Sandy D.'s Reviews > The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women

The Conflict by Élisabeth Badinter
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May 09, 12

bookshelves: france, parenting, united-states, non-fiction, feminism
Read in July, 2012

I'm beginning to think that philosophers should not write books on feminism or motherhood. This short book wasn't as bad as Linda Hirshman's polemic ("Get to Work"), but it was still infuriating.

Badinter's basic premise is that "An underground war is now being fought between naturalist and culturalist proponents of motherhood" (p. 31), and that children's needs are being pitted against women's needs. By "naturalist", she means anything that people argue is "natural" - especially attachment parenting advocates. So maternal instincts, any kind of natural hormone-enhanced "bonding", natural childbirth, cloth diapers, T. Berry Brazelton, and especially breastfeeding and La Leche League, come under sharp attack here.

I didn't find Badinter's arguments convincing. Ironically, at one point in her critique of evolutionary biologists, she states that "All this is simply asserted; there are no references or citations of explanations or demonstrations." On the contrary, this was the problem I had with "The Conflict's" premise - there were references and citations, but they weren't scientific, and I thought her demonstrations were weak on logic. Her whole premise centers on changing ideologies of motherhood and women - and I wasn't convinced that she wasn't putting the cart before the horse, reversing the causality of ideology and practice. Her use of government statistics, comparisons of European policies on parenting, and the little tidbits of sociology and anthropology that she does bring forth are really rather feeble when you consider her premise.

Finally, the text is awkward - maybe it read better in the original French. I found myself going over sentences repeatedly, trying to ferret the meaning out of her tangled phrases. And I was annoyed by several off-the-cuff insults, especially to authors and researchers who don't deserve to have their work grossly over-simplified or misrepresented, like Sarah Blaffer Hrdy.

At least it was short. And there were some interesting perspectives on French and Scandinavian parenting, government policies, and feminism.
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