In France, a book entitled, Le Conflit, La Femme et Le a Mere (Conflict: The Woman and The Mother) is flying off the shelves. According to a profile in yesterday’s New York Times, the author, Elisabeth Badinter, is convinced that women are being corralled back into a limiting, retro-domestic sphere by trends towards environmentalism and a longing for “simpler times” and a revived interest in all things “natural” including breastfeeding and un-medicated childbirth.
Ms Badniter—a well-known French intellectual and provocateur—sees these trends as a lurking, pernicious threat; they exert themselves subtly through cultural pressure on women to be the “perfect” —home birthing, breastfeeding, composting, cloth diaper-cleaning—mother. All the tools of liberation– the epidural, disposable diapers, dishwasher and formula–are being tossed aside for something more authentic and morally superior… and out with that precious garbage goes a mother’s career and independence.
I’m so confused about where we are in the backlash to the backlash to the backlash cycle. Are we already back to formula and shoulder pads? I think I’ve got whiplash.
I have been a mother for going on six years now and I’m really familiar with these kinds of pieces. They are very seductive and–depending on what reductionist side of the fence the yelling is coming from– you’ll start to feel guilty for working, not working, breastfeeding, formula feeding, having a life, not having a life.
I don’t find them productive.
I love the title of this book and generally look forward to hearing any ideas about how diffuse pressure on mothers, but this argument— totally lacking nuance and from what I can tell, actual data– is not making me feel all that relaxed. I know women who feel immense pressure to not get an epidural and women who feel immense pressure to go with the flow and have a medicated birth. I know women who have felt pressure to breastfed, and those who feel pressure to wean. I see pressure all over the place. Maybe in France there is a huge movement of women handing over their independence for a washboard and chunk of homemade lye. But, eh, I doubt it.
Perhaps Patricia from Birmingham, Michigan put it best in her comment to the New York Times: “Relax everyone; it is just the pendulum swinging back and forth.”