The French feminist, intellectual and author of the recent book Le conflit: la femme et la mère argues that the pressure to breastfeed, to stay at home, and to excel as mothers is leading women in the industrialized world to renounce motherhood altogether, or at least find it less than fulfilling. According to Badinter, by setting the mothering bar so high, women are being pressured out of the workforce or forced to choose between work and parenting, often surrendering their self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, men are off the hook, not expected to be equal partners in parenting because they supposedly lack the biological equipment and mental wiring.
I read the book this spring, expecting to be irritated. And yes, her stance on breastfeeding (Oh, the pressure! Oh, the limitations of it all!) bothered me. But she has some very good points, starting with the complaint that most men still do not feel like they need to roll up their sleeves and do their fair share. Yet she wrongly blames breastfeeding, among other things, for this.
Over and over, I hear the same refrain: breastfeeding excludes dads. If you want Dad to be involved, pump your milk! Let him take a feeding! Otherwise, his attachment to the baby may suffer. I know it seems that newborns spend 24/7 on the breast (just ask me at four a.m.), but, hey, guys, there's lots more to do. There's bathing the baby. And changing diapers. And teaching her new ways to be soothed to sleep. There's taking her off for long walks when Mom just can't hack it anymore and desperately needs to nap. There's taking care of the older kids, and going grocery shopping, and if you really can't find anything else to do, there's always laundry.
There are men who want to be involved, and they will be, whether their wives breastfeed or not. There are men who, under the pretext that they've mixed up a few bottles of formula in the middle of the night, consider themselves off the hook. And then there are men who, like a colleague of my husband's, think like this:
"Is your wife breastfeeding?"
"Yes," my husband says proudly (he's become somewhat of a breastfeeding evangelist).
"Well, you're lucky, then. There's nothing for you to do."