There has arisen a murmuring and a discontent among academic feminists who
sense a threat to the feminist/sexual revolution in the public's awareness
of the social pathology of female-headed families, a pathology whose existence
they would like to deny. According to Terry Arendell,
The long-held view
that the absence of a father adversely affects children has increasingly
been challenged. For example, a study of nearly nine hundred school-aged
children found that single-parent families were just as effective in rearing
children as traditional two-parent families. After controlling for socioeconomic
variables and matching groups of children in father-present and father-absent
families, they found no significant differences between the two groups [Feldman,
H. 1979. "Why We Need a Family Policy." Journal of Marriage and the Family
41 (3): 453-455]. Another scholar argues: "Studies that adequately control
for economic status challenge the popular homily that divorce is disastrous
for children. Differences between children from one- and two- parent homes
of comparable status on school achievement, social adjustment, and delinquent
behavior are small or even nonexistent" [Bane, M. 1976. Here to Stay: American
Families in the Twentieth Century, p. 111].
This is like saying
that pygmies are no shorter than other people with whom they have been matched
for height. "After controlling for socioeconomic variables" means after leaving
out most of the evidence. Arendell wants to limit her comparison to female-headed
homes where divorce or illegitimacy does not produce economic deterioration
and lowered standards of living. But the whole thrust of her book and of
Lenore Weitzman's Divorce Revolution and of half a library of other feminist
literature is that divorce, father-absence and illegitimacy do lower the
standard of living of ex-wives and "their" children; so Arendell is saying
that there is no deterioration in school achievement, social adjustment,
etc.--except in almost every case.
Arendell's framing of her assertion contains the suggestio falsi that the
problem of single women is wholly economic and that therefore it can be solved
by further amercing the ex-husband or ex-boyfriend who, for the purpose of
making him justifiably amerceable, must be misrepresented (by the gerrymandering
of evidence discussed in Chapter VIII) as enriched by divorce or non- marriage.
What she is here acknowledging is that money, a good thing, commonly keeps
company with other good things--high status, high educational achievement,
social stability and so forth. She explains what happens when these good
things are expelled along with Dad:
The children could
not help being adversely affected by the reduced standard of living and new
economic stresses that confronted their mothers. They were affected most
directly by the conflict between their own needs and the demands of their
mothers' new jobs. Being put into child care, being without supervision before
and after school, having to remain home alone when ill, or having to deal
with mothers who felt chronically fatigued and overburdened were all major
adjustments for many of them.
The children suffer
both paternal and maternal deprivation-- paternal deprivation inflicted by
Mom's throwing Dad out of the house, maternal deprivation by Mom's absenting
herself as a wage earner because she no longer has Dad as a provider.
"There is," say Henry B. Biller and Richard S. Solomon,
of the association between socioeconomic status and various aspects of children's
cognitive and social functioning. Many researchers have argued that the impact
of father-absence and divorce on children's development is, for the most
part, an artifact of lowered socioeconomic status. Some research, however,
suggests that, in fact, single-parent status may actually be a more powerful
predictor of the academic and social functioning of young children at school
entry than is socioeconomic status or any other family background, developmental
history, or health variable. Guidubaldi and Perry [Guidubaldi, J., and Perry,
J. D. 1984. "Divorce, Socioeconomic Status, and Children's Cognitive- Social
Competence at School Entry," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 54, 459-468]
reported striking evidence that single-parent status accounts for much
statistically independent variance, and is highly predictive of performance
on various indexes of academic and social competence, even when socioeconomic
status is controlled through regression analyses. Although family structure
in itself was not associated with intellectual ability measures, children
from single-parent homes were found to be much more at risk for poor academic
performance and sociobehavioral difficulties upon entering school than were
children from two-parent families [Guidubaldi, J.. 1983. "The Impact of Divorce
on Children: Report of the Nationwide NASP Study," School Psychology Review,
12, 300-323; Guidubaldi and Perry, 1984].
According to Elizabeth
Herzog and Cecilia Sudia,
It is often implied
or stated that the causal element in the reported association of father's
absence and juvenile delinquency is lack of paternal supervision and control.
Studies that inquire into family factors confirm the importance of supervision,
but not the indispensability of the father to that element of child-rearing.
No one would assert
the father's presence is indispensable to the proper socializing of children.
Many single mothers do an excellent job of child-rearing on their own or
with the assistance of a father-surrogate. So do many orphan asylums. What
the evidence cited in the Annex shows is that there exists an ominous correlation
between father-absence and delinquency. Herzog and Sudia maintain merely
that the correlation is less than one hundred percent--which is unquestionable,
The same faulty logic occurs in the following:
The questions here
are merely whether the father is the only available source of masculine identity
and whether absence of a father from the home necessarily impairs a boy's
masculine identity. The studies reviewed do not, in our view, provide solid
support for such a thesis.
No one would suppose
the father was the "only" source or that his absence "necessarily" impaired
the boy's masculine identity. No one would suppose, in other words, that
there existed a hundred percent correlation between father-absence and impaired
masculinity in sons. But having thus triumphantly disproved what was never
asserted, Herzog and Sudia affect to believe that they have disproved what
is asserted, that there exists a significant correlation between father absence
and impaired masculinity in sons.
studies usually include father's absence as part of the family configuration
rather than as a sole and separate factor. Some of them find father's absence
significantly related to juvenile delinquency and some do not. A recurrent
finding, however, is that other factors are more important, especially competent
supervision of the child and general family climate or harmony.
established in the Annex show that the father's presence is often not merely
"another factor," but the most relevant factor, that the absence of the father
often means the absence of more competent supervision and its replacement
by less competent supervision. Herzog and Sudia's argument is comparable
to saying that the absence of the father's paycheck is not as important as
"other factors" such as adequate income. It is the father's paycheck which
commonly provides the adequate income children need; and it is the father'
socialization which commonly provides the competent supervision children
It is often, say Herzog and Sudia,
difficult to know
whether reported differences related more strongly to family factors (including
fatherlessness) or to SES [socioeconomic status]--the more so since family
factors and SES are intricately intertwined.
They had better
be. The intertwining of family factors and SES is an essential part of the
patriarchal system, which motivates males to create wealth, in exchange for
which it guarantees them a secure family role. It is for this reason that
families must be headed by fathers and why fathers must not permit their
paychecks to be taken from them for the purpose of subsidizing ex-wives and
According to the feminist sociologists Patricia Van Voorhis, Francis T. Cullen,
Richard A. Mathers and Connie Chenoweth Garner, "Marital status (single versus
two-parent home) and marital conflict were weak predictors of delinquency."
No one would suppose otherwise. The correlation between broken home and
delinquency is nowhere near high enough to predict that a particular child
from such a home will become delinquent--any more than the Highway Patrol
can predict which drunk will have an accident. What can be predicted is that
children from broken homes will be overrepresented in the class of delinquents
and that people who drink will be overrepresented among those who have accidents.
Assertions that evidence concerning the problems of fatherlessness "are a
dubious predictor...most of these studies...typically show overprediction
of problems" are irrelevant.
Herzog and Sudia's insistence that father-absence is not of primary importance
because "other factors are more important, especially competent supervision
of the child and general family climate or harmony" is inconsistent with
another point they make when they are grinding a different axe and wish their
readers to believe in the inability of single mothers to provide what they
previously insisted they could provide. The mothers cannot provide the "competent
supervision...and general family climate or harmony" because of their "sense
of incompleteness and frustration, of failure and guilt, feelings of ambivalence
between them and their children, loneliness, loss of self-esteem, hostility
toward men, problems with ex-husbands, problems of income and how to find
the right job, anxiety about children and their problems, and a tendency
to overcompensate for the loss to their children....This anxious picture
seems related to the findings of M. Rosenberg...and J. Landis...that children
of divorce show less self esteem....Among low-income mothers, Rainwater...found
a majority of female respondents saying that a separated woman will miss
most companionship or love or sex, or simply that she will be lonesome.
Descriptions of AFDC mothers repeatedly stress their loneliness and anxiety,
which breed and are bred by apathy, depression, and lethargy."
Is it any wonder that women family heads such as these generate a
disproportionate amount of social pathology?
When the single mothers do properly socialize children along patriarchal
lines, they fall foul of other feminists like Phyllis Chesler, who rails
at them for perpetuating patriarchy and "sexism":
mothers still complicity [sic] in the reproduction of sexism? Don't they,
in Sarah Ruddick's words, carry out "The Father's Will"--even or especially
in His absence? Aren't patriarchal mothers, in Mary Daly's words, their own
It is acknowledged
that there is an "officially recognized" correlation between delinquency
and father-absence but this is said to be the result of prejudice: police
and social workers and teachers expect fatherless children to be more delinquent
and they stereotype them and discriminate against them on the basis of their
stereotype. "Teachers and other social agents," say Van Voorhis, Cullen,
Mathers and Garner,
are more likely
to expect and ultimately perceive poor behavior from the children of divorced
of juvenile justice routinely include the stability of the home as a criterion
for legal intervention," says feminist Margaret Farnsworth,
such evidence may
reflect a self-fulfilling prophecy.....That is, decision-making policy based
on the assumption that broken homes lead to delinquency could, in itself,
account for the higher official rate of delinquency observed among juveniles
from broken homes.
Why do social workers,
teachers and juvenile authorities--the people who interact day in and day
out with disturbed kids--why do they expect those without fathers to be more
frequently messed-up? These people are far more qualified as experts than
academic feminists sitting in offices and writing tendentious articles enveloped
in impenetrable jargon and statistical mystifications. "My observation,"
writes Mrs. Betty Arras (quoted in the Annex above), shared by virtually
all my colleagues in that school [in the Oakland ghetto] was that broken
homes hurt children in every way--emotionally, academically, and socially.
Annex to chapter I