Apparently, Le Conflit: la femme et la mère by Elisabeth Badinter is big news in the Anglophone world now that it’s been translated. (The title is usually translated as The Conflict: the woman and the mother, a clunky and literal-to-a-fault translation if ever I saw one.) The book was in the European press a great deal back in March, when I was in Paris for a week. Well, according to more than one friend and reader, the “Fashion & Style” section of the New York Times has deigned to notice the book. (Yes, that’s right: feminism, motherhood, and la Querelle de Femmes is all just “Fashion & Style,” not fit for the Op-Ed pages, and not the news pages or the book reviews. Why don’t they just go ahead and call it the “Women’s Page” again?)
I haven’t read the book yet, but it sounds intriguing. The French are always much more serieux about their intellectual disagreements. I get the sense too that feminism in France has always been understood to be a multifaceted social justice movement–le conflit among feminisms is inevitable and nothing new there, but in the Anglophone press which likes to manufacture girl fights, le conflit happens whenever a woman expresses an opinion on anything and another woman disagrees with her.
So just for fun, here’s the summary in the NYT. Spoiler alert: pay attention to the last sentence!
In [the book, Badinter] contends that the politics of the last 40 years have produced three trends that have affected the concept of motherhood, and, consequently, women’s independence. First is what she sums up as “ecology” and the desire to return to simpler times; second, a behavioral science based on ethology, the study of animal behavior; and last, an “essentialist” feminism, which praises breast-feeding and the experience of natural childbirth, while disparaging drugs and artificial hormones, like epidurals and birth control pills.
All three trends, Ms. Badinter writes, “boast about bringing happiness and wisdom to women, mothers, family, society and all of humankind.” But they also create enormous guilt in a woman who can’t live up to a false ideal. “The specter of the bad mother imposes itself on her even more cruelly insofar as she has unconsciously internalized the ideal of the good mother,” she writes.
Ms. Badinter, 66, a professor at the elite École Polytechnique, says that the baby has now become “the best ally of masculine domination.” [Ed. note: good line! But of course we can't explore that idea in the New York Times.]
It is an argument likely to resonate among American women who must decide whether to embrace the notion that breast-feeding, washing diapers and remaining home with their children is morally or politically superior to pursuing a career.
Yes, I’ll repeat that last sentence again for its sparkling lack of originality, since it could have been written in 1820, 1848, 1870, 1895, 1915, 1942, 1968, 1987, and/or 2010: It is an argument likely to resonate among American women who must decide whether to embrace the notion that breast-feeding, washing diapers and remaining home with their children is morally or politically superior to pursuing a career. Just for today, let’s ignore the fact that most women don’t have a “decision” to make about remaining in the paid labor force, m’kay? Let’s pretend, as the New York Times pretends, that all women are white, middle-class or upper middle-class native born women whose labor isn’t necessarily needed to keep their families alive, fed, clothed, and sheltered. Even then, that sentence makes no sense whatsoever, so once again, we award the Whig of Illusory Progress to the New York Times!
Good lord. There really is no history or memory of feminism or feminist activism in this country, is there? And whose interests does that serve, friends? It’s the Groundhog Day of social justice movements, in which each generation “rediscovers” these same stupid “conflicts” over and over again, and is distracted by fighting with other women without ever asking, who manufactured “the conflict?”
But, back to Badinter. I have to read the book–her ideas about ecofeminism and essentialism resonate with what I’ve seen and observed myself, but again, I have to read the book. Nevertheless, reading the New York Times appears once again to be a colossal waste of time if you want to learn anything about teh wimminz.
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