June 19, 2007
From the mouths of penguins…
Posted by: Chris
My favorite comic strip in college was Berkeley Breathed's "Bloom County," so it's good to see him back stirring up trouble. The strip's second coming (actually, third comng) features roughly the same cast of characters, including the naive but lovable penguin Opus, who gets title billing this time around.
So last week, "Opus" featured two boys talking about a third grader named David Dinkle who has two moms and no dad.
"A dearth of dads for David Dinkle," quips one. "Multiple mommies," replies the other.
"No dad?" asks Opus. "Makes you wonder," said one of the boys. "Makes you wonder how he'll do without a male role model in the house."
On cue, legendary misogynist Steve Dallas, a longtime "Bloom County" character, hurls his television set through the front window of his house and emerges, festooned in a ballcap with bazoombas, a beer in hand, three days' growth of beard and a cigarette hanging from his mouth. "Now THAT was a pitch you @$%* moron!" he yells to the ballplayers on the telly.
The response to the strip from aggrieved heterosexual males (and their erstwhile admirers) was predictable, swift and predictably swift. Blogger Glenn Sacks claimed, for one, claimed Breathed's "message is clear: dads are useless as role models (when they're not outright destructive), and kids have little need or use for them."
In a disclaimer (encased in parenthesis) at the end of his post, Sacks (shown in this photo from his website with his own daughter) insisted his preference for opposite-sex parents "should NOT be construed as a criticism of lesbians, lesbian moms or gays." (One can imagine him arguing a preference for same-raced parents not being racist.)
Sacks promises his criticism is reserved for the idea, supposedly pushed by Breathed and "prominent feminist authors," that "kids don't need fathers, that moms are better than dads, and that having two moms is better than having a mom and a dad."
Within days, Sacks had reverted to social conservatives' favorite whine these days: deliberately misunderstood victim of political correctness. He took particular umbrage that "the gay press -- including prominent blogs Queerty and Pam's House Blend" had "mischaracterized" him as anti-gay. Where in the world did they get that idea?
Sacks again insists in this follow-up post that individually, gays are every bit as capable parents as heterosexuals. It's when they combine into a couple that gays are inferior. It's a new twist on "love the sinner, hate the sin." It's "respect the gay, don't respect the gay couple."
Since Sacks seemed forlorn that no one would take his argument seriously, I am more than happy to take the bait. First, as far as "Opus" goes, Sacks' beef (in his own words) is with Breathed's message that "dads are useless as role models (when they're not outright destructive)" and that "kids only need mothers."
Sacks' take on "Opus" only works, of course, if we can imagine Breathed's apparent support for gay parents is limited to lesbian moms. If "dads are useless" and "kids only need mothers" then gay fathers would be a total anathema, right? Can anyone imagine this is what Breathed was saying, much less what he actually thinks?
If Breathed had a real political agenda, as Sacks believes, then the much more likely possibility is that he supports the idea of any loving couple raising children, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. So much for the daddy victimization; that would diminish the mommy role every bit as equally.
My own take on "Opus" isn't so serious (imagine that — comedy from a comic strip!). Breathed has never used the character of Steve Dallas to represent all men, much less all potential fathers. (Actually, lost on everyone is the fact that Dallas actually came out as gay at the end of Breathed's "Outland" strip, only to revert to chauvinism after reparative therapy.)
I believe Breathed was making a more subtle point, reminding us through humor that there are plenty of redneck sexist couch potato guys out there who aren't particularly good role models of any sort. So let's be careful about generalizing the idea that ticking both gender boxes is the best way to ensure a child's well-being, rather than ticking the boxes next to "loving, supportive and attentive."
Now, onto Sacks' more serious claim about gay parents, one shared by plenty of anti-gay conservatives (though Sacks protests he's not one). Again, Sacks' own words:
My belief is that while gays and lesbians as individuals are just as competent as parents as heterosexuals are, children need fathers and do benefit substantially from both the male and female parenting styles. When two gay men parent a child, I believe children lose something substantial from not having a mother, and when two women parent a child the child loses something substantial from not having a father.
I understand the point here, although it runs counter to every legitimate social science study comparing how well-adjusted the children of gay parents are compared with those raised by opposite-sex couples. What I don't understand is, assuming he's right, what we're supposed to do with the information.
I don't know Sacks' views generally on parental rights for gay couples, so let me imagine what conclusions he would reach from his view that a mom and a dad really is better than two moms or two dads:
Let's limit parental rights to opposite-sex couples. How cruel! If Sacks is right about the disadvantage of being a child with single or gay parents, then they need extra support and assistance from the government, not less. Surely he wouldn't punish the child for the sin of the parents.
Let's "encourage" the upbringing of children in opposite-sex households. If so, the target audience is single-parent heterosexuals, for whom partnering with someone of the opposite sex makes sense.
Let's "discourage" gay couples from parenting. If so, they still ought to focus their energies on single-parent heteros for two good reasons:
First, gay people want and will have kids for the same reason anyone else does, and Sacks and those who devalue our relationships are the last source we'd turn to for advice on whether to take the parental plunge. So all the "discouragement" will come to naught and, as pointed out, only hurt our kids. Second, if we're ranking parental scenarios according to "likelihood of success," then a same-sex couple still ranks higher than a single parent. Two moms are better than one, even if (according to Sacks) they're not as good as a mom and a dad.
All in all, it's disappointing to see how many "not anti-gay" pundits continue to view lesbian moms somehow as an indictment of fathers. Sacks wasn't the only one to respond that way to "Opus," although Washington Post syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker at least suggested you could both favor gay parents and not bash dads.
We saw the same phenomenon when pro-gay liberal columnist Leonard Pitts voiced disapproval of Mary Cheney's mommyhood. I view it as part and parcel of those opponents of gay marriage, like conservative Maggie Gallagher, who find it easier to attack the rights of gay people than deal with the messy, intractable social problems of couples and parenting generally.
It's as if these folks perform a fairly heartless cost-benefit analysis, sacrificing equal rights for gays and the well-being of our children for the supposed greater good of protecting "traditional families." I reject the entire idea that as a society we must choose between the two. And I'm just cynical enough to believe that for many anti-gay conservatives, there's a Karl Rovian private understanding that gay marriage and gay parents aren't really in the top 10 actual threats to the traditional family. But wedge issues play (and fund-raise) so much better in Peoria.
Well, not in Bloom County, at least.
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