Are men necessary?

The male of the species is having a hard time of it in the media this week.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published February 4, 2009 11:14AM (EST)

That's the question one might wonder, given men's recent short shrift in the the press. First, on Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran a feature by Emily Bazelton on single-by-choice mothers who "forgo romantic and sexual relationships for extended stretches." Shrugging off dating as an inevitable casualty of motherhood, the women instead rely on fellow solo moms for social and emotional (if not sexual) support. Not that the women seem to miss it much -- one woman refers to the men of her pre-motherhood life as "deadbeats," another considers the quest for a mate "like adding on a big mess to something that's comparatively stable." And, according to the author, all the women in the story expressed satisfaction with not having to share their parental authority with another person.

Perhaps they're sensing the bad vibes coming from their partnered friends -- witness the furor this week over Parenting.com's atomic screed "Mad at Dad," which Broadsheet writer Abigail Kramer previously discussed. In it, writer Martha Brockenbrough acknowledges she gets "furious" at her husband over his parenting style -- and finds she's far from alone. Reading through Brockenbrough's litany of women's complaints -- their spouses' devotion to their TiVos and video games, their inability to pull together a meal or get their kids in mittens -- one would have to wonder if no dad is better than that lump on the couch.

I don't for a second dismiss the choice of any working single mother to opt out of the dating scene. And I've got your back on the charge that a lot of dads phone it in. For what it's worth, I'm no apologist for nuclear families. I was raised without a father and managed to grow up reasonably sane and secure.

But I don't quite see how this notion of men as optional is good for any of us -- men or women, boys or girls. My kids have a dad who is flawed, forgetful and who, for the record, worships them and enriches their lives in a thousand ways I'd never have come up with on my own. Men -- friends, fathers and lovers -- aren't expendable. They're part of the world in which we raise our kids. Some of them are duds, but guess what? So are some of us, ladies. And isn't the notion of dismissing one gender as hopeless fuckups just a little ... sexist?


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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