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The Oppression of Motherhood

The Oppression of Motherhood

It’s what a mother is supposed to do, right? 

  • Feed the little guy purée of organic vegetables as his first foods, with a side smidgeon of chicken (non-antibiotic-fed, free-range) finely diced. 
  • Use only organic hemp and cotton blend cloth diapers laundered in organic detergents free of perfumes, dyes, bleach, and the like. 
  • Breast feed until baby’s says it’s ok not to. 
  • Never, never let there be BPAs in any cups or toys or plastic items. 
  • Limit video- and tv-watching. Maybe don’t allow thes at all: After all, you the Mom are the best toy for your child. 

It’s hard—impossible, in today’s society— to criticize any of these child-rearing practises, or the good intentions (healthier, hopefully wiser and just better children). But a recently published book by French philosopher Elisabeth Badinter, Le Conflit, La Femme et La Mère (The Conflict, The Woman and The Mother), asks if women today are not oppressed by motherhood. 

From a March 22nd article—”Is motherhood a form of oppression?: Thanks to breastfeeding, organic purees and eco nappies, the baby has become a tyrant, says a bestselling book in France”—about Badinter’s book in the Times of London:

[Badinter] maintains that women have thrown off the shackles of male domination only to impose a far more pernicious tyranny on themselves — that of their own children.

She advocates a return to the old French model, which involved whatever necessary — powdered milk, baby minders, nurseries, you name it — to prevent les enfants from taking over their mothers’ lives.

Badinter singles out the economic crisis, the Green movement and American feminism as culprits:

“The baby has become a tyrant despite himself,” she says. This to the joy of men, who are able to sit back and watch the football, unconcerned by the offspring-mother battle.

So what has driven women to accept this modern form of slavery? The economic crisis is one reason, she says, with motherhood suddenly looking like a better option than the uncertainty of the workplace.

The Green movement is another, with its back-to-nature beliefs in home-made food, mother’s milk and washable nappies — all obstacles on the road to emancipation in her eyes. “Between the protection of trees and the liberty of women, my choice is clear,” she says. “It may seem derisory but powdered milk, jars of baby food and disposable nappies were all stages in the liberation of women.”

A third explanation is the contemporary American feminist movement, which, she says, has made the mistake of trying to feminise the world in the hope of turning it into more a compassionate, tolerant and peaceful place.

“Green mothering” can be seen as emblematic of what’s oppressing today’s mothers. Women buy organic crackers and scrutinize their household cleaning products with the thought of helping their children (only a bad mother would feed her children Doritos, right?) and, too, of somehow making the world greener, cleaner, safer, better. Indeed, parents of autistic children are exhorted to go organic and to create a “clean room” in their homes in the name of helping their children.. And though it’s been suggested that eating organic may not be any better for you—may not have the spectacular, earth-changing outcomes advocates claim—certainly it can’t hurt (except maybe in the checkbook) to go a bit green. 

Making your own babyfood and washing all those diapers takes time. I’m sure many women consider this time well and best spent. (I count myself in that number: I made all of my son’s babyfood, filling our freezer with little cubes of puréed asparagus and broccoli).  But, as Badinter points out, spending all this time doing all these things means that women aren’t investing their time elsewhere, in the workplace. Have we created a new model of mothering (with a nod to the eco-inclined website mothering.com) that is in danger of going overboard in calling on woman to go green to be good, responsible mothers?  

Has motherhood become so “involved” and over-complicated that we’ve lost touch with doing what comes……. naturally?

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Photo by simplyla.

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99 comments

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6:42AM PDT on Aug 19, 2013

Good to know.

9:43AM PDT on May 11, 2010

I agree with Jose M C. You have to have a license to drive a car. You even have to have a fishing license. But any one can have a child even if they can't take care of themselves.

10:01AM PDT on Apr 15, 2010

My mom could not breast-feed me because of her thyroids. Some who decide to do it, for example my sister-law decided to do it but her son got thinner and thinner so she had to stop, and use baby milk formula. Breast-feeding is not for everyone.

2:43PM PDT on Apr 13, 2010

Jose, who's going to 'pay' all those 'stay-at-home' mothers so they can have the privilege of not working outside the home like the rest of us if they require income?

If you choose to have a child and stay home then that's your choice. But no one else should have to subsidize your choice financially.

1:34PM PDT on Apr 13, 2010

If it were up to me, I'd outlaw childbearing without a license. Prospective parents (not just mothers) would have to take classes and demonstrate that they have a thorough understanding of the physical, emotional, and educational needs of children from birth to adulthood. How they choose to rear those children afterward is their choice, but they need to know the basic job requirements. Furthermore, stay-at-home moms should get paid for all they do, especially single ones. I'm not a fan of fatherless homes, though I acknowledge that they will always exist, whether by choice or not. But wherever there is a father present, he should also be held accountable for providing and actively supporting a safe and nurturing environment, both financially and in time invested with his kids.
There is no occupation nobler and more impactful on our society than that of motherhood, and we must do all we can to help mothers be successful at it. The state of our world depends on future generations, and how they manage it will largely depend on the skills and values they learned as children at home.

4:08PM PDT on Apr 9, 2010

Very interesting points... I think that it is important for societies to keep in mind the fact that what is good for one person, isn't always good for another. If a person has a strong desire to stay at home and be a Green mom, make baby food etc. Then how dare anyone tell her she shouldn't? The exact same should be said for the mother who chooses to work, eat doritos and anything else. As long as the child is dearly loved and not neglected or abused, everyone should be able to raise thier children how they want to.

If it makes you happy to stay home and be a mom - it is not oppression, it's a choice - sometimes a very fulfilling one.

1:41PM PDT on Apr 6, 2010

If kids are so Horrible and you don't want to invest the time and energy WHY HAVE KIDS?

IMO going to work everyday would be torture! I want NOTHING to do with the bondage a Job brings...
Being a Mother is wonderful, I get to watch my young ones develop and grow...

Women today are nothing short of selfish and miserable!
Breastmilk is important and formula is NASTY...is Chemical CRAP in a can!

9:59AM PDT on Apr 4, 2010

Actually, Janice, women have always worked outside the home - primarily poor ones, of course. They've always been our servants, our cooks, our childcare workers, our seamstresses, and a whole host of other things.

While I agree that some have allowed their desire for material things to overpower their lives, for other women greater freedom has meant the freedom to enter jobs that once were unthinkable for women. Jobs that are actually interesting and well paid.

To each her own.

8:30AM PDT on Apr 4, 2010

I agree with Mirielle. Greed from every angle has tyrannized women. It was not until the 1970's that women really began working outside the home. Until that time, everyone was satisfied with the typical, modest home, one car, and rearing the children they brought into this world. Women's lib, which was a very good thing, changed that. Although it gave women more freedom to work at a profession, it ushered in other things that did not well serve the family and, sometimes, even the women, themselves.

Greed set in, at every possible angle. People - both husband and wife - were no longer satisfied with their modest lifestyle. They wanted to live more like the wealthy people they saw on screen. So, the wife was put out to work. Unfortunately, in most households, men did not share the housework, so women ended up with what amounted to two jobs - one at home and another outside the home. In order to make up for the time lost with the children, parents started to "buy" their love and affection, by purchasing the latest this or that and by making sure that their child had the very best of everything. This resulted in a good number of children becoming spoiled and ungrateful.

When the 2 salaries no longer provided the lifestyle they wanted, they took out second mortgages. When the economy turned downward, many lost their homes.

Also, given that women were now "equal", alimony rights were changed, leaving divorced women in dire straits. Greed has ruined us.

1:11AM PDT on Apr 1, 2010

Very interesting post!

One thing the article missed is that Ms. Badinter is not only a philosopher, but a publicist. Could she be reacting out of anger that her ad campaigns don't have much of a grip on today's women any more?... I don't understand how it's wrong that "American feminists" would try to influence the world. Everybody has the right to try to influence the world.

I could argue that the tyranny of money and paid work could be what's really bringing women down, not motherhood. My parents didn't have two cars, we didn't have cable, wear designer clothes, or fly to a vacation destination every year. Everybody now "needs" so much money because nobody wants to be the poor soul who can't afford what the Joneses can afford. Or is it because of the tyranny of greedy employers who won't pay decent wages or retain hardworking employees any more?

Things have definitely not become any easier for mothers. However, I believe each woman needs to tackle the issue of overwork from the responsibilities of motherhood individually. What all happy mothers have told me is you need to remember to look after yourself. Once they make themselves happy, the whole household gets happy. And no, to me, it doesn't come "naturally", but I'm definitely working on it!

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