Stay-at-home, breast feeding, “naturalist,” and/or cloth diaper-using moms, be forewarned: the old guard feminists have it in for us, apparently. We’ve set women back decades with our hippie earth mother garbage, and at least one French Feminist, Elisabeth Badinter, is actually willing to say so publicly. In an article for Salon, Madeline Holler writes:
Sure, children have been ruining their mothers’ lives since we evolved from chimps. But what makes this snapshot in time so different, according to Badinter, is the fact that modern, emancipated mothers are so complicit in their own destruction. Lactating, co-sleeping, time off from work – that’s a bunch of “naturalist” mumbo-jumbo and a distraction from a woman’s duty to herself and a society that wants to see her as equal but can’t quite get past the milk stains on her blouse.
Men don’t need to keep us down, Badinter claims. We’re doing the work for them.
For my part, I throw my lot in with Holler and most sane people: What’s important is not what a woman chooses, but that she has a choice. It is the perception of most women and feminists my age that the choice was the reward object of our predecessor’s hard work, not the privilege of being castigated by them for taking advantage of it.
Where modern women do undermine themselves is the constant questioning of their choices and allowing for an onslaught of guilt. No matter what we do, it’s wrong in someone’s eyes – so why do we take any of this criticism seriously? Instead of doing as we please and moving on, as Badinter praises French women for doing, we do as we please and then punish ourselves with guilt.
Maybe the bottom line is simply that wherever two very equal options exist, we will always perceive the one that is more difficult to obtain as having greater value. Maybe old tropes about women are true: We just want whatever we don’t have.
Holler ultimately concludes, more or less, that this is just the circle of life. To us, our mothers are out of touch; to them, we are ingrates, intent only on doing the opposite of whatever they say, but ultimately, we’re just doing what we need to do in our time.
My mother and I both reacted to the demands of our time. In this book-length attempt to scold the young’uns for screwing up progress, Badinter, like others before her, fails to see that what her generation gave us were real choices.
She only sort of touches on the fact that it is currently more necessary to be a working mother than it used to be and that to be able to afford to stay home, not to have the privilege of venturing out into the world in a career, is the greater luxury.
Not at all subtly, as any mother who cannot afford to stay home will tell you, this is a pretty obvious class/income bracket issue.
The fact of the matter is that for most women, particularly those of the middle-middle class and below, giving birth in the current economy and job market where anyone with a job had better hold on to it for dear life, there still isn’t actually any “choice” between working and staying home and there never has been.
But this is seen as an economic, rather than a feminist, issue, and maybe that is the greatest travesty: Because actual choice exists for the microphone-wielding, yet not-technically-wealthy women of the upper-middle class (women like Holler), there is an illusion that the same choice exists for everyone. As such, feminism is increasingly convinced that except for the very poorest of social classes, there is little more to be done but to stop bickering amongst ourselves about which among her bountiful options a woman should choose.