Elisabeth Badinter’s The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women, A Review, Part III

Why is it, then, that women accept the burden of this unrealistic image of a perfect mother who sacrifices her career, hobbies, sex life, body and 100% of her time to motherhood?

For nearly three decades, a subterranean ideological war has been fought for a wholesale return to nature. We cannot yet assess its consequences for women. . . The advocates of this philosophy have an extraordinary weapon on their side: a mother’s guilt.

Women are guilt-tripped endlessly into feeling like there is something wrong with them if they don’t welcome the idea of diluting themselves completely in their children. So what do you expect to happen as a result?

If women are subjected to the relentless message that a mother must give her child everything—milk, time, energy—or pay for it later, inevitably more and more of them will give in.

Also, more and more of us will choose not to have children altogether if the only way to have them involves castrating our existence and reducing it to endless clucking around the poor children who eventually get so fed up with your annoying sacrifices that they leave home as soon as they can and only call you on Mother’s Day to expiate their own guilt.

Of course, if women could legitimately and without constantly being vilified for their choices select the method of childbirth that they prefer and that simplifies their life, breastfeed or not based on what suits their fancy, rely on daycare and babysitters without feeling guilty, and let the children be without feeling the need to schedule their every breath, more successful, accomplished and brilliant women would be interested in motherhood. And this would be a great thing because, contrary to what naturalists believe, breastfeeding has zero effect on a child’s IQ. Mother’s IQ is what matters. (I’m guessing father’s IQ, as well, but I haven’t seen any studies. Probably because people are still not managing to see the father’s participation in the creation of a child as something even worth studying.)

One of the reasons I like Badinter is that she does not take the easy road that so many feminists of the previous generation love to take in order to explain every problem that women face. Badinter does not blame men for every obstacle that women encounter in our path towards liberation. She states specifically in The Conflict that sexist men (who obviously do exist) had absolutely nothing to do with making this sad situation possible. A small but a very vocal number of women who didn’t make it professionally and financially have taken up the banner of the perfect motherhood and are now guilt-tripping women who haven’t failed in these arenas into feeling as lesser human beings precisely because we have not limited our entire existence to childbirth.

Do read the book, my friends. Read it and leave reviews on Amazon because, at this point, the only review that’s there has the following pearl of wisdom to share:

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.

As one of those rabid, aggressive feminists, I find Elisabeth Badinter’s perspective on motherhood as an ideological construct to be very refreshing.

We, the successful, intelligent, professional women should reclaim our right to be mothers (only if that’s what we wish, of course) on our terms. We have allowed the naturalists to guilt-trip us into practices that harm mothers, fathers, and children. We need to start pushing back now. We need to stop letting the failures that constitute the naturalist movement to dictate their idiotic ideas to us and make us feel like we are the ones with a problem.

I suggest we start the anti-naturalist movement. Let’s celebrate the advances of our civilization that allow us to choose whether, when and how we want to become parents and that simplify parenthood for us. To hell with instincts! Long live intelligence!

30 thoughts on “Elisabeth Badinter’s The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women, A Review, Part III

  1. //Women are guilt-tripped endlessly
    //Of course, if women could legitimately and without constantly being vilified

    Passive Voice Alert! When people say “culture”, they mean “nobody”.
    Now seriously. I understand you referred to:
    A small but a very vocal number of women who didn’t make it professionally and financially
    So you say that this very small number of women profoundly influenced many educated, feminist women into not having children (!). Yet when women say culture (TV, ads on the street, etc AND it’s not like in RL there isn’t a not so small but very vocal group of people of both genders pushing “Women must look perfect”) contributed into feeling not A-OK about their bodies, you said they chose it 100% themselves. I see a glaring contradiction.

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  2. //How on Earth does being a single mother equal leading a sexless life??

    What if you do choose to lead such a life? Besides, all sex in the world wouldn’t teach children how to have a good relationship.

    Also working full time 5-6 days a week 9 to 5 ( + time to & from work), spending time with 1-2 children and taking care of the house (school work help, just take a walk together with kids, cooking, etc) tends to cut into free time. You can’t leave small children alone in a flat for a week end either. When they’re teens, it’s easier.

    //As for the rest, everybody who really wants to have children does. The rest are excuses.

    How does it go with “The book explains that women do care and either give up on childbirth altogether” ? So, I was right and we shouldn’t care about this small, vocal group. They don’t influence anybody anyway and women who “do care” are just making excuses. Exactly what I said, no?

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    1. “What if you do choose to lead such a life? Besides, all sex in the world wouldn’t teach children how to have a good relationship.”

      – What is much scarier, is that the most amazing relationships in the world will not teach one to have good sex.

      “Also working full time 5-6 days a week 9 to 5 ( + time to & from work), spending time with 1-2 children and taking care of the house (school work help, just take a walk together with kids, cooking, etc) tends to cut into free time. You can’t leave small children alone in a flat for a week end either.”

      – IF people want an excuse not to have a personal life, they will find one, too. 🙂 Notice how, in your imaginary scenario, you chose to sacrifice a woman’s personal life to COOKING, WALKING and the hugely detrimental practice of doing homework with the children. The next thing you’ll say that a woman can;t have sex because she needs time for her stamp collection. 🙂

      “So, I was right and we shouldn’t care about this small, vocal group.”

      – When you are at the maternity ward and these unhinged harpies bully you, run into your ward and wake up you and the baby 3 hours after you’ve given birth, when they attack you and denigrate you as you are lying there exhausted, I really hope that you manage not to care. I’ve seen this with my own eyes and, even though I was not the women who’d given birth, I cared. My BP went straight up. Maybe it doesn’t happen in Israel, though. I’m just talking about North America.

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  3. Clarissa, thanks for this wonderful post and the recommendation for this book!! I love the point about the IQ of the mother being far more important for the IQ of the child than breastfeeding. 🙂

    I have literally read hundreds of articles of how your life is over once you have a child; how you cannot even be alone anymore on the toilet; how painful breastfeeding can be and how guilty mothers feel if they don’t breastfeed; how painful birth is; how much the relationship deteriorates, how men feel ‘left out’; how impossible it is to keep up at work; how strangers criticize you; how scary it is if your child somehow does not exactly follow the norm etc etc. This freaks me out so much that I am not sure if I want children.

    But now I wonder how many of these horror stories are actually due to the ‘naturalism’ movement.

    I truly hate this movement. In Holland, apparently doctors are reluctant to give painkillers during birth, and might not do it even if the woman asks for it. ‘Natural’ home births are extremely popular. Of course totally unrelated to this, Holland has one of the highest infant mortality rate in the EU.

    Why do those people advocating such nonsense not also let their teeth being pulled out in their living rooms without narcotics?

    Thanks to your post, I start to realize where those naturalists come from. They are not about ‘what might be best for children in a perfect world’, as I thought. Instead they are about ‘how can I justify not working for 15 years to bring up 2 children and feeling extremely important about it’ and perhaps also ‘how can we make sure women depend on men’. Just make a huge circus around having children, and make sure you suffer to you can guilt-trip others. Thanks for making this clear to me!

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    1. I’ve been reading the same scary stories as you and I’m also terrified as a result. So we are in the same boat here. It isn’t easy to find one’s way through all the noise that surrounds the issue. But I felt comforted by this book, so that’s already a step in a good direction.

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  4. I’ve never had a desire to be a mother of any sort. I don’t have any social definition of myself. Although some might see me as having professionally failed, I don’t. I’ve only ever had a thirst for adventure — and being bound to an office or being an mother would be equally negating of my hunger and ambitions.

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  5. I’m actually interested even though I have never wanted children and have no interest in matters of childbirth and child rearing. On the other hand, I am interested in why people do the things they do.

    Speaking of that guilt some childless, single women have, I’ve never felt it in my life. In fact, the idea of me being pregnant has always been bizarre and disgusting, and I never considered allowing myself to get into that state.

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    1. I have never aspired to be pregnant either. Apart from a temperamental predisposition not to find any interest in children, I was brought up in a very patriarchal culture and exposed to a lot of stress (didn’t seem so at the time, but probably was so, in retrospect). In the light of this, pregnancy seems like an unfathomable self-indulgence that nobody should be able to afford. The everyday business of coping with stuff is a sufficient burden.

      Despite all this, I recently went to a hospital that specializes in women, in order to get my iud inserted. I’d never seen my uterus via an ultrasound before, and it sure looked more impressive and mysterious than I had imagined. I’m starting to gain a lot of respect for female biology.

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  6. I read the book, and I really like your review. Yours is a rare review from someone who has carefully read the book. All reviews I have seen online so far are hysterical reviews from people who have read about the first five pages and had knee-jerk reactions when their choices were criticized within those pages.

    I don’t know how you felt about these issues, but there were two things I read that was very surprising to me. The first is how much political power the naturalist groups have. The second is how arbitrary the recommendations of organizations such as the WHO and the American Pediatric Association are, and how little such recommendations are based on actual evidence. The second issue was particularly surprising to me.

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    1. Thank you! I haven’t seen any other reviews but I suspected that people would find it hard not to take the book as some sort of a personal criticism.

      “The second is how arbitrary the recommendations of organizations such as the WHO and the American Pediatric Association are, and how little such recommendations are based on actual evidence. ”

      – So true. I was shocked by that, too. I was also shocked to discover that there were areas where even I kind of bought into their lies and brainwashing.

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  7. Thanks for this breath of fresh air!

    This is what I need to see before I take the naturalist movement seriously: I need to see peer-reviewed, long term studies of a statistically relevant sample of children raised mothers who meet all these requirements–unmedicated birth, exclusive breastfeeding, never spend a day in day care, etc. etc.–compared with samples of children raised by mothers who don’t meet all the criteria, with a control group of children from mothers who meet NONE of the criteria (but aren’t abusive). These studies need to follow the children from birth all the way through adulthood until death. They need to measure EVERYTHING that is considered relevant to a happy and productive life–health, career, income, relationships, social skills, intelligence, self-esteem, devotion to social justice, deathbed regrets, etc. etc. Things like family medical history, class, parents’ education, culture, religion, etc. etc. must be controlled for. And the studies need to prove consistently, over generations, that the children of the perfect naturalist mothers have a real, measurable, statistically significant advantage in life while the other groups of children have a real, measurable, statistically significant disadvantage that they can’t possibly make up for on their own, as a DIRECT RESULT of the naturalist mothers following all the rules and the other groups not doing so. Until then, I’m not going to give out medals because a kid is still breastfeeding in elementary school and has never been away from his mother ever, and I’m certainly not going to agree that devoting oneself entirely to your children is a feminist choice.

    I once saw a comment on a parenting debate community that really showed how ridiculous this mentality is. The comment was from someone who truly believes that if a woman doesn’t want to breastfeed and stay at home with her kids until age 3, she shouldn’t have kids, and she calls herself a feminist. The debate was about if the participants felt that whether or not they were breastfed as babies and, if so, how long they were breastfed, really truly had an impact on their lives. This “feminist” said that she had only been breastfed for a few months, and that while she is very healthy and very bright, she also literally said “who knows how much better I would be if I had been breastfed longer.” So it’s not enough to be healthy and intelligent because there could have been another level of healthy and intelligent if only your mother tried harder! These people are not rational.

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    1. I was not breastfed. My sister was, and for a long time, too. And for the life of me, I can’t say which one of us is smarter. I think we are both pretty great. 🙂

      Thank you for a great comment!

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  8. What is this thing about being natural, anyways? It is some kind of fetish? Natural isn’t always better. Looked at in another ways, there are all sorts of conceptualizations of “natural”. Humans are conceptual creatures. We can’t see reality in a purely natural way, so even our views of what is natural are highly likely to be contrived and conceptual, rather than natural.

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      1. Yes, indeed. That is why shamanism is a solution to a lot of people who embrace ‘the natural’ in a superficial way. Embrace horror, randomness and arbitrary pain, if you like. That pertains to what is natural.

        On the other hand, it is very existentially useful to understand what the baseline of human experience is. For the real shaman-intellectual, it is useful to know that there are certain guiding principles governing our relation to nature and ‘the natural’, but these are not many. Understanding how few these are can actually be very liberating, especially if one is inclined to subscribe to dogmas of any sort.

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    1. Nobody is mentioning those “facts” because:

      a) they are disgustingly ageist;
      b) her “huge stake” in Nestle has nothing whatsoever to do with the book we are discussing.

      Lady, try getting a brain before you blabber on like a stupid idiot you are about books you so obviously haven’t read.

      Gosh, there is nothing I hate more than freakazoids who want to deny women the right to speak because they are “too old.” Go choke on your stupid envy and resentment against successful older women, you vile loser.

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    2. And again with the fucking formula. For god’s sakes, is this supposed to be a valid type of criticism? “You can’t write about pregnancy and motherhood unless you’re young enough to get pregnant and by the way rich people aren’t human so they can’t write about pregnancy and motherhood either.” Make up your mind. Is it okay for women to have a little bit of money or not? Are old people founts of wisdom or should everyone go die in a cave once they turn fifty?

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      1. Oh yeah, and people who refer to themselves as “mommy” anything. “Mommy” is what I called my mother when I was little. It’s not really cute when adults use it — it’s creepy.

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        1. “Oh yeah, and people who refer to themselves as “mommy” anything. “Mommy” is what I called my mother when I was little. It’s not really cute when adults use it — it’s creepy.”

          – Thank you for saying this! It always creeps me out hugely whenever I see this form of self-identification.

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  9. Christ, this baby formula-phobia has gotten out of control. Given the general contamination of the American food supply, why is formula singled out? Why not talk about the GMO crops, the hormonally tainted meat and dairy or the toxic preservatives in many foods?

    I am shocked how many mothers make a big production (a super big obnoxious production) out of breastfeeding, and then proceed to feed their children terrible quality food once they are toddlers.

    Parenting trends do change with the generations, but Badinter brings valuable insight because she comes from the generation of women who fought for the rights we enjoy today. Seeing perpetual attacks on those rights must be disturbing for the more mature generation of feminists and social critics…

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