I admit it, I have been asking myself this question quietly for a while: has motherhood replaced sexism as a way to keep women out of the workforce?
I'm just not sure of the answer.
But Elizabeth Badinter is. She is a famous philosopher and privileged academic from France whose new book, The Conflict: Does Modern Motherhood Undermine the Status of Women?, is making waves in the media on both sides of the Atlantic. (And is continuing our state of awe over French parenting.)
Her thesis is that the current obsession with "natural" motherhood including extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, disposable diapers and a closeness between mother and child has undermined the gains women have made in the workplace and is a new "tyranny" to women. Our desire to be Earth Mothers has in fact turned us back into '50s housewives, dependent on our husbands for money and our children for self-esteem.
Badinter is incendiary; she refers to breastfeeding as "female mammal instincts" and she is polemic, but are her points valid?
Some news sites have chosen to use Badinter's thesis to pit attachment parenting advocates against right-wingers or to revive the tired working mom vs stay-at-home mom "war", but I think that is missing the point.
I refuse to see motherhood as an either/or situation. But Badinter does have a point -- the unrelenting focus on perfection in motherhood, the heatlamp-type focus that we have on our children does eat up a lot of our emotional time.
But have we given up on feminism because we take motherhood too seriously? I haven't. But I am willing to ask the question. Not the way the media frames it and not the way Badinter frames it. I think it is a good idea to think about the expanded role of motherhood in many women's lives and what the costs have been, as well as the benefits.
Because breastfeeding does tie you down and taking a year off may set back your career and having a baby lie between you and your partner can hurt your sex life. But it is up to each individual woman to decide what those things are worth to her. (That said, it's a lot better to breastfeed and have a baby in Canada. In the U.S., women are often forced into making decisions they aren't ready for weeks after giving birth.)
Connected motherhood, whether it is full-time or co-exists with a full-time career is not an oxymoron. It's not feminism vs motherhood, just as Jessica Winter a writer from Time said on Twitter:
Motherhood vs. Feminism" is an NYT debate. Next up: "Fatherhood vs. Sports," "Childhood vs. School," "Coats vs. Shoes" and "Cats vs. Dogs.
Annie from PhDinParenting pointed out that fathers are completely missing from this discussion. Supportive and engaged fathers are an important part of this conversation because, as Annie writes:
If we do not talk more openly and frequently about the role that fathers can, should, and often want to play in parenting, then we will not see the societal shifts that are needed to migrate away from the conflict that women feel between their careers and their families.
I think the emphasis on perfection in parenting is ultimately hurting women and children (and the men too). But that isn't to say that I totally disagree with Badinter either. To me it's like the issue of canning and preserving.
As many of you know, I like to cook and I make many of my kids homemade snacks. And every year I think I should make my own jams and tomato sauce. But that would take hours, increase my stress, and create a whole mess and isn't really a good use of my time, when I can buy all those products on my street corner.
Then I start wondering if the whole preserving trend isn't some sexist campaign to keep women in the kitchen longer. And then I come to terms with the fact that I'm just not a radical housemaker but some people enjoy it. I still respect the canners and will gratefully accept their jars wrapped in twine.
I get that breastfeeding and the whole attachment thing isn't for Badinter (maybe because of her ties to Nestle?). But that doesn't mean just because I did it, I'm an unthinking Stepford wife that has forgotten my women's studies courses.
I would like to thank Badinter for bringing up this debate because it forces me to ask these questions of myself and motherhood in general which makes me a better mother. And reminds me not to even buy any preserving jars this year.
Sorry for the long post! What do you think? Does Badinter have a point? Have women given up too much to be "perfect" mothers?
Want more chaos? Last year, I listened to the Kindie music scene.