Is Modern Motherhood Hurting Women?

BabyTO ELISABETH BADINTER, educated women who become stay-at-home moms have lost their minds. She explains why in her latest book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women, which has sold more than 200,000 copies in France. An English translation hits U.S. shelves on April 24. Here, Badinter speaks with Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.

MARIE CLAIRE
: What's the problem with being a mother today?

ELISABETH BADINTER
: There's a feminism that was born in the 1980s in the United States that defines women through motherhood. I find this dangerous. From my point of view, motherhood is a choice, not an obligation.

MC
: You've written about a "naturalist" strain to modern motherhood-breast-feeding on demand, natural childbirth, eco-friendly washable diapers, homemade baby food-that pushes women back into the home.

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EB
: Unquestionably. The gains of the previous century-epidurals, bottle-feeding, disposable diapers-allowed women to reconcile their roles as mothers with the necessity of being financially independent. This 21st-century project of naturalism, which makes the female into an animal again, is a rejection of those gains.

Homemade baby food is terrific if you know how to cook and have time to make it. But why demonize commercial baby food, which is balanced, quick, and accessible to fathers?

While we're waiting for biodegradable diapers to reach the market, I would choose disposable diapers [instead of washable ones]. Between the protection of the environment and the protection of the liberty and free time of women, my choice is made.

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MC
: You also point out that the amount of time women spend with their children has gone up enormously.

EB
: Absolutely. And the parents are less happy. They're always full of anxiety and guilt that they never do enough for their children. And I find that incompatible with the desires of women today. The majority of women in Western countries want to have economic independence, too.
Also, life expectancy keeps increasing-85 years for women. And taking care of kids is just 18 years. What do we do after that, when the children leave? It's much too late to be able to make a living in the workplace.

MC
: You write about an "intellectual dowry"-women who get a higher education but then stop working after they have children.

EB
: These women don't see beyond the next three years. I'm stupefied when I say to them, "If you completely quit working, do you think that in three years it's going to be easy to find an equivalent job?" And it's this absence of vision in the middle of their lives that I find infantile. I'll say it: infantile. It doesn't give me any pleasure to say that. And this intellectual dowry is all in the name of "I want to be a good mother."

Visit MarieClaire.com for more of Badinter's thoughts on working moms, breastfeeding, and a uniquely American problem.

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