The topic here is a review of the English translation of Badinter’s latest book which appears in the New York Review of Books and is authored by Diane Johnson: Mothers Beware! Badinter titled her work Le Conflit: La Femme et la Mère. In English it emerged as The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. A more explicit title seems appropriate for English speakers who may not yet be aware of the conflict—perhaps because we rarely pay attention to our intellectuals, or are even aware of their existence.
Badinter became famous for a book she wrote that was translated into English as Mother Love: Myth and Reality (1981). Johnson summarizes the thesis of that text as
That statement is worthy of extended discussion on its own merits, but here it serves merely to provide context for Badinter’s views as expressed in the latest book. She was moved to produce that work by
Badinter argues that
The "French way" of motherhood has characteristics that are in direct conflict with the wave of motherhood fundamentalism. One variation, attachment parenting, emphasizes breastfeeding (years in duration), close and continual contact between mother and child, mothers and infants sleeping in the same bed, and the rule that infants should never be allowed to cry. Attachment parenting was discussed and disposed of in Maternalist Fundamentalism: Attachment Parenting.
The French women apparently have little interest in spending 24 hours a day with their children and even less interest in breastfeeding.
Badinter has a really dim view of breastfeeding.
As for creating well-behaved children, the "French way" seems to work well by using a strategic approach to crying children. Pamela Druckerman has written a well-received book: Bringing Up Bébé: One American mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. From it, Johnson provides this explanation:
Badinter says the threat to the French way, and the threat to women everywhere, arises from the renewed effort by men to take back control of the fertility of women. There are many reasons why men developed a need to control their women and the offspring they might produce; all involve the notion that women are valuable property—too valuable to be let out of control.
Johnson indicates Rick Santorum as an example of how far motherhood fundamentalists are willing to go in order to control a woman’s fertility.
Johnson concludes that the trends that are only on the horizon for Badinter and her Frenchwomen, are already bearing down on women in the US.
"....the idea that only motherhood determines a woman’s status in society is a sinister and regressive one that religious and fundamentalist forces are concerned to promote, not only in our country."
We owe much to the French. We should be thankful to Badinter for alerting us to problems that we might not be taking seriously enough. But that bit about crying and teaching children to wait for what they want—why couldn’t they have shared that with us years ago?