Book Review: The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women

August 20, 2012 · 2 comments

The Conflict | Elizabeth BadinterWell, Well, Well – What a title! The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women…it just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?   Clearly, this book by Elisabeth Badinter will not be a pleasure read, now will it?  What it just might be, though, is a thought-provoker.  And I LOVE a thought-provoking book, especially when it has to do with motherhood!

Have you ever wondered where the pressure to be a perfect mom originated?   Has the pressure always been there or is it a relatively new phenomena? The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women by French Philosopher, Elisabeth Badinter, is an interesting book that reads like an essay and examines the question – How and when did motherhood get so overwhelming, challenging and all-encompassing?  Underlying all of these questions is, of course, does motherhood keep women from achieving their potential?  The fact that a book on motherhood actually asks about the mother is amazing to me – such a question is a rarity.  Of course, the answer to this burning query is left to the reader, for Ms Badinter simply asks the questions and provides interesting research on the subject.

In the book, Ms Badinter provides research on motherhood from the 70’s to the present time.  Evidence is shared charting the changes in motherhood and some of the key reasons that these changes took place in the United States and in different countries around the globe including France and the Scandinavian counties.  Some of the biggest credit for the monumental pressure felt by the modern mother can be attributed to, in the authors opinion: “La Leche, attachment parenting, co-sleeping, baby wearing, on-demand breastfeeding, and the taboos now surrounding epidurals, formula, disposable diapers, and cribs.”  All of the former topics and their associated pressure are unmistakably familiar to the modern mother.

No mother who has had a child over the last 20 years is unfamiliar with the La Leche Organization.  I learned a bit more about it from The Conflict.  I had always assumed that the organization was Liberal and I could never understand it.  Why would a liberal woman’s group insist on a woman breastfeeding 24/7 until her child ‘warns himself naturally?”  Wouldn’t non-stop breastfeeding get in the way of a woman working, a woman working toward a career that breaks the glass ceiling, a woman keeping her financial independence – all of which are liberal ideals?

It turns out that several of the La Leche League founders were “Catholic and active members of the Christian Family Movement.”  Interesting.  How did these two groups, seemingly at odds in their ideologies come together?  According to the author, “…the two groups (essentially liberals and conservatives) came together in La Leche through their shared “core vision of women being “by nature” more in tune with the needs of others, more social and peaceable than men. In their view, maternalism was a liberating form of humanism.”   The author goes into detail about the growth of LaLeche across the globe and the group’s active interest in dismantling the baby formula industry. The book also includes some conflicting reports on the benefits of breastfeeding.  Specifically, she cites a report compiled by the Society of French Pediatrics, “The assertion that mother’s milk improves the child’s intellectual development has proved unfounded .” Yikes! I can’t imagine ANYONE in the States ever asserting such a thing.

No matter how the group got started, the pressure for mothers to breastfeed IS a reality and it IS pressure and it DOES, by design, keep mothers from many other pursuits.  Ms Badinter subtly asks the question, ,though, “does breastfeeding keep a woman from reaching her potential.”  It’s an interesting question, right?    To be clear, THIS author believes in the benefits to breastfeeding.  However, I feel just as strongly…and have gotten slammed in reviews of my book, It Gets Easier and Other Lies We Tell New Mothers, for saying so, that choice to breastfed has to come from the mother! My interest is always in favor of the mother!

Another topic that the author raises is the how our generation of Moms feels about their moms, ostensibly their fight to achieve our equality.  We are the daughters of the 60’s feminists.  What have we done to “carry the mantle” so to speak?  According to the author, we have not only refused to pick up the mantle, we have thrown the mantle on the ground and jumped on top of it to the point where it is unrecognizable!  Ms Badinter is correct. In her words ” The daughters of the feminists…proceeded to engage in a classic settling of accounts with their mothers.  After thanking them for winning the right to contraception and abortion, the daughters then demanded an admission of failure….’You sacrificed everything for your independence and you ended up with twice as much work.  You were underrated in the workplace and spent too little time at home; you lost out on all fronts…'”  Our generation of mother’s reaction was not to make the same mistake and although Ms Badinter says it much more eloquently than I, the thrust is that we decided to make children and all things children our number one priority.  I believe this point is extremely well taken.

Of course, taking care of our children is a priority, but do we have to throw ourselves out of the picture completely?  Because I have news for you, that is exactly what has happened. A woman, from the time she conceives a baby, loses all freedom…God-forbid she even has a diet coke while pregnant…the outrage! What’s more, all of society is more that happy to chime in with the judgement and the tyranny.  What are we left with, then.  A whole host of rules and judgement that are no good for our personal growth (we often think we are horrible mothers) , our relationships (who has time to nuture the relationship with a spouse when our baby’s needs keep us  (and our boobs) occupied 24/7), our careers (Do we really need a study to prove to us that motherhood and careers do not mix), and maybe, ultimately are no good for our children (who may grow up not being able to cope with the simplest of obstacles).

The Conflict will get women thinking!  Why can’t WE define motherhood for ourselves instead of having society a la LaLeche and other groups like them, define it for us?   I would love to see women changing the narrative for ourselves.  I guarantee we would be a whole lot happier and I’ll bet, so will our children!


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