To get ready for my review on Elisabeth Badinter’s The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women, coming up tomorrow, I wanted to gather some of the recent writing that’s been done on the topic. After all, my review is just entering a conversation that’s already been going on for quite a while. Lots of other smart ladies writing online have said their piece about this book and its ideas, and I wanted to gather some of it together to put it all in context.
Slate’s Double X blog’s debate on the book is presented in the form of open letters between Hanna Rosin, author of a controversial article in The Atlantic called “The End of Men,” and Katie Allison Granju, a mom blogger. The strongest point by far that is made in this debate is Granju’s: Badinter is not exactly without a personal stake in the issue of breastfeeding and whether mothers should feel pressured to do it. She’s majority owner of a PR firm that manages Nestle, including its infant formula products, and makes a lot of money from this account. This isn’t the trump card Granju pretends it is–an interested party could still have a valid argument–but it’s worth remembering.
Katie Roiphe isn’t always spot-on with every issue, and has been accused of trolling and publishing click-bait more than almost any online journalist I can think of, but I found her review of this book unobjectionable at worst and insightful at best. She suggests that parents sometimes see parenting as a reason why they simply cannot achieve their career dreams or have a good sex life, an excuse to just stop trying. That idea resonated with me as true. We all have a finite amount of time and effort and emotion to expend in a day. All the energy and ambition that is channeled into children must come from somewhere and will probably be missed eventually. It’s easy to imagine someone feeling grateful to finally be allowed to give up on the hard work of intimacy or career-building when a baby comes. It could be the ultimate Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card, but shouldn’t be.
What do you mean, the good old days? In this post, a woman who was a traditional mother in the 60’s and hated it compares her life to that of her daughter. She does a really good job here of describing how bad things were then, how few choices women had, and giving us some perspective for how far we’ve come. She’s right, we don’t want to go back there.
Tyranny of Cloth Diapers In this essay, Madeline Holler contrasts the way she’s raising her baby with the way her mother raised her. These two generations of mothers fit pretty well the trend Badinter describes: career-driven parents of the 70’s and 80’s whose grown children are today opting for more “naturalistic” parenting techniques. Holler says Badinter’s criticisms are out of touch and her stats outdated; she sees things as getting better while Badinter sees them as worsening. I support Holler’s conclusion here, that women shouldn’t punish themselves with guilt and regret.
For the record, all of my siblings and I used cloth diapers as babies in the 80’s and 90’s, so I know my way around them, though they looked nothing like what is pictured in this article. Mom used a diaper service, so she didn’t have to scrape and wash the diapers herself, which meant they were probably both less tyrannical and less ecological than the ones discussed in the article. That diaper service delivered to our house for almost 13 solid years, I think.
End the Mom War Here, Mary Elizabeth Williams, probably my favorite Salon columnist, comes to the same conclusion I did about a month ago: Let’s all just stop judging each other. We all need to realize that other women’s choices are not referendums on our own. As strongly we as we might feel about our own choices, as right as they might be for us, and as deeply held as the values they might come from are, not everyone shares the same values, interests, and abilities, and that’s ok, and everyone’s kids will be ok, too. And some women don’t have choices at all, and it’s just cruel to disparage someone for doing something she may have been forced into, whether that’s working or staying at home. We would all feel better about our choices (or our lack of choices) if we didn’t have to feel defensive about them, if every choice didn’t open us up to criticism from somebody. Let’s call a truce. There are no winners in the mommy wars.