My Conflict with Elisabeth Badinter: Is Powdered Milk the Answer to Empowerment?

French author and philosopher Elisabeth Badinter has been in the news quite a bit lately with the American release of her latest book The Conflict : How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. (You’ll notice there is not an affiliate link here because I have no intention of profiting off of this woman’s views – can you tell where I’ll be going with this?)

Let me first brief you on the finer points of this writer’s missive:

Badinter believes that modern parenting trends, particularly the return to breastfeeding, eco-conscious living, and working (or not working) in the home have taken women a step back in the feminist movement.

She says: “Today a mother who has just given birth is ideally supposed to display all the reflexes—some use the word ‘instinct’—of a female mammal. She must immediately forget about herself and her personal desires in order to be available 24/7 for months on end to minister to her child’s every need.”

She refers to this style of motherhood as crushing. “Powdered milk, jars of baby food, and disposable diapers were created for a reason. But the less modern women use them, the longer they stay at home, bending over backward for their children, losing a sense of independence—and economic edge—in the process.”

First of all, I found nursing far easier than mixing formula and washing bottles. I could nurse while simultaneously typing an essay and listening in on a conference call. Nursing didn’t diminish my identity – it enriched it.

As for other modern conveniences, I certainly don’t entirely eschew them. I have used my fair share of disposable diapers and jarred baby food. But dismissing home cooking and cloth diapering as inconvenient is just the kind of thinking that got us into this landfill in the first place.

Taking the time to pay attention to where our food comes from and teaching that to my children, playing in the garden, even washing an extra load of diapers – these things have not diminished my sense of independence. As it’s been said before, feminism is about a woman’s right to choose. Some women prefer and fully enjoy staying home with their children. Some women would relish days spent cooking meals for their children versus days spent at unfulfilling jobs. Some women have found balance working from home or working part time or even working full time and still being committed to nursing or cloth diapering or whatever their priority may be. And I know plenty of stay-at-home dads and fathers that split the housework equally – whether that’s cleaning with homemade potions or chopping up kale.

We don’t have to accept TV dinners as the solution to economic equality.

Shortcuts can be awesome. I adore multitasking products and all the great tips and tricks for simpler greener living. And I’ll still order pizza and take a cab when I’m feeling too lazy or rushed to walk. But I don’t feel like my eco-consciousness or connection to my son has taken time away from anything I would rather be doing. I still have time to run a successful business and workout and blog and see friends and I haven’t missed one episode of “Real Housewives of New Jersey” so clearly I’m not entirely stretched for time.

Badinter believes women should buy into individually packaged disposables and microwavable meals so we have more time to climb the corporate ladder. But what we really need to do is advocate for more accessible, affordable healthy foods and a more flexible, parent-friendly workplace. Like France for instance.

Because this philosophy is all very interesting coming from a French woman, and a very wealthy one at that. French law provides tax breaks, extended maternity leave, and an overall exceedingly more comfortable and friendly accommodations for working mothers, and all mothers in general. Meanwhile, some American politicians don’t even want us to have access to birth control.

Have you read this book? What do you think?


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