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What does Katie Roiphe know that William Bennett, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and two New York Times reporters don’t? Certainly her own situation, which for all we know may work marvelously for her and her two kids. Many single moms are heroic, and not just to their own children. And like most heroes, they often make the best of less-than-ideal situations. But the product of great wealth—a graduate of Manhattan’s Brearley School (boasting a 7-1 student-teacher ratio and tuition above the average American’s annual income)—is quite unlike most women in her spot, which makes her experience a poor gauge for the merits of single-parenthood. The Times notes that 92 percent of women with college degrees—Roiphe has one from Harvard and a Ph.D. from Princeton—are married when they give birth. The superrich are the only people who can afford to behave like the underclass. And only among the ultra-rich or chronically poor does the title of Roiphe’s piece (“More Single Moms. So What.”) not hit the ears as smug or naïve.
It isn’t the “illegitimate” label, or even the cruel pejorative “bastard,” that handicaps children. It’s being deprived of a parent. Shifting the conversation to nonexistent societal scorn of children born out of wedlock, Roiphe uses kids as a shield to deflect very real concerns about the behavior of adults whose trivial attitude toward sex results in human beings disinherited from their birthright: two parents who love them and one another.
The evidence presented by Moynihan, Bennett, the Times, and any housing project ultimately isn’t convincing for Roiphe. “Even people who are certain that the children of single mothers are always and forever doomed to a compromised existence, are going to have to await more information about a world in which these kids are not considered illegitimate or unconventional or outsiders, where the sheer number of them redefines and refreshes our ideas of family,” she writes. “This is a new world, and there are no studies,” the Slate piece concludes, “or subtly condescending New York Times reporting, that can tell us what it will be like for these children to live in it.”
If she refuses to grasp the message from that Gray Lady, maybe another gray lady closer to home might convince Roiphe. Art and Madness: A Memoir of Lust without Reason is a literary groupie’s depressing tale of falling into the arms of the likes of William Styron, HL Humes, and George Plimpton, whose penis she exposes to a four-year-old daughter understandably questioning its existence. Therein, sexual liberation reads as enslavement. If she could live it over again, the writer admits she would change it. As profiler Francesca Mari wrote in the New York Observer, “The challenges of single mothering turned [the author] into a feminist.” The memoirist? Anne Roiphe, Katie’s mom.
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