As I read Louise Sloan's new book Knock Yourself Up, I couldn't help
thinking about Bette Davis' famous line from All About Eve: "Buckle up.
It's going to be a bumpy night."
Sure enough, her funny and personal argument that single women who want
to have children should take things into their own hands drew quick
fire from predictable quarters.
Although the media gravitated quickly and inevitably to images of
turkey basters, critics from the right seized on the socially
blasphemous cover line ... "No Man? No Problem."
While a few, of course, condemned the do-it-yourself aspect of the
process, more were concerned with the result. She has been accused of
"screeching about women's rights while violating the human rights of
her own child" and "pursuing her pregnancy fantasies by making
consummately selfish choices."
Such response doesn't really surprise me. I've been there myself.
When I wrote a book called Raising Boys Without Men - How Maverick Moms
are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men my assault on two
parent hetero-normalcy was to publish research findings that argued the
sons of single mothers and lesbian couples turned out better than fine.
My long-term study of these boys (compared to boys raised in
traditional nuclear families) found young men who were not only
masculine and well-adjusted, but tended to be kinder and more in touch
with their feelings.
Balancing praise for the book from many quarters were invitations to
"Go back to Russia where you belong, you commie bitch," and other
responses that had me for a time considering hiring security.
I don't know whether anthropologist Margaret Mead drew that kind of
heat when she said, "Fathers are a biological necessity, but a social
accident. But the fact is, suggesting that fathers aren't necessary
just seems to get people riled up.
The problem is simple enough. When you apply stringent limitations to
the notion of family, then anything outside of those limitations
quickly becomes an either-or proposition. To argue that fathers aren't
compulsory in raising happy, healthy and productive children quickly
translates to a statement that fathers are irrelevant.
A dependable masculine presence is a wonderful part of a family. I know
that on a very personal level because a heart attack took mine away
when I was three. Louise Sloan lost her father the same way at age two.
But to assign any family a lesser value because a father - by
circumstance or choice - isn't there is not only ludicrous, it's small
and mean. It's an arbitrary and arrogant denial of all that families
are and can be.
While the deniers of a broader definition of family cling to cherished
stereotypes of the family unit, the world has a way of moving on.
Nearly a third of American households are headed by women alone. The
National Center for Human Statistics reports that, between 1999 and
2003, the number of children born to unmarried women between 15 and 24
declined 6 percent. For unmarried women between ages of 30 and 44, the
figure increased 17 percent. Clearly choice is a big part of those
If Mr. Right comes into the life of a woman via a sperm bank and an
appliance, so be it. Like the results of a married hetero union, not
every result of that conception will be a happy and successful child.
But most of them will. Instead of labeling those families, instead of
giving short odds on their success - why can't we simply wish them well?