Who is Elisabeth Badinter?

Have you heard of Elisabeth Badinter yet? If you haven’t, you should be prepared because you will. She’s everywhere stirring up controversy with her bestselling book. It was just released in the United States. Her book is called The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women.

The title pretty much says it all. The book came out this week so I haven’t read it yet. I’ve only read the hype about her book. It’s hard to miss. Lots of women are pissed off about it. The book has ignited just as much anger as the Rosen vs. Romney debacle.

Just who is this woman? Well, she’s French. Think Bringing up Bebe written by your really smart feminist grandmother. Oh, and minus all of the funny parts. She’s a retired professor with three grown children of her own.

She’s also super wealthy. Born and bred in what I call “old money rich.” She’s of a particular feminist brand that I have always found distasteful. Herself and the mothers who came before her had the privilege of being allowed to stay at home and raise their children. Both of my grandmothers worked in factories where they quite literally earned pennies for the hours they worked. They would have given anything to be able to stay home with their children. It’s pretty clear by Badinter’s statements that being a full time stay at home mom is her own version of hell.

I’m quickly becoming fascinated by this woman. She’s a trip! When it comes to parenting, there is attachment parenting on one end of the spectrum and at the other end you have Elisabeth Badinter. They could not be more diametrically opposed.

She’s convinced we’re moving backwards. And she does have a significant point there. When it comes to reproductive rights and health, we certainly seem to have stepped into a time machine.

One of the things that I find so intriguing is her strong disdain for the La Leche League. I know lots of mothers have problems with the militant approach of the La Leche League and rightfully so, but Badinter REALLY has a problem with them. I learned a new word from her. She calls the women in La Leche League “ayatollahs.” Huh?

I had to look it up. It means sign of God. It’s given to experts in religion, particularly Islam. What?

In an interview on Globe and Mail, “There are many ayatollahs of breastfeeding. Like the representatives of the La Leche League.” Whoa, lady. Let’s take it down a notch.

In the same interview she describes modern motherhood as “the motherhood of my great grandmother’s generation.” Really? I’m a bit doubtful we have reverted back to the 1800s in our parenting practices. I’m not exaggerating when I say 1800s because well, I don’t know how to say this nicely. Badinter is old.

She’s 68. Certainly old enough to be my grandmother.

Do you get insulted when your grandmother insults your mothering instincts and tactics? Of course not.  It’s your grandmother and who gets mad at their grandma? You nod and smile. And don’t give it another thought.

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36 Responses to Who is Elisabeth Badinter?

  1. Mama Melch says:

    Any chance you might actually review the arguments Badinter makes in her book rather than just dismissing them based on second-hand opinions and the age of the author? Disappointing. :-(

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Sorry, Mama Melch. I can be a bit dramatic when trying to make a point. I just think her age as well as the fact that she lives in another country and freely admits she doesn’t have nearly as much experience in American parenting, might bring in question her ability to relate to modern motherhood. I plan on reading the book. I like my books in the traditional paper format rather than digital and it won’t be here until Monday. Have you read the book? What did you think of it?

      • Mama Melch says:

        I haven’t read it yet, so am reserving my opinion, though like you I’m pretty sure I’ll disagree. There are soo many unsurprising things about her—rich, French, incendiary, etc. There certainly are arguments to be made and discussions to be had about all this professionalization of Mommy-ing. I think you are spot on to place AP and Badinter in opposite corners of parenting practices, though I would argue not on a spectrum of diametrically opposed ideals rather a venn diagram or some other more multi-faceted picture. I just get so frustrated with anyone who argues for or against ONE ideal way to parent. Surely that is just showing my anthropological roots in cultural relativity though.

        • Mommy Psychologist says:

          You’re right. A venn diagram would be a much better representation. I like the way you keep me on my toes:)

  2. Meagan says:

    2012 – 68 = 1944
    My mother in law is 64 by the way, and I’m 30. I wouldn’t exactly say Badinter is tales from the crypt material. And Bringing Up Bebe? An American parent’s direct observations and opinions of French parenting culture, a memoir-parenting book. The Conflict? A French woman bitching about parenting trends such as AP pinning women to the home a philosophy-sociology book. These two things are in no way similar.

    • Meagan says:

      Sorry… Missed the part where she said her great grandmothers generation. I thought you were suggesting that she was a woman of the 1800s. Even so, I don’t think her age is that relevant, she is a part of MY mother’s generation, even if she’s part of your grandmother’s generation.

      • Jennifer says:

        I don`t think women are pressured into AP practices, but there is more information available now as to the benefits of extended breastfeeding, organic (not nec. homemade) food, and co-sleeping and we need to make informed decisions whether or not to follow these practices. I agree that sometimes the practices can be overvalued, but they are also undervalued in many more circles.
        Since women have entered the workforce, we have had to compromise our work and family lives, and men have also started to take up greater family responsibilities. This isn`t a new phenomenon, but women like Badinter act like something has been taken from them with the knowledge that formula (which she has a financial stake in) is not as good for our children as breastmilk. No one is saying that formula should be outlawed, effectively limiting options, but women deserve to know that by choosing the convenience of formula (in cases where there are no breastfeeding issues), they are making a compromise.

        • Mommy Psychologist says:

          Thanks, Jennifer. The other point no one is mentioning is that she is a multi-millionaire whose stakes are in Nestle, one of the largest formula companies. I appreciate you bringing it up. I’m not sure why this gets overlooked so often in her discussions on breastfeeding. Of course she advocates formula- it made her a bazillionnaire (yes, I made that word up).

          • Meagan says:

            Yeah I think that link is overblown. She owns shares of a company that has stock (quite a lot) in Nestle which owns something like 90% of the food sold in grocery stores… Not just food with the Nestle label: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nestlé_brands
            Formula gets a lot of attention because of aggressive and controversial marketing, but in terms of her billions, formula is a drop in the bucket. It’s relavent, but I’m not sure it’s terribly important.

          • Mommy Psychologist says:

            Thanks for the link, Meagan.

      • Mommy Psychologist says:

        Thanks, Meagan:)

      • Nigrasedformosa says:

        She’s actually younger than both my parents, and I’m young enough to be the mother of a toddler.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      I was trying to be funny about the Bringing Up Bebe comment:) Love the “tales from the crypt” comment.

  3. Jennifer says:

    We can certainly understand Badinter`s viewpoints from her interviews, which doesn`t preclude reading her book; but she does make sweeping statements about modern motherhood and attachment parenting that she knows will cause reaction.
    Her perspective that AP is the dominant form of parenting in North America is wildly inaccurate — I constantly feel like I am in the minority and have women attempting to debate me, or have me justify, my AP principles. Further, she claims that women choose AP out of guilt, which maybe some women do, but I know that was not the case for me and many of my friends.
    We need more strong, feminist figures in the media that advocate parenting in a natural way and without guilt, whether that be by staying home or working, AP or a slightly less involved parenting style.
    I will reserve judgement until I read Badinter`s book, but she definitely is writing a pop-culture book, in line with Bringing up Baby. Her arguments and lines of thinking (as seen in interviews) are too simplistic to be credited as true philosophy.

  4. I don’t know that I would go so far as to call the LLL “ayatollahs,” but I do think that Badinter has a legitimate point in that the current push for women to breastfeed for 1 year+, co-sleep, and make their own baby food has the effect (even giving the benefit of the doubt as to whether that was the goal) of pushing women out of the workplace. I do not subscribe to the Linda Hirshman school of thought on mothers in the workplace. That said, I think it is worth discussing the validity of Badinter’s points about the effect that exalting mothering practices that are inconsistent with pursuing a career, have on women’s status in the business world.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Badinter absolutely makes some completely valid points. Mind you, I’ve only read her responses to interview questions. I haven’t read the book yet. In every interview, she makes sure to mention that she doesn’t care what people think about her strong opinions and she makes sure to use inflammatory language. I think references to the Taliban certainly qualify. I gotta admire her complete I don’t give an “F” attitude.

  5. Carolyn says:

    Thank you for this post, I try to stay out of the whole AP vs. “other” debate (and any parenting debates). After reading the post and the comments I am curious to read the book for myself. Then I come back to reality and realize that I don’t have the f&#*ing time to read it! I’m a working mom (with a promising career that I love), I’m doing a second degree part time (at nights/online) and I try to spend every moment that I’m not at work with my toddler son. I don’t have the time to both educating myself on the different perspectives of parenting debates because it takes valuable time away from my family/studies/work. I just do what works for my family based on what worked from my husband’s and my childhoods…. call me old fashioned!
    P.S. Once you have read the book, I’d be curious to read your thoughts :)

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Um, yes, you have too much on your plate- skip Badinter. You know me, I’m sure I’ll have lots of thoughts to share:)

  6. I like this blog because the comments are just as meaty as the posts! Haven’t read the book, probably won’t either, since what little time I have for reading I try to spend on my favorite genre (which is not parenting books!)

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      One of my favorite parts of this blog are the comments readers make. Thanks, Katy.

  7. Shannon Lell says:

    Hey there! I happened upon your blog today when I was searching for posts on Elisabeth Badinter. I especially like your three part series on What’s Wrong With Us? I found some of your conclusions intriguing and I plan to write some posts along the same lines. It seems we have some things in common in regards to our areas of interest and how we view parenting. I, too, wrote about Badinter today.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Shannon. Glad you liked what you found:) I’ll have to check out what you wrote.

  8. Great take on this debate…and lots of fun to read. On one hand, I think your conclusion is bang on – best thing to do is smile and nod and carry on – but on the other hand, ooo, that’s hard to do. How we parent speak to such a core part of ourselves that it’s hard to leave this one alone.

    I also wonder whether some of her points are really true to women’s experiences these days (this is to your point about her being out of touch). Sure, there were lots of posters about breastfeeding up in my OB/GYNs office when I was pregnant, but when push came to shove (so to speak), nurses repeatedly offered me formula for my two children even though I explicitly said I wanted to breastfeed. I never felt “pressured” to nurse – I did it for two reasons: my mother nursed me and it seemed like the healthiest and cosiest option. It worked for us as a family.

    We really need to ask ourselves where caregiving fits in with being a feminist? Are we doomed to despise it because it’s coded “female”? Wouldn’t that be more than a little ironic?

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Love these questions. And I wish I had the answer. I have spent most of my life trying to avoid anything considered “female.” I have to admit that it took me a long time to adjust to motherhood because of this. I didn’t have a problem connecting with my son, but after spending over ten years on a degree, it was tough to transition into a life where I worked from home and took care of my son. And if I am honest, a lot of this difficult transition was because I didn’t know how to be in such a traditional mothering role while holding onto so many untraditional values.

      • Gen says:

        I am having the same problems in trying to reconcile my woman-of-color feminist identity, my identity as an academic, and becoming a mother, particularly when I’m with other mothers (because I’m living away from my institution of study there are not many moms who are like me but whom I respect nonetheless). I feel like there has to be some way for me to retain one identity while building a strong identity as a mother. I want my son to appreciate and respect that his mother is a strong woman who tries to push against oppressive forces.

  9. Hi – Love your post, thought it was pretty funny. I just wrote a thank you note to La Leche League on my own blog two weeks ago. I dont find LLL militant at all. LLL is a great community intervention. LLL says “Pick the baby up, it is normal for a baby to want to be picked up. ” A little more realistic than re-inforcing the idea that a mom with a newborn should expect to be able to shop in a mall and try on clothes w/o interruption, like we see on the soaps. They just take a baby and put it somewhere on TV and we never hear from the babe again. Pretty weird life model for young mothers, huh? LLL brought bf back in a time when it was waning inthe US. Great societal intervention. If you don’t want to bf, just don’t listen. LLL isn’t buying time on American Idol, so it’s not hard to tune these messages out. Back to Badinter, I DO agree with you, I think being a Nestle stock holder thing certainly feeds into her world and life view. Maybe I will kindle-borrow the book (not buy!) just to see if I should bother writing a review.

  10. mommypsychologist, thanks for hosting this interesting conversation!

    Though I haven’t read Le Conflit, either, I’m planning to get to it this summer. Partly because of the ruckus it’s stirring up, and partly because I and many of my friends who are young mothers have indeed felt some of this culture of guilt that Badinter argues against. I like that, according to “Against Nature,” last summer’s New Yorker article centering on Le Conflit, “Badinter says that she would never tell women not to nurse, or how long to nurse, any more than she would tell them not to try natural childbirth — only to decide for themselves” (48). This attitude I can get behind.

    I hope your readers won’t dismiss Badinter’s ideas on superficial grounds. It would take a lot more than a drop in Nestle formula sales to make a dent in the Badinter fortune; formula didn’t make her rich, and it isn’t maintaining her wealth. The link between formula and Badinter’s views, again according to last July’s New Yorker article, seems idea-driven: “Badinter…[said] that she got the idea for the book [Le Conflit], in 1998, when France not only enforced an E.U. directive banning advertisements for powdered milk but also stopped the distribution of free samples in maternity wards” (49). Though I, myself, do not plan to use formula when (and if) I have a baby, it’s certainly necessary for some mothers, and can be a very helpful thing, at times, for most working parents! Why ban ads?

    Also, the fact that Badinter is French shouldn’t scare anyone away from hearing her out. Really I don’t think someone’s birthplace necessarily determines their views, and I don’t think most of your readers do, either.

    And, no matter what the generational divides continue to be, there’s no reason to dismiss Badinter on the grounds that she’s “old.” Most young mothers I know seek out older women for advice and conversation about parenting. Surely the fact that Badinter’s daughter lives close by and sends her kids to spend time with their grandparents means something (48). Badinter, apparently, knows something about what it’s like to work and raise kids: she had her three kids in three and a half years, going to school at the same time, and while her kids were in school she taught during the day in order to be home with them after school (48). Raising kids is *not* completely redefined by each generation. Badinter’s interest in mothers of past centuries (working on book about Hapsburg empress Marie Therese of Austria…who had sixteen kids in nineteen years…whoa) and mothers of this century is what makes her a relevant and interesting voice, not an obselete one.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks. I’m actually in the middle of reading the book now. It’s pretty heavy reading. She certainly makes some good points. The issue with her age is that she claims to be an expert on the current status of mothers and she hasn’t been a mother herself for a very long time. Her boys are over 30. So, as far as the actual experience of what it is like to raise a kid in the world in which we currently live, she doesn’t have. Her book is an examination of some of the cultural influences on motherhood impacting mothers. I know from my own experience that there is a difference between observing and studying something from an academic standpoint and the actual experience of doing so. Does that make sense? I agree that previous generations of women are a wealth of information about raising children. My own mother is one of the first people I call, but she will readily admit that this generation of parents is so different than what it was like for her and for women who came before her.

      • Indeed—many differences. She does seem a little isolated, but being an active part of her grandchildren’s lives (as that NY article indicates that she is), and the Baby Loup childcare center in Chanteloup-les-Vignes that she’s been raising publicity for, may put her closer to contemporary parenting culture than she might appear.

        If she puts herself forward as a parenting expert, then we all have good reason to be skeptical! If, however, she puts herself forward as a cultural commentator, an observer and advocate (or detractor) of certain cultural trends, then her distance from her own mothering years matters less.

        Well, I would certainly like to hear your thoughts on the book when you finish it! Keep blogging!

  11. stefania says:

    I just love Badinter’s view. I think she’s secretly childfree. In her book she describes childfree women as a “superior” breed compared to mothers (less educated, less fullfilled). She’s undermining the notion of motherhood as we know it. I just love her for saying what others don’t…this is the revenge of the childfree. Thank you Elizabeth.

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