Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Elisabeth Badinter has it (only) half right

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."


Cloud said...

Ha! That colleague of your husband's made me laugh.

Sure, mys husband can't breastfeed. But he could do the dishes while I did.

You are right- there are so many ways to split the work, just because one partner can't feed the baby, it doesn't have to be an unfair split.

Jac. said...

Haha - your husband's colleague must be either single or have a saint of a wife.

I was talking to my husband about this exact same thing. I've found the transition to two much easier than the transition to one, but my husband has found it a lot more difficult. I think it's because he got off easy the first time - his life just carried on. But now with an older kid needing taking care of and me recovering from an unexpected c-section, he's really had to step up. And he has been amazing (thank goodness, having one kid did teach us a lot about communication). Frankly, I think breastfeeding (except for all the middle of the night wake-ups) is the easier job. I'd rather be doing that than the cooking, dishes, laundry, entertainment of preschooler etc. that my husband has been doing.

Melba said...

Bahahaha! I got such a chuckle out of your husband's colleague too. Who IS this guy? NOTHING to do? I'd love to lock that guy in a tiny room with a crying baby with a big blow-out stinky bum and see how he handles it.

Victoria said...

I've been reading your blog a long time, found you on Moxie. IME, It gets harder once #2 starts to get really mobile - and here I am with another early walker! In fact, she just managed to give me a round-house kick to the eye mid diaper change. Didn't see that one coming!

hush said...

At dinner the other night, somehow we got on the topic of France and one of the men in our party mentioned something he heard about govt nurses that come around to peoples' homes help new mothers get their vaginas back in shape to have sex. Quite a conversation we all had! I actually mentioned "my friend who lives in Paris" (I was talking about you, but I didn't mention that I don't actually know you - LOL) said she read this book by Elisabeth Badinter, etc, and I quoted your DH's colleague and everyone laughed.

Before having our second child, everyone who already had more than one child would warn my DH, "When the baby comes, you're really going to feel like you're pulling a ton of extra weight." It actually turned out to be true. The extra work created by the arrival of DD almost wrecked our marriage, or actually it exacerbated problems we had left unresolved. Thank gawd for therapy! And for other couples who told us we weren't the only ones!

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@Cloud and @Jac - What I love telling people is that breastfeeding has created more opportunity for my husband to contribute, not less, but it also is because he's good at stepping up to the plate without prodding (and I'm lucky). For example, he took over the bedtime routine for Le petit when we weaned, and he's been handling it ever since. That, I think eased the transition for Le petit to having a little sister.

@Melba - HA! I know.

@Victoria - I know, I'm dreading that a bit, but I'll be going back to work around when mademoiselle starts getting mobile, so I'll be getting a break. Oh, and the acrobatic diaper changes... looking forward to that! Ha!

@hush - Ah, yes, the free pelvic floor reeducation! Yet another reason I'm glad our children were born in France. The reason for it is more about not peeing when you cough (and not needing expensive surgery when you're older) than good sex, but I've heard that, ahem, justification cited too.

In the same vein, some French mom/designer/entrepreneurs have started coming out with truly sexy nursing lingerie. That despite the fact that France is pretty backward about breastfeeding, IMHO. So is it any wonder that we have such a high birthrate here? Hee hee. By the way, I'm flattered that you would refer to me as your "friend in Paris." Cool!

caramama said...

Amen, sistah! And I have to totally ditto @Jac's comment.

Nothing to do? Here, I've got some diapers you can change while I'm stuck in bed healing from another C-section and a baby you can soothe so that I can try to sleep more than 1 hour at a time!