Attachment parenting — loosely defined as the practice of carrying babies in a sling, breastfeeding for a long time (however “long time” is defined), co-sleeping, cloth-diapering, potty-training infants, etc. — is often considered at odds with feminism. After all, AP requires mom’s time and attention, mental and physical devotion — not to mention the frequent use of her body. AP, indelicately put, chains together mom and baby. Feminism was supposed to set women free.
And yet. Despite criticism from older feminists like French philosopher Elisabeth Badinter and American writer Erica Jong, today’s generation of new moms includes many feminists forever imprinted with the muscle memory for strapping on a Moby Wrap.
Feminism and AP would seem to be completely at odds with each other — especially to New York Times readers, and the editors and commenters of TIME. But not to feminist moms. In fact, though AP devotees don’t make up the majority of parents in our culture, more feminist moms defend the practice than moms who do not identify themselves as feminists, according to a new study.
Anna North over at Buzzfeed does a great job of breaking it down with graphs comparing how feminist moms, feminist non-moms, non-feminist moms and non-feminist non-moms feel about breastfeeding, baby-wearing and co-sleeping. In all three categories, feminist moms rate the importance of these three AP behaviors of higher importance than the non-feminist moms.
The study, published in the journal Sex Roles, asked 222 self-identified feminists and 209 non-feminists to rate on a scale of 1 to 6 the importance of each. Authors of the study found lingering attitudes about feminists interest in motherhood. From Buzzfeed:
Despite finding that feminist moms were more likely to subscribe to attachment-parenting philosophies, the study authors found that non-feminists, especially non-feminist moms, still believed the opposite: that feminism meant you weren’t interested in things like co-sleeping or carrying your baby in a sling. Liss and Erchull wrote, “these stereotypes are consistent with the image of a feminist woman as being less invested in her children and family, perhaps because she is more invested in aspects of her life outside of the home.”
Something else interesting in the data — and likely relevant in how the media discusses and represents parenthood no matter what the politics — is the fact that non-moms, feminist or not, ranked the importance of these three tenets of AP lower than actual moms did. What this means is that the theoretical and the practical are also at odds; motherhood (parenthood) changes a person; and when we are making policy that affects mothers and parents, we need to make sure that mothers and parents are represented on those decision-making bodies. Six weeks may seem like enough time for a woman to have a baby and get back in her work clothes. But to the mom and the baby, it’s a criminally short amount of time. Co-sleeping may seem like a dangerous practice, but for those who have done it, it can seem like the only humane way to go to bed. So is criminalizing co-sleeping accidents really a fair law?
So while feminists like myself have often felt they had to reconcile their parenting style with their politics, what we really needed was an understanding of who is behind AP, which often gets pegged for underhandedly keeping women down. It’s self-described feminists who want it more than their conservative counterparts — and more than non-moms. Let’s stop pitying moms like me for being duped and start asking how we can help her make it happen.
Are you an AP feminist?