- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Metropolitan Books (April 24, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805094148
- ASIN: B00C2I3078
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 37 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,390,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 24, 2012
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Badinter seems to prefer alarmist rhetoric to broader observations on current culture—even as she delivers sharp insights about the regressive turn of modern attitudes about motherhood. —Heather Havrilesky
“Impressively researched, elegantly argued and forcefully written… Badinter’s warnings about the dangers of excessive childcenteredness are in many ways well founded.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“The Conflict was first published in France, but its message is most pressing in the Anglophone world, where a vast industry peddling organic baby foods and anxiety is sucking the joy out of motherhood. Ms. Badinter’s polemic is sardonic, urgent and gripping.… This is a cry for freedom.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Badinter’s arguments are provocative and rigorous…Badinter’s impressive imperative to own one’s own life, to take rigorous and energetic responsibility, to cast off the silly or cowardly or frivolously domestic ways, seems very appealing, and refreshing and brisk.”
“Badinter highlights some alarming trends that are rarely questioned, thanks to current attitudes about the supremacy of the maternal role… She delivers sharp insights about the regressive turn of modern attitudes about motherhood.”
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This book addresses how absolutist, naturalistic mothering denigrates fatherhood (if nurturing is hormonal and tied to breastfeeding, men are necessarily left out and "secondary" parents), places artificial burdens on working mothers, pushes women into "the home", and ultimately disincentivizes reproduction for women who are interested in maintaining a professional career.
While she frames the conflict as Romanticism versus individualism or hedonism, I think the anti-science, emotive aspects of these mothering trends lend itself to an Enlightenment (where reason, science and the empirical method guide thought) versus Romantic framework. Many of these trends have little in the way of sound scientific support (see Colen and Ramsey 2014 on breastfeeding), but *feel* right.
Ultimately, I suspect that the rise of the regressive, "natural mothering" movement is not due to a concerted effort to push women back into the realm of hearth and home, even though this may be the objective of the activist groups. Rather, I think these methods have been popularized by stay-at-home mothers as a way of valuing their at-home work. "Full-immersion" approaches to mothering (again, not parenting, as fathers are increasingly excluded, given they must bear the full burden of wage earning and don't have the all-important female hormones) are simply not feasible for moms who have careers. But in reality, neither are these approaches necessary for raising well-adjusted children.
I would recommend reading this book together with "The Feminine Mistake" and "What to Expect When No One's Expecting".
Badinter is a French feminist and, as we all know, Europe is undergoing a demographic crisis at the moment. In Germany, for example, about 1/3 of all women decide not to have children at all. Without in any way condemning that choice, Badinter analyzes the cultural and ideological environment that makes child-bearing unattractive to the growing number of women.
After the great feminist revolution of the 1960-1970, many women discovered that professional and intellectual fulfillment to which feminism gave them access is not without its costs. Fighting for success in a capitalist economy is hard. It is also an ongoing struggle that you never win definitively. The perfect sales this month don't help you if you fail to produce any in the coming months. Several publications in one year don't mean you can relax and publish nothing in the future. For many women, the environment of intellectual growth and professional fulfillment is the only one we can survive in.
For some, however, it proved to be too hard. So what do you do when you realize that you haven't managed to achieve fulfillment through practicing your profession, bettering yourself intellectually, and making money? The answer is simple: you declare that none of these things are worth anything because a woman's real value lies in her physicality. This was how the "naturalist" movement was born. This movement proposed that a woman's only goal in life is to be a mother and created a set of pretty unrealistic expectations of what one needed to do in order to pass for a "good" mother.
So what are the tenets of the naturalist approach to motherhood?
First of all, the naturalist movement returns to the eminently stupid notion of "maternal instinct." A mother has some sort of a natural bond with a child that appears from nowhere and that is inaccessible to a father. Fathers are dispensable and interchangeable, according to this philosophy, because their only role is to support and "protect" women. At no point should they insist on having access to or a say in their own children's care.
Naturalists believe that motherhood should be completely sacrificial in nature. There should be no relief from the pain of childbirth, no respite from the burdens of breastfeeding, no break from childcare. Is it any wonder that many women are choosing to opt out of motherhood altogether? I mean, if you have anything at all that is even remotely fun going on in your life, why on Earth would you give all that up to dedicate yourself 100% to childcare? If you can't use formula, daycare facilities, nannies, or any means that would make childcare easier for fear of feeling like a bad mother, then who needs the entire thing at all? Women are human and we are guided by self-interest. If we can't be allowed to experience motherhood as a fun experience that enriches our lives and, instead, have to see it as a constant self-sacrifice, can we be blamed for giving up on it altogether?
Why is it, then, that women accept the burden of this unrealistic image of a perfect mother who sacrifices her career, hobbies, sex life, body and 100% of her time to motherhood? Women are guilt-tripped endlessly into feeling like there is something wrong with them if they don't welcome the idea of diluting themselves completely in their children.
Of course, if women could legitimately and without constantly being vilified for their choices select the method of childbirth that they prefer and that simplifies their life, breastfeed or not based on what suits their fancy, rely on daycare and babysitters without feeling guilty, and let the children be without feeling the need to schedule their every breath, more successful, accomplished and brilliant women would be interested in motherhood. And this would be a great thing because, contrary to what naturalists believe, breastfeeding has zero effect on a child's IQ. Mother's IQ is what matters. (I'm guessing father's IQ, as well, but I haven't seen any studies. Probably because people are still not managing to see the father's participation in the creation of a child as something even worth studying.)
One of the reasons I like Badinter is that she does not take the easy road that so many feminists of the previous generation love to take in order to explain every problem that women face. Badinter does not blame men for every obstacle that women encounter in our path towards liberation. She states specifically in The Conflict that sexist men (who obviously do exist) had absolutely nothing to do with making this sad situation possible. A small but a very vocal number of women who didn't make it professionally and financially have taken up the banner of the perfect motherhood and are now guilt-tripping women who haven't failed in these arenas into feeling as lesser human beings precisely because we have not limited our entire existence to childbirth.
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If you are a radical leftist you may like this book