In some circles, babies are expected to be strapped onto their parents’ bosoms for the first six months of life, fed organic, homemade baby food, and taught Mandarin as they toddle around in their diapers. Anything artificial, processed, or automated is rejected as bad, even if it would make life dramatically easier. Almost all the additional labor required to adhere to these impossible new standards falls on the shoulders of women. It’s a major force behind the so-called Opt-Out Revolution that was widely discussed a few years back, a symptom of the disease that had women fleeing law firms and consulting shops in droves to become stay-at-home moms.
According to Elisabeth Badinter, author of The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. “Over the last three decades, almost without our noticing, there has been a revolution in our idea of motherhood. This revolution was silent, prompting no outcry or debate, even though its goal was momentous: to put motherhood squarely back at the heart of women’s lives.” The list of culprits Badinter sees behind this dark transformation includes doulas, feminists, pediatricians, midwives, critics of day care, anyone responsible for the “radical condemnation” of alcohol and cigarettes during pregnancy, and, most important, the mothers who buy into it all.
Badinter probably never had to face the parenting dilemmas that women with 70-hour-a-week jobs do. Although she has three children, now grown, she also happens to be the daughter of the founder of the Publicis (PUB) media conglomerate and its largest single shareholder, making her one of the wealthiest people in France.
French women benefit from generous maternity leave, and the country is filled with high-quality, government-subsidized day-care centers. The men aren’t any more helpful than they are anywhere else, according to Badinter, but at least society as a whole shares some of the responsibility. This may account for the country’s relatively high birthrate compared with the rest of Europe.
Young women who had been brought up to believe that work and career should define them “were receptive to the new order of the day: children first.” Badinter believes this new “maternalism” is as effective at holding women back, career-wise, as sexism ever was.
Source: Bloomberg BusinessWeek, April 30, 2012