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The Conflict Hardcover – Apr 24 2012
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"Impressively researched, elegantly argued and forcefully written... Badinter's warnings about the dangers of excessive child-centeredness are in many ways well founded."--"The New York Times Book Review"""The Conflict" was first published in France, but its message is most pressing in the Anglophone world, where a vast industry peddling organic baby foods and anxiety is sucking the joy out of motherhood. Ms. Badinter's polemic is sardonic, urgent and gripping.... This is a cry for freedom."--"The Wall Street Journal""Badinter's arguments are 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""Badinter highlights some alarming trends that are rarely questioned, thanks to current attitudes about the supremacy of the maternal role... She delivers sharp insights about the regressive turn of modern attitudes about motherhood."--"Bookforum" --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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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.
There is a rising level of pressure for a woman who chooses to have children, to adhere to an increasingly strict form of proper parenting, and of course there's always been stigma against women who for whatever reason do not or choose not to have children. Being from the USA and having never lived in France, I can't really speak to her theories on French women and French society, but I found her ideas on them interesting nonetheless.
Many people question Badinter's personal ethics, in relation to her income sources, and completely neglect the fact that she is first and foremost, an incredibly well respected scholar who has been active for decades. How ludicrous to assume that a woman who inherited so much money to begin with (she isn't hurting for cash), and who has been a scholar for decades, would sell out everything she has worked for to make some money off of baby formula. Badinter is notably not the CEO of Nestle.
My only wish was that it was a bit of a longer and meatier read.