Anne Holcomb's Reviews > The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women

The Conflict by Élisabeth Badinter
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Jun 19, 2012

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bookshelves: feminism, history, nonfiction
Read in June, 2012

This slim book by a French feminist author examines the origin and the effects of changing social norms and government policies surrounding parenting, and how they affect the well-being of mothers. The trend of "attachment" or "natural" parenting recently shone in the spotlight due to the Mother's Day Time Magazine cover featuring a toddler boy breastfeeding accompanied by the headline "Are You Mom Enough?" Badinter's book traces the origin of this trend to the 1960s - it was sparked by a reaction to scientific/positivist approaches toward childbirth and childrearing from feminists and eco-conscious activists, and to the founding of the La Leche League, which actually has its roots in ultra-conservative Catholic ideology - a fascinating fact I didn't know before.

However, as Badinter shows, the same natural parenting championed by feminists has now morphed into a cultural monster that causes us to put the child above all else, even above the health and well-being of the mother. Practicing natural or attachment parenting means that the mother is sequestered in the home for longer and longer periods of time.

While the author does a great job of tracing some of the origins of this trend, this book is by no means an exhaustive look at this phenomenon. Additionally, it is not of much use to researchers studying parenthood trends in the United States, as most of the statistics on parenthood in the book discuss European countries. However, this is fascinating as well, because Badinter uses the statistics to show that countries which still hold a more conservative view of the mother - such as Germany or Japan - also have the lowest birth rates, because women are choosing to not have children rather than accept such a restricted lifestyle. Countries with more liberal policies toward work leave for parents, like the Scandinavian countries, are experiencing higher birth rates.

Those who are interested in finding out how parenting is done in other countries, especially France, will find this book useful and enlightening. Badinter discusses the French parenting style at length, and it is unique among all the countries she covers. Feminist researchers will also want to pick up this quick read because it shows how "difference" feminism and conservative religious ideologies actually combined to create this culture of serving the child above all else.

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