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Sunday
Apr292012

Badinter's "The Conflict": Oppression of Mothers Through the Lens of France's Hegemonic Masculinity

Last week, the English version of French feminist Elisabeth Badinter's book The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women was released. The Internet has been abuzz with discussion of her book. While the book raises many issues that could be explored, I want to examine her assertion that it is no longer men who are oppressing women, it is modern motherhood.

A Conflict Between Woman and Mother


In The Conflict, Badinter talks about the potential conflict between motherhood and a woman's quest for personal fulfillment. She notes:
Now that motherhood is no longer the only source of affirmation for a woman, the desire to have children might conflict with other desires. A woman with an interesting job who hopes to build a career - although such women are a minority - cannot fail to consider such questions as whether a child would harm her professionally. How would she manage to combine a demanding job with raising a child? What effect would that undertaking have on her relationship with her partner? How would she need to reorganize her home life? Will she still be able to enjoy her advantages and, more important, how much of her freedom would she have to relinquish?

The basis of the book is that despite advances in opportunities for women, motherhood and the ever-increasing expectations that come with it, are undermining the status of women. As a feminist, attachment parenting style mother and career-oriented white collar professional, I don't deny the importance of the questions raised in this quote, but I do take issue with the way she exclusively assigns them to women.

Not the Baby, Still the Men


In The Conflict, Chapter Four is called 'The Baby's Dominion'. Badinter concisely sums up her argument in the first two paragraphs [emphasis mine]:
The irony of this history is that it was precisely at the point that Western women finally rid themselves of patriarchy that they acquired a new master in the home. Women had achieved financial independence as well as control over whether they had children or not: they had no reason, it seemed, to continue to confront men's power.

Yet, thirty years later, there is no denying that male domination persists. Men's general resistance to the model of equality is indisputable, but this alone does not explain women's situation today. Their increased responsibility for babies and young children has proved just as restrictive, if not more so, than sexism in the home or in the workplace. A woman might be able to turn her back on her boss or her husband, but she can hardly walk away from her baby. The tyranny of maternal duty is not new, but it has become considerably more pronounced with the rise of naturalism, and it has thus far produced neither a matriarchy nor sexual equality, but rather a regression in women's status. We have agreed to this regression in the home in the name of moral superiority, the love we bear for our children, and some ideal notion of child rearing, all of which are proving far more effective than external constraints.  As everyone knows, there is nothing quite like voluntary servitude. And men have not had to lift a finger to accomplish this fall. The best allies of men's dominance have been, quite unwittingly, innocent infants.

I could probably footnote and deconstruct each sentence in that passage, but I want to focus on her assertion that for once it isn't the men who are oppressing women, because she's wrong. It is still the men who are oppressing women. Parenting is not something solely in the mother's domain. Sure, there are things that are more easily and more naturally taken on by the woman (pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding). But with the amount of work that goes into raising a child, certainly there are equivalently hard or selfless tasks that a father can take on?

Did Badinter Give Up on the Revolution in Fatherhood?


In Badinter's other book, XY: On Masculine Identity, that she wrote two decades ago, she writes about the "conditions of the revolution in fatherhood":
The revolution in fatherhood, barely perceptible today, ought to cause great upheavels for generations to come and most notably lead to a new masculinity, more diversified and subtler. But it presupposes more democratic relations between members of a couple than those that we know today and is dependent on more than the good will of individuals.

She then talks about two models of equally shared parenting, one where parents split all tasks equally and one where the work, overall, is split equally with each parent tending to different tasks. Like me, Badinter prefers the latter model:
There is an economical use of time, access to the child by both its parents, and greater parental solidarity than in the traditional mode, thus strengthening the couple without threatening it. What is more, the children seem more secure and less anxious [than in the case where they don't know which parent is responsible for what].

Finally, she goes on to talk about the need to change what we perceive as masculine virtues:
It is time to tell our sons that Terminator, far from being a superman, is a miserable parody. Even more important, it is also high time to sing the praises of masculine virtues that are not acquired either passively or easily but that find expression in effort and struggle. These virtues are self-control, the desire to surpass oneself, a love of risk and challenge, and resistance to oppression, among others. They are the conditions for creation, but also for dignity. They belong to every human being in the same way as the feminine virtues.

But somewhere in the time between writing XY: On Masculine Identity and The Conflict, Badinter seems to have given up on men and the possibility of a revolution in fatherhood.

L'Homme


Badinter ends The Conflict with a chapter specifically on the situation in France, where breastfeeding rates are significantly lower than in other countries, where women go back to work quickly, and where fathers don't contribute much.
There is no moral or social pressure bearing on a woman to be a full-time mother, not even in the first year after birth. French society acknowledged a long time ago that the mother need not be the only party responsible for her child.

Although they are constantly admonished to take on their fair share of parental and householder chores, French fathers continue to contribute very little in this area. But in their place, the state shares responsibility for the baby's well-being and upbringing. And because the state's duty toward the mother and the child is universally accepted, that public opinion tends to be far more scathing about the state's shortcomings than about any failure on the part of the mother, or especially, the father.

So, writing from the perspective of French society (and in particular, a class of French society that would have had all the help necessary in raising children and completing household chores), Badinter sees trends towards more involved parenting as necessarily oppressing women. Rather than seeing greater involvement of men as the solution (or the lack thereof as the problem), she seemingly brushes that aside and advocates for women to be just as uninvolved with their children as most French fathers are.

Let's take another look at that paragraph from The Conflict that I quoted at the start. What if we replaced "woman" with "man", "she" with "he", and adjusted a few other key elements to ensure accuracy, while still posing the same questions?
Now that a career is no longer the only source of affirmation for a man, the desire to have children might conflict with other desires. A man with an interesting job who hopes to build a career - especially because such men are in the majority - cannot fail to consider such questions as whether a child would harm him professionally. How would he manage to combine a demanding job with raising a child? What effect would that undertaking have on his relationship with his partner? How would he need to reorganize his home life? Will he still be able to enjoy his advantages and, more important, how much of his freedom would he have to relinquish?

Do those questions sound ridiculous now that the roles are reversed? They probably do, because our society does assume that women will be the ones who sacrifice the most when children enter the picture. But in a society free of patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity the questions shouldn't sound ridiculous.

  • Why aren't more men taking years off of their career to stay home with their children if that is something the family values?

  • Why aren't more men questioning whether it is still reasonable to head out to the golf course every Saturday morning?

  • Why aren't more men asking what changes they might need to make to better balance their career and their family life?


Badinter says that breastfeeding and other forms of "intensive mothering" are problematic because it forces women into servitude and denies men "bottle time". I disagree. I think we should advocate for "intensive fathering" to complement that "intensive mothering". If men are wearing their babies, cuddling with them, playing with them, changing and washing diapers, taking them for walks, teaching them things, and later introducing them to interesting foods, the fact that he supported exclusive breastfeeding of the infant for the first six months shouldn't be equated with his exclusion or her oppression. If fathers are doing all of that, it also gives mothers the opportunity to find the balance they need and to meet their own needs.

Choosing a parenting style shouldn't be something the mother does alone. She should have control over her body (and therefore have the final say on issues like breastfeeding), but decisions about how to parent the child should be something that both parents make together and that both of them invest equally in. There are certainly mothers who choose very intensive parenting styles and take everything on their own shoulders. But I don't think the answer to that problem is to suggest that certain parenting styles (like attachment parenting) are wrong.

The solution is to ensure that fathers are equal partners in parenting, so that mothers are not the only ones to suffer physically, professionally and personally from the demands of parenting. Being a parent is incredibly fulfilling, but it also involves challenges. In my opinion, both the rewards and the sacrifices stemming from the decision to procreate should be shared equally by both parents.

More Reading on Badinter


There are so many problems with the arguments raised in Badinter's book, that it is impossible for me to cover them all in one blog post. But other people are discussing this too.



Your Thoughts


I would love to hear your thoughts on this. On the one hand, I support the right of each family to make decisions for themselves in terms of how to balance the parenting workload between parents. On the other hand, however, I think that dismantling the patriarchy necessarily requires more men to take time off work to either be a stay-at-home dad or at least be the one rushing out the door to grab the kids from daycare on a more regular basis.

How can we encourage greater equality across society while still valuing and recognizing the ability of each family to determine what roles make sense to them?
« Motherhood AND Feminism: The NY Times Discussion and its Aftermath | Main | Women in the Media: You Can't Be What You Can't See »

Reader Comments (69)

Fantastic deconstruction, you. Well done. Loved that you went back and read her earlier work on men's roles - which I was not familiar with.

Also, thanks for the link love.

April 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterblue milk

Super interesting read. I used to own a childrens consignment store, and acted much like a central casting bartender - listening to all the tales of woe from moms about potty training, breastfeeding, parental roles, etc. And what I took from those years of listening is that moms still play this role not because of society, but because they want to.

Whether they chose an intensive parenting style or not, whether they had wealth or education or not, the majority of moms I spoke to were taking everything on their own shoulders. And of those women who did so, the majority of them had partners who tried to do more, but were shut down because they "didn't do things right."

I think mothers are their own worst enemies on this front. The smartest move I've made as a parent is to step back, trust and encourage my husband to find his own way with our kids, even when they wanted only me because of our nursing relationship.

April 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Deveau

I'm wondering what Badinter's early childhood qualifications are and at what point she stops to consider the needs of the child in all this. In saying that women are now being oppressed by our children - the very idea! - she shows herself to be a woman of deeply flawed logic. All the research indicates a child's need to be securely attached to at least one caregiver from birth - I don't see how sending them off to creche for long days very early on can foster this, regardless of her claim that society has let both men and women off the hook in this regard. Badinter seems to be going for the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" analogy whereby men and women should unite in the face of a common foe - their child. I much prefer your idea that by men becoming more engaged and involved in their children's wellbeing and early childhood, by sharing the load of parenting more equitably (regardless of what the decided approach is , and attachment parenting is certainly no barrier to this as you have pointed out) - women get greater freedom to be able to work and parent as suits them and their families.

April 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah L

Interesting observation of mothers and how they could shut down partner help - it's one of the main points I took away from Equally Shared Parenting, that it's as much about enabling your partner to make a contribution/renouncing exclusive rights to parent as the mother, as it is in sharing the workload. It also segues neatly into Friedan's Feminine Mystique where she talks about up-talking the stay-at-home role by infusing the tasks with mystery, magic and thus rendering them incapable of being completed competently by anyone else as a way of boosting the status of women marooned in the home. I think there is a lot of truth in these observations but sadly only because society completely and utterly undervalues the work of stay-at-home parenting.
As for Badinter? Well I can sort of see where she is coming from as an older woman looking at the new generations of mothers in her world. Personally I am frequently amazed at what my younger peers put up with in terms of selfish behaviour from their 'new man' male partners. But I don't think it's motherhood per se which is undermining her status - it's society's expectations for child-rearing which are still almost exclusively female-centric, in addition to the low esteem it holds the job of raising a family.

April 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpomomama

I agree that a lot of mothers are taking on that role because they want to, but I wonder what leads them to that? Why would they want to put everything on their own shoulders? Why would they want to deny their partner the opportunity to actively participate in parenting? I see it not just with parenting, but also with household chores. Even if women are their own worst enemies in this regard, I think we need to question what drove them to that place.

April 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Great post! I just read another interesting take on Badinter's book here: http://www.salon.com/2012/04/29/freedom_from_cloth_diapers/?source=newsletter

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Great post Annie. Badinter seems to be very jaded, it's a pity she doesn't explain why she's given up on the men so completely.

@Sarah L, very good point. I think that this is one of the many flaws in Badinter's analysis. She doesn't actually care about how the children are raised, she doesn't see them as people at all. Her other blind spot seems to be breastfeeding. She seems to have turned it into some kind of all-consuming monster, as opposed to other aspects of childcare. I suspect it has to do with an aversion to the animalistic nature of the activity.

I've breastfed a lot (although not AP) yet my partner still participates strongly in all other aspects of parenting. He fathers pretty intensely without having bottle fed much. Nappies, baths, food, walks, teaching and on and on.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTamara

great review and deconstruction of bedinter's book. it brings me back to my feminist studies in the mid '90's. i remember one of my (very young) lecturers announcing to our entire tutorial class that she was never going to have children. this was her 'feminist act'. at the time i was only 23 and newly married (again, very young) and i thought the idea of committing to NEVER doing ANYTHING seemed naive. i also remember being fascinated and a little perplexed by her declaration, but the seeds of bedinter's argument were being planted back then. the ideology of maternal feminism in the 1990's was the antithesis to radical feminism. it appears that not much has changed.

i agree wholeheartedly with other commenters that bedinter's academic argument is devoid of any human qualities - not just in relation to the babies and children involved but also the mother and father (that is assuming that both exist in the home!) it has given me pause to think about why i have made the choices i have - not having children with my first husband, getting divorced, meeting a new partner, having children late in life, giving up work, breastfeeding well into toddlerhood and holding and loving my children as much as possible. at this age, my partner and i have managed to find a good balance between pursuing our interests outside the family and contributing to various tasks, as equally as possible, within the family domain. in my twenties i really was not skilled in asking for help or even expecting it.

i realise i am an active member of my culture but i live in a different culture now than the one i was raised and married in. sometimes i reflect on how that gives me some liberation, as i don't have my family of origin in close proximity. basically, i can make my own choices without defaulting on my experiences of being parented. perhaps this is an essential component that is missing from bedinter's argument: where did we learn how to parent? where did we learn the social construction of 'mother' and 'father'? for example, sarah deveau, all of those women who found it difficult (maybe impossible?) to give up their 'control' in the home - it may be they learned that a woman's value is inextricably linked to how well she 'performs' in the home. if men start trying to perform those tasks that a woman is deriving her value from, where or how does she gauge that value? i have also heard so many friends complaining about how their husbands are 'useless' or 'don't do anything' when i have observed their partners (or in-laws...or other friends & family) valiantly trying but getting stonewalled in their attempts. pomomama's friedan example is very much linked to this idea of keeping all the tasks to oneself so that a woman feels she has a semblance of power and control in what she perceives as her domain.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbarbaraw

I felt mildly sick reading much of The Conflict, and now even more so having read about Badinter's ties to formula advertising.

Breastfeeding, parenting... they're not taking over my life. Those are my choices, and therefore part of my life now. The only time I question them are when people like Badinter - who sounds so authoritative on the surface - make me doubt myself, however briefly. What's more sick-making is knowing there is a whole segment of the population who will take her words as gospel, without doing any critical thinking or research of their own.

Now if you'll excuse me, my oppressive little tyrant wants her breakfast.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura B.

Because it's not that hard to be a SAHM! I don't want to get into a pissing contest, about who works harder working moms or SAHMs, but my personal opinion (as a work-at-home mom, I work about half time, no commute) is that it's just not really all that hard to care for a child and keep a home in general order (relatively neat, vermin-free). Now, if you choose to have more children and you have higher standards for your home, then that's YOU. So, why would any woman want to take on being a SAHM and doing the lion's share of childrearing and housekeeping...because it is EASY. Not everyone wants to be challenged, and those SAHMs that DO want to be challenged are allowed to do it on THEIR OWN TERMS through reading and exploring their interests and not having it tied to a boss or paycheck. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me (if you have a good relationship with your husband and/or strong family ties to ensure you're taken care of if he splits or dies early). My preference is to have one foot in each world to varying degrees at different points of the child's life as needed. I don't need a high-powered career trajectory, though I do enjoy working...

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

i apologise for spelling the authour's name wrong throughout my comment. baby brain:)

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbarbaraw

As an interdisciplinary performing artist and new mother doing attachment parenting I feel that the western notion of the nuclear family is not practical, reasonable, sustainable or healthy for one's sanity. Two adults taking care of a baby is not enough, especially when one of the adults is working full time outside the home. Family and community support is essential.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDawN Crandell

I've been thinking a lot about this thousandth iteration from Western feminists about how AP, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, or simply bearing children is "bad" for women. And as Annie points out, most of these analyses leave out men entirely. But they are also ludicrously reductive. Is bottle feeding "easier" than breastfeeding? Depends on who you ask, same with cloth diapering, and any number of AP styles. In fact, if you ask AP parents, almost all of them will tell you they think BF, co-sleeping, babywearing, etc make parenting *easier*, not harder, and many of them do these things not for philosophical reasons but because they do in fact find they make their lives easier. I did not find breastfeeding demanding, isolating, or onerous; same with cloth diapering. If I'd found it difficult, I would have stopped - I know for a fact because I did stop cloth diapering when I reached a point when I couldn't deal with it for a variety of reasons. Parenting has changed my life, it's true, and parenting small children has slowed me down in my career. But it has not in any way oppressed me, and I'm convinced that the #1 reason why mothering will not have negatively impacted my life in any way is my partner, who is a true partner. Why is the concept of "bottle time" viewed as the height of bonding? (Let alone an easier path - I bet you dollars to donuts that in the vast majority of households where bottle feeding happens, the mother still does almost all the feeding, as well as prep and clean up of said bottles.) My husband did give bottles, yes, but more important, he soothed when nursing wouldn't work (it doesn't always!), he held, carried, played, changed diapers & clothes etc, from the moment our first was born. He did night duties and child-minding and pick ups and doctor's appointments and basically everything that I also did. It's true that I had long maternity leaves and he had no parental leave. He has never been the primary caregiver and I have for a couple of short stints. But two six month stints as a primary caregiver has nothing to do with the overall trajectory of my life or profession.

It seems to me that all these anti-breastfeeding, anti-AP works by "feminists" let men off the hook, and even worse, let society off the hook - rather than advocating for nursing rooms, affordable day care, paid parental leave, increased men's involvement in their children's lives, an end to work place discrimination for all care givers, not just parents, these writers reduce everything "wrong" with contemporary women's lives down to OTHER WOMEN and the choices of those women. Nothing feminist there, folks. It makes me livid.

And of course, as others have said, where are the children and their needs? I don't put my children's needs first - I'm one of those family-first types, in which my needs and my husband's needs are co-factored in alongside the children's needs. But people have children and will continue to have children and those children need to be birthed, fed, clothed, and cared for. AP does not oppress women; the patriarchy oppresses women.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I just wanted to add - don't get me wrong - I do think feminists do need to interrogate cultural conceptions of mothering and the burdens they can place on women. The concept of the "good mother" and what she must do, in particular, the most important area that needs to be examined critically. (Bluemilk's post on why AP needs feminism is one of my favorites.) But I don't think the analysis works unless you go after what's BEHIND the concept of the "good mother" rather than focusing on what are the things a "good mother" is supposed to do and attack mothers for doing those things. So for example, if the cultural trope is that a good mother stays at home, makes homemade jam, and bakes bread - does that mean that the very act of making jam and baking bread is oppressive/ regressive? I don't think so. I think attaching those things *to* mothering can be oppressive, but those are *different issues.*

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I think what bothers me is that the emphasis here is being put on the infancy (months) years, as if that's the ONLY important part of parenting. Mothers are oppressed because they are breastfeeding - BOOOO! Bullshit.
I think your questions are right on, Annie. WHY aren't more fathers concerned about being involved and available in ALL aspects of their children's lives - which go on for, you know, many many years beyond those first six months of exclusive breastfeeding? Sharing feeding time is such a tiny, teeny amount of time in the overall life of a child.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

Very well said Erin.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

Annie - excellent post. I agree with others who say that all these typeso f articles focus solely on the first few months of an infants life. IMO, by doing these things that as women we feel important (breastfeeding, co-sleeping, AP etc) I think that we're creating the rest of our kid's lives to be easier.

I have to say that I am one of the lucky ones, yes, I was the pregnant one, yes, I am the one who gave birth, yes, I am the one who nursed my 2 (so far) for over 16 months, however, my husband when he got home after work (because we chose for me to stay home for my one year mat leave) - did mostly everything else - baby wearing, cuddling, playing,, changing diapers, rocking etc.

I am quoting this whole paragraph that you wrote:
"Badinter says that breastfeeding and other forms of "intensive mothering" are problematic because it forces women into servitude and denies men "bottle time". I disagree. I think we should advocate for "intensive fathering" to complement that "intensive mothering". If men are wearing their babies, cuddling with them, playing with them, changing and washing diapers, taking them for walks, teaching them things, and later introducing them to interesting foods, the fact that he supported exclusive breastfeeding of the infant for the first six months shouldn't be equated with his exclusion or her oppression. If fathers are doing all of that, it also gives mothers the opportunity to find the balance they need and to meet their own needs."

As much as I am an "intense mother" my husband is an "intense father" - there is NOTHING he cares more about then to be there for his kids, to TEACH them about life, nutrition, play, friendship etc and to be the best role model he can be for his kids and for me. I'm at work for a few months until I head off on mat leave again and he is the one who does the drop off and pick ups at daycare when my mom isn't around. He knows it's hard work.

Like I said, I guess I am one of the lucky ones. It feels nice writing it.

Thanks for writing such a great blog post.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

Great post, Annie!
"Rather than seeing greater involvement of men as the solution (or the lack thereof as the problem), she seemingly brushes that aside and advocates for women to be just as uninvolved with their children as most French fathers are." Exactly that's the problem I see.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErica

I think part of the reason she focuses on infancy is that she sees the decision to stay home to breastfeed an infant as setting back a woman's career -- possibly temporarily, possibly permanently if the family has multiple children. I also think it is relevant because the patterns established when the child is an infant can often carry through -- i.e. if the mom is the only one who feeds, bathes, and otherwise cares for the child, is that really going to change as they get older? Will the father suddenly become very involved later if he wasn't from the start? Or will he be a glorified babysitter on an occasional Sunday afternoon?

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Reading through your post and the interview in the G&M, all I can think is that I chose a partner that I knew would be a good father, that would take the time and give me the support. Instead of blaming babies for needing mothering, why don't we demand more of the men in our lives?
I am a feminist mother, lucky to have a husband who supports me in my desire to take time away from my career, and she won't convince me that I'm sacrificing anything.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Well done, Annie. I for one am sick of being judged by androcentric measures. Why should success entail turning our backs on nature and the natural functions and abilities of our bodies? Being equal and being feminists shouldn't include the gender neutralization of our bodies. Badinter talks about breastfeeding in this way, as if our ability to feed our babies is somehow a hindrance. It's only a hindrance in a Man's World and I refuse to submit to such a patriarchal value system as satisfactory. If we always play by the rules of Men as Badinter clearly does, then we will never truly live in an equal world.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter@Wolf_Mommy

As far as I know, she doesn't have any qualifications in early childhood.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Working was easier for me than the last year I have been home. Being a SAHM is more nuanced than simply cleaning and childcare.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSol

[...] My husband is great. He brought home this Marie Claire article (ripped from a gym mag) because he knew it would be right up my alley. I hadn’t talked with him about the Badinter book which asserts that certain aspects of motherhood are oppressive and lower the status of women, but he knows how I feel about this stuff. I’m going to take some time to analyze different aspects of Badinter’s attack as they parallel images from my sketchbook. I like to read others’ view on it all, too. One of the best discussions I’ve seen has been between Katie Allison Granju (well-known in certain blogging and attachment parenting circles and now known as an activist following the death of her son following his battle with Rx drugs) and the notorious (to me) Hannah Rosin on Slate (it’s a six-part thing, as of now). Other perspectives on the book that resonate with me can be read on Salon and Ph.D. in Parenting. [...]

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOn this ‘Conflict’

Great post, I linked to it (and others) on my site where I am going to further discuss elements of 'The Conflict' as they compare with my own views on mothering/feminism and what it means (to me) to be a woman, expressed in a recent visual arts project I did. I personally didn't find any of the elements of AP that I happened to do with my baby to be "oppressive" instead, I found them to be convenient! The relationship I am building with my daughter as she gets older is so precious to me, and I don't know that we'd be the same without the foundation we have from the "intense" mothering in her infancy. http://gretchenpowers.com/secret/on-this-conflict-thing/

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGretchen Powers

One thing that I haven't seen mentioned in this discussion is how incredibly oppressive French culture is: women bear the children, return to work, take care of the home and are also required to get their figures back as soon as possible after childbirth and get their vaginal muscles back in shape so that they can once again become good lovers to please their husbands. I read a blog post recently written by an American woman living in France that talked about how closely French women follow the "rules" of acceptable office wear: extremely high heels that must be worn not only at the office but to and from (no running shoes in the metro or on the street--you have to look sexy at all times!), no pants suits--again, you must look as feminine as possible at all times. As for size diversity--forget it. You've got to be slim at all costs.

French society, though elegant and suave from the outside, is horribly repressive to everyone, but especially women.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWRG

link, please!

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGretchen Powers

I have to admit that I cringe at the white sneakers with a skirt suit, but there are plenty of professional looking yet sensible shoe options out there for women.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I've heard some of these critiques as well. Interesting comment about the high heels...my grandmother's feet were mangled from years of wearing heels.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Perhaps I am very fortunate to give me this very simplistic view...but I think this modern woman's views are oppressing the modern woman.

Having children is a choice. Why is it that if a woman chooses to not breastfeed her child the choice is supported by modernism, liberation, etc. but if a woman chooses to breastfed it is met with naysaying. I find it more oppressive that MY choice, made freely, is less championed as feminism and being modern when I see it (the ability and opportunity to choose for myself the manner of which I want to parent, let alone the fact that I chose this path in life for myself) the exact definition.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnita

Perhaps I am very fortunate to give me this very simplistic view...but I think this modern woman's views are oppressing the modern woman.

Having children is a choice. Why is it that if a woman chooses to not breastfeed her child the choice is supported by modernism, liberation, etc. but if a woman chooses to breastfed it is met with naysaying? I find it more oppressive that MY choice, made freely, is less championed as feminism and being modern when I see it (the ability and opportunity to choose for myself the manner of which I want to parent, let alone the fact that I chose this path in life for myself) the exact definition.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnita

I've got a couple of great pairs of flats at the moment - some brown brogues and turquoise suede loafers (sounds odd but really works). I stopped wearing high heels almost completely when I first got pregnant. And no more pointy toes.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTamara in NZ

For phd in parenting, or any other commenters, do you see society changing drastically to allow more parents to stay at home, especially men who are in very demanding careers. To the extent that I see women in some of these careers, they often have a stay at home partner.

For instance I'm a nurse and there are certainly options within the medical field which are more family friendly, and there are others that are less so. For instance, many couples might have young children at the very point where the scheduling demands of certain medical specialties most be at the most difficult. If you happen to be the most junior member of an anesthesiology group for instance, it is doubtful that your colleagues are willing to go very far out of their way to make your position "family friendly".

One thing that I don't see talked about very often, is having the conversation about expected roles long before having a committed relationship. If one person dreams about having a career with lots of time demands, how would that fit in with them staying at home?

My own husband and I have mostly shared childrearing by having work schedules that where one of us is at home, while the other is at work. It has had advantages(not having to worry about what to do with a sick kid), but it also has drawbacks as well.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

@WRG. Word. There are institutional strangleholds on French women as well - something about their marriage and divorce laws. I've also heard that's it's legally impossible in France to give a child the mother's last name. All I'm saying is that it's hardly a feminist bastion over there, and making oneself a 24-7 sex object is not my idea of liberation.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Nurturing, entertaining, being a cook, nurse, clothes washer, stain remover, diaper washer, cheerios pick up, stroller/diaper bag preparation to go out, schedule organizing, always thinking about your home life, figuring how to save money to stay at home longer, trying to fit in a minute or two to yourself (to pee or to shower!), getting kids down for naps, convincing them to get seated in their car seats and not in the back where there are no car seats in van, grocery shopping (sometimes not at the right time), and I am forgetting a hundred things - is NOT EASY. It's hard work all the time, 24 hours a day sometimes.

But you know what, most of us (I think) would not trade any of this for anything else in the whole wide world.

I'm also one of the lucky ones where I have a husband who even though works outside the home, is just as involved in the kids as I am.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

"One thing that I don't see talked about very often, is having the conversation about expected roles long before having a committed relationship. If one person dreams about having a career with lots of time demands, how would that fit in with them staying at home?"

Yes, that is a critical conversation to have. But I also think that both parents need to make a commitment to being involved parents, regardless of their career choices and joint decisions. I also think we need a cultural change in workplaces that value work-life balance and prioritize family time. I think employers will see greater productivity from their employees if they have sufficient balance and down-time.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Where does the questioning stop? When do mothers ever look at themselves and say, "I am taking on these pressures myself and cannot point the finger at anyone else?"

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Deveau

Erin, If you think that I was characterizing France as a bastion of female empowerment, I really expressed myself poorly! The more I learn about the French mentality and France (I work with a lot of French people and speak the language fluently), the more I find it an uptight, distasteful place.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWRG

Here's the link about vaginal exercises (and many other wonders of being a woman in France):
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/12/world/europe/12iht-fffrance.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

As for the blog post, sorry, but I can't remember where I read it.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWRG

Here's the link about vaginal exercises (and many other wonders--sarcasm alert-- of being a woman in France):
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/12/world/europe/12iht-fffrance.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

As for the blog post, sorry, but I can't remember where I read it.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWRG

Honestly though, that conversation is often an absurd one. You'll likely have that conversation before either of you understands how you'll enjoy caring for a baby, or before either of you has reached any critical trajectory point in your career path.

My husband and I met at 15 and married at 21. At that point both of us were committed to never having children and making scads of money. Eleven years later, we have three little girls, and my career path has gone from working 70 hours a week at a high paced marketing job aiming for director, to owning my own small retail store, to working from home, to now working a 9 - 4 day job and freelancing on the side. I absolutely could never have predicted this life path - I would have howled with laughter at anyone who suggested it to me even three years into my marriage.

I've met so many people whose lives did not turn out according to plan - mothers who spend years struggling with infertility convinced they would stay home with their miracle babies who realized staying at home was not for them at all. Fathers who worked insane hours up and switching careers completely in order to be home more with their kids, when they themselves assumed they would take on more of a fringe role in parenting.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Deveau

No, no, I was agreeing with you! "Word" is like, "right on!"

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

@Sarah - But I don't think it's nailing down the particular details that makes those conversations important. Couples need to have conversations about what they value, what's important to them, how they see their lives. Yes, of course these change, and couples often change apart instead of together. But the conversations need to happen, even if though don't reflect the realty that unfolds, because in those conversations we learn about each other - ideally, we appreciate and respect the perspective, needs, and desires of our partner. For me, it's not the talk about who folds the laundry that matters, or even who folds the laundry, but rather does my partner *hear* what I am saying and *respect* my position, even if it is different from his/creates more work for him/something he doesn't understand? Equality in parenting doesn't always look like we think it's going to - partnership is about being partners not about being *equal* (I mean equality in the sense of exactly the same). I apply the same philosophy as Siblings Without Rivalry to my relationship to my husband. Anyway, that's all to say that we learn about each other through talking things over, and sometimes even project/imagining even when things end up being different than we expect. If we lay the foundation for the conversation, then it can easier to have the followup - Hey this isn't what I thought it would be! conversation.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

@Erin, I think if every couple had that honest and open discussion, the divorce rate would skyrocket overnight!

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Deveau

I think that, in addition to all the duties that SAHMs take on (as Cindy noted), we have to deal with the constant, unending, repetitiveness of it all. I believe that is one of the things that make being a SAHM so much more difficult than just childcare and housekeeping -- you have no breaks, you are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it can be very difficult to maintain focus and a positive attitude under those circumstances. I made the choice to stay at home, and I don't regret it for one minute, but I do rather resent people who suggest that what I do is easy or that I do it out of a desire not to be challenged.

And here's a real issue I have, and I think a lot of moms have. This idiotic "Mommy Wars" concept, where SAHMs are pitted against working moms and both feel that they need to defend their own choices and denigrate the other side. I spent a whole paragraph just now defending my lifestyle against an attack from a mom who (at least so it appears from her writing) thinks that she is somehow better than I am as a woman, as a feminist, and possibly as a mother because I made a different choice from the one she made. Why can't we all just acknowledge that we're all moms, we all are making the decisions that seem right for ourselves and our own families, and stop cutting each other down? As much as the patriarchal society that we live in keeps us down, we also keep each other down. If you want to work outside the home, if that's what is right for your family, that's great! If you need to bottle feed, if you've never touched a sling in your life, if you want to be in complete and utter control of every aspect of your child's life, it is ABSOLUTELY NOT my place to judge you or to try to make you feel that you are less than I am. All I ask is that you offer me the same courtesy. How are we supposed to improve the condition of women if we can't even stand together?

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKathy V.

Well said Kathy!

I don't care what others do (or don't do) unless it's CIO or circumcision - we just do what we do (or don't do) because it feels right to us.

I'd also like to add that it's just not the repetitiveness, or the no breaks that make being a SAHM difficult sometimes, it's the image that we're supposed to have while doing it. However, that's another blog post ;-)

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

I think also talking about these sort of issues before one has children, you can feel out whether your potential partner actually buys in to the idea of a shared commitment.

While I agree with you about the cultural change regarding work life balance, I think some workplaces are far from getting there...especially, in my opinion, jobs where there is a 24/7 staffing requirement are a very long way from getting there.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

When I was at home with three kids (6, 3 and 18 months) I found it fairly easy much of the time to be honest. My kids would play together or with friends, were well behaved, and would help each other get the things they needed. They weren't particularily messy kids, so housework wasn't endless. Many afternoons were spent lounging in the backyard reading or catching up on my freelance writing (which I usually did after bedtime).

I never felt like I had no breaks or worked 24 hours a day. But I still prefer working full time to staying home full time. Because the things I didn't like about staying at home far outweighed the things I didn't like, and didn't compensate for the things I like about working.

@Kathy, rereading Mrs Rochester's comments I don't see any denigration or attack or the idea that she thinks she's a better feminist than stay at home moms - she's simply stating her opinion on why stay at home moms stay at home.

http://www.yummymummyclub.ca/blogs/sarah-deveau-money-matters/ignore-the-haters

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Deveau

I don't at all think having the conversation is an absurd one. You can start by talking about your own parents' marriages/childrearing styles. I'd always been very vocal that I didn't want to live my life in the same way my mother did. You can see how your partner reacts. I had one guy that I was dating seriously tell me that he was all for having his wife do the traditional SAHM, and didn't see things occurring any other way.

At the very least, you can express your own ideas, and determine what sort of buy in your partner has to more equality in parenting. I'm not saying the conversation has to be a step by step road map...but I don't think couples should be at the point where baby has arrived, and the woman has just realized she has married someone with little desire to share in the parenting responsibilities.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

YES, YES, this. I have observed this phenomeon for years, and even fell prey to it for a short time with my first child. There seems to be a "professionalizing" of child care tasks by many mothers (often educated carrer types before kids), and dad's way of doing it is just not good enough.

Dad gets discouraged, stops offering to help, mom gets angry, etc.

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCin

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