I was super excited to get my review copy of “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women” back in May when the book came out. When it arrived in the mail, I sat down right away to read it. Soon my excitement wore off, and I’ve been dragging my feet ever since to write the review.
For one, let me tell you, this book is pretty boring. The writing could not be more stale. We’re talking about a book that has pissed off lots of people and prompted others to stand up and cheer, and yet it’s written like a lame academic paper.
Second, how did I end up reading a book about how I’m working so hard, and yet I end up feeling bad about myself?
If you haven’t read it (and you really shouldn’t), Elizabeth Badinter’s argument is this: The renaissance of “ecological” parenting, i.e. breastfeeding, co-sleeping, etc., undermines women because it makes them slaves to their baby-kings (or le petit roi, as Badinter would say).
As a new mother, I have definitely felt this way, as if I can never do enough for my kid and am always failing. But who’s fault is that? Badinter seems to think it’s mine. Women, she says, are not advancing in the workplace because they are choosing 1) to keep having children, and 2) to take care of these children as they see fit. If women are to move forward in life, she says, we need to stop this nonsense and be able to function like men. Badinter even criticizes the maternity policy holy grail, Sweden, where she says the generous policies that help women have a career and a family have not resulted in more money or prestige for Swedish women.
Her evidence? It’s weak. She cites La Leche League and criticizes their nutso approach to breastfeeding. Yes, ma’am. LLL is a little on the crazy end. Sure, there’s lots of nice ladies and good information there, but when you get to the heart of it, they can be a bit Nazi when it comes to the breast. But even with La Leche League looking down their blouses, Badinter says only 22 percent of American women choose to exclusively breastfeed for a year, like the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. So even after all that tyranny and brainwashing, it seems American women can think and make choices for themselves.
As for co-sleeping, Badinter says she doesn’t think women should have to give up their sleep or their bed to a child. She doesn’t bother to mention that studies have shown that women who co-sleep actually get more rest and have just as much sex as women whose children sleep in their own beds.
I don’t have any problem with women who don’t want to breastfeed or co-sleep. More power to ’em. What I do have a problem with is Badinter’s message, which is, essentially this: You’re doing it wrong. Old-lady feminist says, “Hey, I worked too hard and gave up having a family for you to devote your life to taking care of a kid!” Funny, I thought feminism was about women being free to make their own choices, no matter what they were.
Badinter’s real enemy, and mine too, is zealotry. There are plenty of mother-zealots out there. I e-met one this week, the Alpha Parent. I came across her site when someone pinned a great article she wrote on the timeline of breastfeeding. Super helpful information that I would have loved to have in my first days and weeks of nursing. But the helpfulness ends there. The rest of her site is devoted to breastfeeding zeal, the kind that won’t stop until every woman has a baby on her breast or is huddling in shame in the corner because she doesn’t. She has a 5,764-word piece called “Why the Way You Feed Your Baby Is MY Business.” That’s nearly 6,000 words on exactly how you are ruining the world if you don’t breastfeed and why she gets to judge you for it.
Can we just lock these nutjobs in a room and let them finish each other off? Like a Mommy-wars fight to the death? Maybe then the rest of us can get back to, you know, mothering.
Dear Elisabeth Badinter, I’m sorry my decision to continue the human race is harshing your feminist buzz. I agree that the La Leche League should take a chill pill. But I’m convinced that the pathway to equality for women isn’t through trying to break the shackles of biological womanhood and devalue traditional feminine roles, like nurturing or homemaking. Maybe the fact that we’re still not succeeding in the capitalist marketplace, even in holy Sweden, has to do more with the fact that the marketplace was designed by and for men?
Dear Alpha Parent, do you have friends? I’m guessing the answer is no. Perhaps that’s why you have a blog. I don’t have any problem with women having strong opinions. I do have a problem with people being assholes. I think you’ve trespassed into the latter category.
Seriously, mommies, I got shit to do. Like breastfeed my kid and write incredibly important journalistic missives on justice and inequality. Also, drink wine and watch reality TV. Can we stop bossing each other around and elect a lady president or something?
Finally, this week, I read something worth reading about the sticky choices surrounding working and motherhood: “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Slaughter, who was the first woman director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, talks about the disconnect between being an engaged mother and the demands of the workplace, and places the blame directly where it belongs. Not on mothers’ lack of ambition or lack of love for their children, but on a workplace that demands every last second and then some from its employees. Slaughter goes in depth about just what must change to make being a mom and working outside the home compatible with sanity and how our current system shortchanges women, kids and society. My favorite line comes at the end:
“If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too.”
Yahoo! Right-on. That’s a battle cry I can get behind. The fact that the article has busted The Atlantic’s online hits record is proof that there are so many women out there desperate for something that will both validate their experience and rally them around a cause that will actually help them.
Dear zealots: your reign of terror is over. Let’s cut it with the “Are you Mom Enough?”s and guilt trips that Susan B. Anthony is spitting on you from feminist heaven if you want to stay home with your kid. Can we agree that the world, set up as it is for the success of men, isn’t mother-friendly and thus needs to change? Let’s focus on that and leave the bossy know-it-alls behind to fling their mother-hating poo at each other.
I don’t know about you, but I have too much poo on me already.