of raising a child, any child.

    I would whole-heartedly support a government measure that forcibly removed children from these environments and fostered them out to normal families who cannot have children of their own.

    What these lesbians are doing is child abuse pure and simple; they should be charged accordingly and put behind bars.

  4. I remember seeing a similar documentary on the ABC last year which showed a local Melbourne lesbian couple raising a boy. The ‘alpha’ female in the relationship (ie. The one who spoke all the time & controlled the conversation) conveyed a similar notion where she said that a heterosexual couple was not necessary to raise a child – only ‘love’ was.

    She then proceeded to explain how proud she was of her son excelling at ballet.

    The theme here is similar. These lesbians are ‘moulding’ their son around a feminine ideal only. Considering that a very small percentage of our population are gay, then it stands to reason that most children will grow up ‘heterosexual’. Given this, it is not hard to see how mixed up these feminist homosexuals will make their sons & daughters in the future when they are trying to gauge their (statistically) heterosexual identity, when all they have seen exposed to (& been taught) is a homosexual one from their 2 mothers/fathers.

    Feminists & homosexuals are great advocates of any unnatural scientific methods that may benefit them in their lives. Especially if their lifestyle negates it’s ‘natural’ achievement. Feminists continue to push science to further make them autonomous to men in the hope that, like lesbians, women don’t need men in their lives. They completely miss the notion that a heterosexual women’s life (when she’s young and playing ‘house’ – then later after puberty) – consists largely of “Presenting well for men” (so that men might want them).

    When one looks at most of women’s popular entertainment – it plainly obvious.

    Given this, I can’t for the life of me understand why heterosexual women continue to follow a feminist politic that ostracises them from men who desire them. I know they like the ‘power’ sentiment of independance, but I don’t think that these feminists have thought far enough into the future to understand that that independant mentality increases the likelihood that they will be ALONE in their later years.

    In general, once men get into their 30s (& beyond), there is less & less that they turn to a woman for. (Especially if those males have spent their preceding years unmarried & autonomous). It’s then simply too late for most men to desire much of anything from women.

    But I digress…

    I would be very interested to find out how these so-called (liberal) lesbians will react when their son turns out to be (statistically) heterosexual?



    Glenn Sacks exposes the truth in a book which recommends lesbian parenting over heterosexual parenting.

    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”

    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.

    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,”

  6. Mikeray, it's an interesting article you linked to.

    Peggy Drexler appears to be an autonomy liberal. She argues for the superiority of lesbian parenting on the grounds that:

    1) the resulting family relationships are self-defined and complex, rather than taken for granted

    2) the sons can choose for themselves from diverse role models, rather than being "stuck with a single role model" (their fathers)

    3) mothers can independently choose how to act as parents, without paternal interference

    4)there is less moral certainty and therefore a more open and "sophisticated" approach to "evaluating" moral issues.

    It's all about the autonomous, self-determining individual, choosing and negotiating diverse options.

    But it all comes to grief. We are supposed to believe that sons are better off with lesbian mums, so much so that the fatherless family is destined to become the norm:

    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?’”

    Let's just say this is right. Would the sons really be better off in a society where the fatherless family is the norm? What is going to happen to those sons when they grow up? They would have no means to establish settled relationships with women and little motivation to stick at difficult careers.

    What are those sons being raised for, exactly? What is it all leading to? If men have no role within the family, and little reason to have a role in the workplace, just what are Drexler's lesbian supermums socialising them to be?

  7. We are living in the garbage generation. As the traditional family structure breaks down, both men and women are left without roles and role-models.
    Your post about the 'vikingprincess' was a great read.