The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women
By Shannon_Lell on May 03, 2012
Recently, I have started to rethink my choice to be a SAHM. I think it has a little to due to my recent post regarding the choice to be a SAHM vs. Working Mother. Could be. But I think it has more to do with the fact that today my toddler is snot-faced and sick and wants to be attached to only mommy while my infant son is not yet crawling, yet wants desperately to be mobile, and thus, wants to be attached to only mommy, too. Yep, definitely the latter. Some days I think it would be a thousand times easier to hand them over to a reliable and capable childcare provider while I go merrily on my way to think, and work and stuff.
Also recently, I happened upon a controversial book by Elisabeth Badinter called, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. Ms. Badinter is an extremely wealthy and relatively famous writer and feminist from France. According to a telephone poll in 2010 she is considered France's "Most Influential Intellectual." She is the daughter of the founder of a Publicis, a large media conglomerate of which she is now the largest shareholder. Badinter also fancies herself a philosopher (how one gets that title, I do not know) and has written extensively on feminist's topics. Badinter has written five forthright and scathing tomes on the sham women have fallen victim to in wanting to fit into a traditional definition of motherhood. In her first volume, published when she was just thirty-five, she reduces the maternal instinct down to a man-made social construct. (I wish someone had told my ovaries that, because I've been blaming them for my maternal decisions.) Her latest book, published in France last year and in the US this month, is the controversial book in question. It claims that modern motherhood has served to undermine women's progress and success more than any man ever has, or could.
Badinter asserts that clothe diapering, the near mandatory pureeing of fresh, organic baby food and the militant pressure to breastfeed by doctors, midwives and the media (less they be labeled an unfit mother), have caused women all over the Western world to throw up their hands and promptly tie the apron strings back into place... the same strings their mothers worked so hard to untie.
So you can see why this is so controversial, right?
In the vein of full-disclosure, I have not read Badinter's book. However, I have read numerous articles and reviews about it including Ms. Badinter's own essay on the Huffington Post. I simply do not have the time, nor do I wish to spend the money on a silly shock-and-awe book with such a divisive premise when there is so much good literature left to read. I am, however, curious enough to spend a couple of hours in the Interwebs learning about it and then formulating my own opinions on this here blog.
I think Badinter has some valid points, the first being that there is more pressure on today's mother to do it "the right way." (Whatever that means.) But I also think her hypothesis has some holes, her blatant double-standard being the biggest.
Ms. Badinter says in her essay, "Nature knows only one way to be a mother. This is not the case for women, who are endowed with consciousness, personal histories, desires and differing ambitions. What some do well and with pleasure, others do badly or out of duty. By failing to take account of women's diversity, by imposing a single ideal of motherhood, by pursuing the notion of a perfect mother -- one who has the exclusive responsibility of making or breaking her children -- we fall into a trap."
So let's get this straight, it's fine to take into account a women's diversity and independence when it comes to their contributions to society, but then why does she lump us all together into a pile of thoughtless robots who can't make decisions for ourselves like a bunch of peer-pressured teenagers? I thought we were "endowed with consciousness?" Badinter speaks with an austere of authority on such a speculative subject it almost makes you want to believe her every word. I guess they teach you how to do that in Ivory Towers. Those who have read her book cite that her heavy-handedness with facts and statistics makes for a tedious read. From my own background in medicine, I know that you can make statistics paint whatever picture you want, so I am trained to proceed with caution when I see clinical studies. What I'm most interested in is how her hypothesis relates to me because I'm one of those women who left their career and fell victim to this traditional motherhood sham.
I think Badinter has a point that today's mother is under more scrutiny and pressure to do things that require more sacrifice. Information abounds on the benefits of breastfeeding, co-sleeping and speaking only Spanish on Thursdays. But being a smart woman, I don't believe this is a byproduct of conversations with my OB/Gyn, the Internet or my next door neighbor. The desire to be more "hands on" with my child and puree organic fruits and veggies comes from two things: 1. Being a working mother and knowing first-hand the drawbacks of that choice, and 2. Increased access to information and the ability to evaluate that information.
I could have the best nanny who mentally stimulates my child all day long. I could hire a housekeeper and a personal gourmet chef to perfectly steam their every meal. I'm sure my children would turn out just fine, great even! But I'm not sure I would be fine, because none of that would alleviate my desire to spend more time with them and it was time, not guilt, that drove me home.
Second, I choose some of the dreaded confines of modern motherhood that Badinter talks about because I believe they are good and healthy choices for my family. I believe they are good and healthy because I have access to all kinds of information and I also know how to reason and use logic, just like any other woman whether she be breaking glass ceilings or washing them free of tiny fingerprints.
Sure, I miss working outside the home sometimes. I miss the sense of self-accomplishment and acknowledgement that comes from doing a job well. I miss the money. But if I've learned anything from my professional and maternal years it's that life is about choices and compromises. We have to learn which choices work best for us and that's a helluva lot easier without being subjected to authoritative books like this one that make you feel shitty about your choice.
Badinter dedicates her last chapter to discussing some of the advantages French women have over other modern Western cultures and this is where I find the most value in her message. France is highly supportive of families and mothers in particular. They provide government subsidized childcare, generous, paid, maternity leaves and low pressure on parenting lifestyles. She claims that these reasons are why France has an increasing birth rate whereas other countries, like the US (who are less supportive overall) have birth rates on the decline. I think she has a point here and I hope it is with this last assertion that our conversations are focused instead of building another proverbial fence that only serves to divide.
At the end of the day, families are important and vital to the health and growth of a society and whatever we can do to support that, we should do. Everyday (okay maybe not today because I'm covered in snot) but MOST days I feel immensely lucky that I have a choice. It wasn't an easy one and I have sacrificed a lot, but I still have one. So many mother's out there don't have a choice and they should. Every one should be able to choose more time with their babies if that's what they want or they should be able to run the board room, if that's what they want.
The reason I have doubted my decision to stay at home with my children is because it's hard. It hard and exhausting and sometimes very, very gross. But even now, straining under the weight of two cranky children covered in a sheen of human fluids, even through a stuffed up nose I, me, only mommy can understand her garbled toddler speak when she says, "ers a wittle not en ma ace." I know what she means because I'm here, listening, and I just handed her a tissue because she just said, "There's a little snot in my face."
Thoughtful posts on motherhood and more www.shannonlell.com.