While standing in line at the Borders liquidation sale, a headline on the New Yorker Magazine caught my attention "The Trap of Motherhood". I have never picked up a New Yorker before but I know from my creative writing classes that this magazine is well respected for printing poetry and political cartoons. While the cashier was scanning my purchase I read the little preview that it had on the article and knew that I needed to give this article a read. I wasn't disappointed by what I found in the article...well at least I wasn't disappointed with the presentation of the article.
The feminist ideals in the article were not all together surprising to me. My mother is a self proclaimed feminist and some of the arguments I found in the article are the same arguments I have had with her. When I decided to become an English teacher my mother was greatly disappointed. She had "raised me to aim higher than a traditional, subservient female role". If I had told her that I wanted to become a professor or a political journalist that would have been much better, but a regular public school English teacher was below my capabilities. She was further horrified when I told her that I wanted to that career, not only because I am passionate about literacy, but also because it would allow me to be a better mother since I would have the same days off as my kids when they were old enough to go to school...I won't tell you what she said when I told her I was pregnant and taking a few year off of teaching to be at home with my little one. I think it is fair to say that my grandmother, who lived with us, was a Catholic who still expected Mass to be in Latin, and was always the one at home with me, had a greater influence on me then my mother anticipated.
When I picked up this article I thought I was prepared for the contents. It did not cross my mind that the child growing within me had already affected heart in a deep way. Although, I respect other people's opinions and appreciate that we are a world filled with diverse beliefs, I as really caught off guard by the hostility and animosity that women who choose to stay at home with their children face. I really don't understand why people attack motherhood. After all, if your child grows up to be a serial killer or terrorist you are going to wonder what the mother did wrong. When children behave badly in school and are low performers we look to see the role of the mother in their lives (is she always working or is she there when her child needs helps). We can't have it both ways, mother's cannot be present in their child's life and be away from their child at work at the same time. Note: before I go any further, I am not passing judgement on mother's who work or who have to work. My husband and I are very blessed that I am able to be at home with our baby, but I do not judge a women who works. Our job as parents is to provide the best we can for our children if that requires that we work outside the home, then that is what we must do!
The article reports on the French feminist Elisabeth Badinter who has published many works on feminism in France and these works have been printed in several languages. She is also considered one of the most influential people in France. She happens to be the mother of three children (whom she says in the article "do not discuss their mother") and a "besotted" grandmother who takes her grandchildren every weekend to her country home. Badinter makes several statements about motherhood that seem to contradict her personal life, which makes me wonder if she is just, what do we call them in America, a Shock Jock. Badinter says she wants to affect social change but after reading this article in the New Yorker I wonder if she just wants to stir up dust and cause trouble where their is not trouble. The article also states that Badinter does not publicly face those she opposes, that she writes her opposition to be printed in newspapers.
Badinter doesn't just attack women, she attacks the church, America, and in my opinion, she attacks children as well. She admits to not liking America and claims that when she was asked to come speak at Princeton in the early nineties Badinter claims that she was verbally attacked by those attending her lecture. The New Yorker interviewed Joan Scott who attended the talk at Princeton. According to Scott, Badinter was saying "banal things about how the French were sexier than Americans, better at sex, how American women washed too much, how they were embarrassed by their bodily odors, by oral sex." Scott admits that they "asked hostile questions" because her comments seemed to be "off the top of [ her] head". I think it is fair to say that Badinter does not play well with others and that she has trouble making friends.
So why is Badinter appearing in the New Yorker? Well, she has published a new book called "Le Conflict" which is slated to be printed in English and will be available in America in January. In this book she makes some heavy statements about what she considers the fall of feminism. In her opinion, she believes that the church, both Catholic and Protestant have "Joined forces to drive independent and accomplished women out of the world and the workplace and into the house, where they will presumably squander their best, and most sexually interesting, years in unremitting slavery to their babies." Badinter also claims that there is a "spreading cult of "motherhood fundamentalism" in the West." These are some heavy statements for a woman who takes her grandchildren out to her country home every weekend and while she "always had an Au Pair" when her children were young and took a half time job because she "wanted to be home when they were". The knowledge that she had an Au Pair makes me wonder what she could possibly know about slavery to her babies, she had live in help! I find it hard to believe that she know anything about the demands of a stay at home mother.
When Badinter talks about her children's childhood she states that her children complained about her presence, wanting to know why she was home when they were. She claims that children need to have time to themselves without a parent "nagging" them all the time. I have to admit, when I read this quote I thought, maybe they liked the Au Pair more than her...this coupled with the statement she made about her children not "discussing" her made me wonder if her children wouldn't have anything nice to say about her and therefore didn't say anything at all. More to the point it sounds like Badinter felt rejected by her children and then became deeply resentful of her personal sacrifice for her children. That may have led to her deep rooted dislike for women who choose their children over their careers. She doesn't just attack women who stay home with their babies she also as it in for women who breast feed and the members of La Leche.
Badinter doesn't just seem to dislike women who choose to raise their children rather then work at a career, she also states that "Women can be extremely cruel to each other"-the idea that the world would be "sweetened" if women ran it is preposterous, she says "but there can also be an intimacy, a confidentiality, among women that men don't have". This statement put into context with all her other anti-woman statements says to me that Badinter seems to have some deep and unresolved issues with women, that her statements about motherhood are really her insecurities and hurt shinning through. For a woman that acknowledges that women can be cruel to each other, she sure isn't trying to inspire social change in this social area!
The final issue that the article addresses is the recent legislation inn France against Muslim women wearing burqas in public and at school. Badinter was a very vocal advocate of the ban stating that covering their faces and hair with burqas is part of their "liberty disappearing". She also stated that Muslim women could not be a part of a democratic state if they did not have "transparency of encounter among citizens". She states that fundamentalism is her real problem, not religion or culture. I personally think that Badinter's problem is her own confusion and inability to resolve her personal issues.
I am not worried about an attack from a woman that has no integrity. Badinter is not a threat to me. Her comments are inflammatory and taking them as anything else is simply silly. It is clear to me that Badinter does not have a moral yardstick that she uses to make her choices. I feel secure in my decision to take a few years and dedicate it to my child. In this decision I also feel that my faith has grounded me. When it comes down to it, it doesn't matter what society thinks about my decision but it does matter what God thinks about my decision!