Elisabeth Badinter’s The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women will delight and annoy all points of the political spectrum. This usually indicates a great book. From page one, Badinter launches a reasoned, but powerful, feminist critique at the worrying results of the cult of all-encompassing motherhood. She describes a society pushing mothers to be mothers. Mothers aren’t mothers and workers, mothers and women, or even mothers and lovers. Mothers are mothers, and those who step out from this identity immediately encounter guilt-laden social judgment. At the heart of this pressure is the re-invention of “traditional” motherhood underscored by naturalism – no epidural, no formula, and definitely no daycare. "No way," says Badinter. Such motherhood excludes fathers, breaks up families, and pressures women to forego careers, social life, and equality, she argues. Badinter isn’t against women choosing 24/7 motherhood, but she is alarmed at the social pressure that presents this as the only acceptable choice. Society may judge childless women selfish, but it’s even harsher on guilt-ridden working moms. Choice emerges as Badinter’s rallying cry, and she sees its absence, particularly in North America, undermining women’s equality. Arguing for choice, freedom, and also responsibility, The Conflict grasps a social third rail – wait for the sparks to fly.
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