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The Conflict [Hardcover]

Elisabeth Badinter

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Book Description

April 16 2012

For decades Elisabeth Badinter has been at the forefront of the fight for women’s equality. Now, in an explosive new book, she points her finger at an unlikely and unexpected danger that’s undermining the status of women: liberal motherhood in conflict with all that is “natural.” Attachment parenting, co-sleeping, natural childbirth, homemade baby food, baby-wearing, stay-at-home mothers and especially breastfeeding—these hallmarks of contemporary motherhood have succeeded in tethering women to the home and family to an extent not seen since the 1950s. Badinter argues that the taboos now surrounding epidurals, formula, disposable diapers and anything that distracts a mother’s attention from her offspring have turned child-rearing into a singularly regressive force.

In sharp, engaging prose, Badinter names a reactionary shift that is intensely felt but has not been clearly articulated until now, a shift that North America has pioneered. She reserves special ire for the fanaticism of the La Leche League—an offshoot of conservative evangelicalism—showing how on-demand breastfeeding, with all its limitations, curtails women’s choices. Moreover, the pressure to provide children with 24/7 availability, empathy and wisdom has produced a generation of overwhelmed and guilt-laden mothers—one cause of the West’s alarming declining birth rate.

A bestseller in Europe, The Conflict is a scathing indictment of a stealthy zealotry that cheats women of their full potential.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (April 16 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1443407208
  • ISBN-13: 978-1443407205
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14.2 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #147,217 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“[A] scathing, controversial and brilliant piece of writing. . . . An essential read, whether or not you plan to have a child.” — EDMONTON JOURNAL

“Ms. Badinter’s polemic is sardonic, urgent and gripping. Sometimes it may sound as if she is advising mothers not even to consider breastfeeding, or encouraging pregnant women to smoke and drink. But she is only trying to re-dress the balance: this is a cry for freedom.” —THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“A sharp, engaging and iconoclastic writer, Badinter nimbly traces the forces that have combined to glorify maternal sacrifice.” — MACLEAN’S

“One of those rare books with the power to change the way we look at our world and change the choices we make.” — THE GLOBE AND MAIL

“Provocative and rigorous. . . . Badinter’s impressive imperative to own one’s own life, to take rigorous and energetic responsibility, to cast off the silly or cowardly or frivolously domestic ways, seems very appealing, and refreshing and brisk.” — SLATE

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

ELISABETH BADINTER is the acclaimed author of three seminal works on feminism (The Myth of Motherhood, Dead End Feminism and XY: On Masculine Identity), which have been translated into fifteen languages. She lives in Paris, where she teaches philosophy at the prestigious École Polytechnique.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.9 out of 5 stars  37 reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A quick and interesting read containing both wheat and chaff Dec 7 2012
By Ready Mommy - Published on
In her latest feminist missive, Elisabeth Badinter seems determined to conceal a number of extremely important points with wandering discussion; layers of dry, sarcastic vitriol (particularly directed at La Leche League); sweeping generalizations; and an almost tangential conclusion. Her message: thanks to changes in feminist theory and the vaunting of all things natural, a new "high ideal of motherhood" as full-time and all-embracing (i.e., the belief "that a good mother takes constant care of her children round the clock and cannot pursue personal fulfillment at the same time") leaves women with "two options: exclusive motherhood or remaining childless," and that we will see more women choosing the latter. In several respects, I can't say that I agree.

Why do I recommend the book nonetheless? First, it's mercifully short. Second, she delivers aforementioned golden nuggets like, "[i]n a civilization that puts the self first, motherhood is a challenge, even a contradiction. Desires that are considered legitimate for a childless woman no longer are once she becomes a mother." True. "The irony of this history is that it was precisely at the point that Western women finally rid themselves of patriarchy that they acquired a new master in the home." Well put. Third, I like the global perspective. Finally and most importantly, I can take strands of her thoughts and weave them into material that's more relevant for me, discarding the scraps.

Badinter's bottom line observation - that mothers these days are held to a new unrealistic ideal (taking primary responsibility for domestic chores as well as their children's basic physical needs, education, stimulation, and future psychological well-being) - is astute and forceful. And she provides every one of us with an extraordinarily valuable touchstone when she writes that "a mother cannot allow herself to be consumed by her baby to the point of destroying her desires as a woman." My primary problem with Badinter's book is that she doesn't stop there or offer ideas to reform "vocational motherhood," instead suggesting the employment route (along with bottle feeding and utilizing child care) and opting out of motherhood entirely as our sole means of salvation. In so doing, she unnecessarily narrows the desires mothers relinquish down to one: professional ambition.

In my opinion, the key to stay-at-home mothers escaping their "new master[s]" is not necessarily work. One can refuse to "give her child everything" by consciously and consistently making time for her social life, sexuality, vanity, and intellectual curiosity. She can be "both mother and woman" simply by changing her approach to the first role. At least that's what I've done lately, refusing to feel contrite about skipping infant enrichment opportunities, asking my two toddlers to play independently for chunks of time throughout the day, and hiring college students to babysit (or arranging child care swaps with other moms) for a few hours a week so that I can read, shower, drink, socialize, spend time with my husband, and write book reviews. How do I skirt the guilt at not being able to do it all single-handedly? In part, thanks to the support Badinter provides.
91 of 114 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth taking seriously. April 27 2012
By Carol Hay - Published on
Don't be put off by the reviewers who are protesting too much and insisting that feminism isn't supposed to be anything other than vacuously affirming every choice an individual woman wants to make. Feminism's task is (among other things) to examine and criticize the larger systemic forces that both structure and result from women's choices. In laying out the recent historical progression that has resulted in the current trend of revering an essentialist and ultimately retrograde conception of womanhood, Badinter does a marvelous job of this. There is, to be sure, a pretty serious race/class-based criticism to be made about Badinter's style of feminist argument, but she's pretty good about at least admitting that she's restricting the scope of her argument to a relatively privileged class of women. (And, um, those reviewers who are claiming that she's related to someone who has financial interests in a PR firm that has Nestle as a client, and insinuating that this is the true motivation behind her argument, are engaging in a ridiculous and irrelevant ad hominem attack.)
68 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Voice of Reason April 28 2012
By H. Satrom - Published on
Verified Purchase
A well-argued and well-researched argument against the excesses of "naturalism." Many voices in American society (including pediatricians, policymakers, and the media) advocate for breastfeeding, making home-made organic baby food, and using cloth diapers, but few have considered the burden these increasingly demanding practices have placed on mothers, especially women who would like to continue their professional lives. Badinter is a voice of reason against the radicalism of La Leche League and others who advocate for practices that have put a huge additional work load on mothers today. Mothers in France (and other European countries) have access to affordable and high-quality childcare, and they do not face ostracism if they choose not to breastfeed. Badinter, who IS a mother, offers a viewpoint that is rarely considered in the US. US society has become so child-centered that few people stop to consider how US parenting practices impact women and couples. This is good food for thought for American parents. Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman and Perfect Madness by Judith Warner would complement this book nicely.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting look at the conflict of modern motherhood May 20 2013
By TC - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Some reviewers are sensitive to this book, experiencing it as anti mom. I actually found this book to be very supportive of motherhood, just not the all encompassing, devoted at the expense of all else, brand of motherhood that is presented in our current culture. Badinter calls for a rational motherhood, an accessible one that, it turns out most moms actually practice once they become tired and aware that they've been sold a bill of goods about perfection in mothering. There is a thorough discussion of public policy and cultural notions of motherhood and their impact on birth rates cross culturally. Badinters The Conflict, does for motherhood what Naomi Wolfs The Beauty Myth did for female body image, which is to say, it asks you to take a step back and examine the cultural message and its impact on women and society.
58 of 77 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking April 25 2012
By Penny Thoughtful - Published on
This thought-provoking work explains a lot of things about how in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe, women are under more pressure than ever to be perfect mothers AND productive workers. The author is not particularly judgmental, preferring to let the facts speak for themselves. The statistics are dry at times, but necessary to prove the point that this isn't just her opinion, she's really studied her stuff. And it's a French book, so it's NOT U.S. centered, although most of the issues that American women experience are also being experienced by women elsewhere, but it's interesting to have that wider perspective.

This is a feminist book, but it's not of the rabid, aggressive sort. It's more of an inside look into women's lives and what they believe and value. It doesn't really cover EVERYONE; for example, in the section on breastfeeding, it talks about women who love it, women who try it but quit because they don't like it, and women who don't try. It doesn't talk about women like me who didn't like it but kept doing it anyway. But still, it really does cover a lot of different points of view, and it's a thought-provoking read in any case. I recommend this for all women, as well as fathers and policymakers.

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