This week, we shift from examining specific gender differences to considering a current, societal issue perpetuated by these gender differences: A paucity of fathers, living with and caring for their own children. Rhoads cites multiple studies showing that, in the absence of fathers, daughters are triply likely to also become unwed mothers, and sons are twice as likely to become delinquents or criminals. Furthermore, the probability for poor overall health, tendency towards suicide, alcohol and narcotic abuse, and decreased life expectancy is universally increased across both genders.
Children need not only a father, but a biological father living in the home. (82)
The presence of a caring mother, or even grandmothers/boyfriends/new husbands, doesn’t appear to compensate for the lack of Dad. Rhoads details how fathers provide different skills, instruction, and encouragement than mothers, and consistently moreso to their own biological children.
Additionally, when the father is absent from the home,
… unwed mothers produce daughters who mature earlier sexually. (83)
This was fascinating to me. Evidently, a combination of survival instincts, hormones triggered by stress, and exchanged pheromones literally increases the physical development of fatherless girls. Explaining why men are less inclined to care for their own children, Rhoads says that we naturally envision different ideals:
… even girls in street gangs describe their “perfect future” as life with a man who will provide protection and “unconditional love…” Boys on the other hand, want to play a game and avoid marriage. (86)
This cycle injures both genders, but Rhoads focuses heavily on how we women are impacted.
Too often, women who are wounded by the loss of their fathers… go from man to man, from bed to bed, calling sex ‘love’ and hoping to be healed by the physical closeness. (94) Without a father, a girl has a hard time reading men… But if her father loves her, a girl will be able to see herself as worthy of genuine affection and respect and will be able to demand the same from other men in her life. (94)
By this point, I was depressed. Clearly, the absence of fathers is massively damaging, whereas their presence is immensely beneficial; but, the reality remains – men seem inclined towards shirking parental responsibility. However, in the final pages of the chapter Rhoads shifts to a faintly more hopeful tone.
The key to unlocking male investment seems to be marriage. (90)
Married men are less anxious, healthier, happier, and live longer than their unattached counterparts. The bond of marriage appears to elicit better behavior from men who have formerly only cared about themselves; Rhoads cites the phenomenon of immigrant workers sending their money home to their families as an example of this. In conclusion, Rhoads says that
A man’s sense of duty and capacity for sacrifice will be brought forth more readily if women will say “no” to casual sex and give them more time and motive to turn their lust into love. (95)
I felt both relief and resentment at this rapid about-face. Apparently, men can indeed grow in their capacity for commitment, and this prospect of a solution was cheering; but it also felt like the weight of implementing this solution was primarily on women. We women would need to behave in ways to slow or inhibit the negative male tendencies; Rhoads doesn’t make any suggestion that men ought to, say, simply develop better self-control, for everyone’s sake. Nevertheless, I suspect I may by over-critiquing here. Maybe Rhoads’ editor cut a key paragraph about men taking ownership for their choices. Maybe Rhoads was just trying to show another way that both genders are perpetuating the problem of fatherlessness. Probably Rhoads merely meant to encourage women to wait for those men who will cherish us honorably and permanently, and is simply telling us that if/when we do so, both parties improve. Honestly, I might have just felt better if an equal number of “Men can become better” studies had been cited, after all those “Men are instinctively beastly” ones. Still, if male tendencies are really this universally predictable, serious acknowledgement among policy makers and cultural leaders is imperative. Next week, Elizabeth will blog about the first half of Chapter 5, “The Sexual Revolution.”