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The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood…

The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women (2010)

by Elisabeth Badinter

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Very interesting topic, makes some really good points, kind of annoyingly written (almost a little sarcastic). Also, quite short and with weirdly large text and margins. Like... There's obviously a lot of information here, and this seems to be deliberately just skimming the surface.

Focuses on the naturalist movement of the last few decades (co-sleeping, attachment parenting, increased emphasis on breastfeeding, etc.) and on how government policies and cultural norms about motherhood are related to each other. On the contradictions women face:

"The first... is social. While boosters of the traditional family condemn working mothers, companies resent them for their children. For many, motherhood is held as the highest form of fulfillment for women even as it is devalued socially. Full-time mothers are unpaid, suspected of doing nothing all day, and deprived of a professional identity because their work requires no qualifications...

The second contradiction is conjugal. Couples tend to expect and desire children, yet, as many have noted, a child is not conducive to a couple's love life... A good number of young couples admit that they only realized the demands of the job after the fact ("no one warned me," they say). Increasingly, partners are taking a hard second look before launching on this adventure.

The most painful contradiction is personal, affecting every woman who does not identify with motherhood, every woman who feels torn between love for her child and personal desires, between wanting the best for her baby and wanting the best for herself. A child conceived as a source of fulfillment can, it turns out, stand in the way of that fulfillment. And, if we pile up a mother's responsibilities to the point of overload, she will feel this contradiction all the more keenly.

These contradictions are rarely given serious consideration. And by expecting ever more of mothers, the naturalist ideology not only fails to offer solutions, it makes the contradictions untenable. Wherever the prevailing ideal conflates [womanhood with motherhood], women who cannot fulfill the expectations pinned on them are increasingly likely to turn their backs on motherhood. [This is in reference to low and dropping birth rates in industrialized countries, and an increase in couples who are "child-free by choice".] In countries where being a woman and being a mother are seen as distinct identities, where the legitimacy of multiple women's roles is recognized, and where motherhood does not overwhelm all other possibilities, women do want to have children, even if it means falling short of the ideal of motherhood."
  mirikayla | Feb 8, 2016 |
I'm not sure what to say about this book. Badinter brings up important issues, but doesn't offer much in the way of viable answers. And some of the points she brings up are, well, kind of pointless. What on earth do painkillers or lack thereof for laboring mothers have to do with "the status of women"? I know, I know -- she's talking about "the naturalists" and how they're trying to turn all women into martyr-mamas. But some of us weren't embracing the ecstasy of pain when we made the decision not to have drugs during childbirth. In my own case, I was used to my body being mean to me, so the prospect of pain wasn't fun but it wasn't terrifying, either. And why pump a bunch of drugs I didn't need into my baby right after I spent nine months avoiding them? I found the prospect of having a needle in my spine more daunting than the pain of labor, so I yelled a lot and pushed out my kid. That's what worked for me. That makes me a traitor to the cause of feminism?

As for breastfeeding -- I think Badinter is right that it would be nice to see more reports about its health benefits. I was surprised to see plenty of perfectly respectable medical sites touting its advantages without linking to or mentioning any studies. So let's say for the sake of argument that formula feeding is absolutely as healthy as nursing -- it's certainly healthy *enough*, in places where contaminated water isn't a problem -- and that any small differences are more than outweighed by the advantage of the mother being able to get plenty of help with the crucial task of feeding, rather than having it all on her. What about those of us who nursed because we enjoyed it and it's cheap? And convenient? I actually liked just being able to "plug" my baby in without having to boil anything, and wean him right to the cup. Am I holding back progress for other women?

I had so many things I wanted to talk about regarding this book. I think I can sum it up right here by saying that Badinter, who is French, thinks there's something terribly wrong -- very *American*, heaven help us -- about the idea that a woman shouldn't get drunk while she's pregnant. Like, even one time. *Or smoke.* What, not even once in a while? Not even marijuana? Must a woman sacrifice every last bit of happiness and live like a nun in order to be considered a good mother? Bah! ( )
  Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Hm, well: not quite what I was expecting. Elisabeth Badinter has written this rather polemical work on the modern concept of Motherhood (the capital letter is deliberate, as Badinter finds the concept to be almost mythological in its power and scope) and the ways in which it confines and oppresses modern women. So, FYI: don't be thinking this is a research piece. She cites research but does not discuss it in depth; mostly this is a big strop on the sheer weirdness of the cultural shift away from female equality and back to the iconic Guardian Spirit of the Home.

And don't get me wrong: I actually agree with some of this. I am watching women my daughter's age crucify their "friends" on Facebook for sins against Proper Mothering: They feed their child two French fries instead of whipping up organic baby food! That sling they use is completely out of date! Have they taken pictures of that baby to record every hour of its life? No? Whyever not? A Good Mother would.

Badinter minces no words. She is disgusted by the current trend which makes mothers completely subservient to their infants, hyper-vigilant to their every whim and fancy; and she is even more disgusted by the impact this will inevitably have on women's ability to obtain higher status in society. A women tethered to her baby for years and years of nursing is not a woman with a high-status job; but, as she rightly points out, a woman who cuts any corners is rapidly becoming a pariah, judged mercilessly by her peers and by society as a whole as a Bad Mother.

I was interested in all that. The things I did not like were: the polemical nature of the book; the fact that it is written in French and translated into English, which causes the prose to be rather clumsy; and Badinter's ultimate conclusions, which seem to include praise for French woman who are bucking the trend by smoking and drinking during pregnancy and refusing to breastfeed. Unlike women in other European countries! She seems to link this to Frenchwomen's history of turning their children over to nannies so that they could concentrate on holding literary salons and whatnot. So that was peculiar. But still: a worthwhile read, if only as a counterweight to the endless onslaught of Being The Perfect Mommy books. ( )
  2chances | Jun 21, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A controversal book claiming that increased pressure to be “natural mothers” is holding back women’s advancement in our society.

Combining motherhood with a meaningful life outside the home is certainly one of the major issues for women today, whether or not we are feminists. I definitely agree with Badinter that we need to stop thinking of all women as mothers. I also agree that as a society we need to be supportive of mothers rather than demand that they meet ridiculous expectations. I have major problems, however, with Badinter’s claim that various groups are pressuring women to devote their whole lives to natural, time-consuming mothering and thus threatening women’s advancement in the world outside their homes.

See the rest of my review at my blog. http://tinyurl.com/bmz556b
  mdbrady | Jun 12, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
First of all, this is an ideological book-not an academic one. There are few reliable studies, statistics, or even quotes to back up Badinter's claims. This is an exploration of ideas and a conversation/thought starter. I prefer more academically focused books, but I understand that gender studies and social issues don't always lend themselves to that sort of examination.

With that said, I found this to be a quick, entertaining, and thought provoking little book. There seems to be only a vague sort of thesis, and the final chapter...on a previously barely mentioned specific topic (French motherhood), really seems to be the focus of the book. I did find this to be rather thought-provoking and compelling despite the fact that there is nothing backing Badinter's claims. Like other books on social issues (The Beauty Myth comes to mind) this takes a very specific topic-standard motherhood within the context of marriage/committed relationship without more than passing reference to any sort of single parenthood, same-sex couples, or other "nontraditional" types of families. It explores a short history (though really only 20th century in any sort of depth and with little or no specific sources) of motherhood and its changing meanings/responsibilities. This is all rather fascinating if not groundbreaking or new.

What was really interesting was the ultimate claim-that the form of modern motherhood practiced in the US, France, etc. effectively controls and limits women in supposedly egalitarian/sex-equal societies. Again, this is not really new, but still interesting, compelling, and thought provoking. I would be interested in reading more on the topic, but probably only if it was a bit more academically oriented. As in, some sort of research. But Badinter does give an interesting introduction to a fascinating topic, and does it fairly well if a bit repetitively. ( )
  freckles1987 | Jun 9, 2012 |
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So why is it that her book, impressively researched, elegantly argued and forcefully written, feels, in the end, so profoundly wrong? Not just intellectually outmoded, not just emotionally somewhat off, but actually, for this reader — as I suspect will be the case for many American readers — downright offensive?

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elisabeth Badinterprimary authorall editionscalculated
Held, UrsulaÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hunter, AdrianaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Singh, StephanieÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Identifies vulnerabilities in today's parenting models for women, arguing that current recommendations are imposing 1950s-era limitations at the expense of women's health, fatherhood, and child independence.

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