French Feminist Calls Children 'Tyrants'

Unwitting ones, but tyrants all the same

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French feminist philosopher Elisabeth Badinter has written a book calling children unintentional "tyrant[s]": motherhood, she argues--particularly the quest for perfect motherhood with its handmade baby-food, endless breastfeeding, and cloth diapers--is eating away at feminism's prior gains. Thank goodness, she says, for France's slight resistance to this trend: "We've always been mediocre mothers here," the Times quotes Badinter as saying, "But we've tended to have happier lives."

Unsurprisingly, this is causing a stir, and not just in her native France. People are also riled up in England and in the United States. Is Badinter attacking mothers? Attacking environmentalism? Here's a sample of the Rorschach-like responses across three countries, as well as Badinter's rebuttal.

  • Well, Decent Point, says "women's lifestyle trends researcher" and blogger L. Anne Enke.
In spite of the claims of their therapy-ridden children who will never forgive seventies moms for having the audacity to utter the words "I am a person, not just a 'womb for future occupants'" ... maybe the divinely-devoted, heaven-sent, totally selfless mom isn’t actually best for her children or the world's social institutions, or governments or business.
  • Environmentalism Isn't in Conflict with Feminism  Treehugger's Jaymi Heimbuch thinks women getting "guilt[ed] into roles they don't wish to fulfill ... [is] sexism using the green movement is cover." Men can wash disposable diapers just as easily as women.
  • Or Maybe It Is  "Of course," says William Teach at ultra-conservative Stop the ACLU, "it is the Left who tends to, in practice, expose themselves as true sexists." He points to the "treatment of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. And the greenies tend to be primarily composed of …… leftists!"
  • My Point's Really a Very Simple One  Badinter, clarifying her argument in an interview with French paper Le Monde, says she's not saying the problem is purely about environmentalism, but rather "a group of movements": the increased emphasis on what is natural winds up being "regressive," forcing women back into roles .that earlier generations worked so hard to throw off. But Badinter scoffs at the notion that men are about to wash the green movement's beloved cloth diapers: "when I hear [someone] say [that], I wonder what world she is living in."
  • You Faux-Feminist!  Thomas Lancelot, a self-described "militant feminist," lays into Badinter in Le Monde for her inattention to "concrete matters" like women's material circumstances. Clearly, says Lancelot, Badinter "prefers to keep her hands clean by, from [the comfort of] her living room, not attacking anything but those disagreeable naturalist ideas."
  • The Problem Isn't Environmentalism So Much as Cupcakes  The Times' India Knight zeroes in on this baked good as "the symbol of a whole load of weirdness, wishful thinking and guilt." With the advent of Nigella Lawson et al., says Knight, we've come to "a strange sort of reality which ended up with women feeling they weren't worth their salt if they couldn’t rustle up a batch of cupcakes in their 1950s-retro kitchen." And the 1950s bit is part of it, too, says Knight, who takes a moment to make a broader point about those fantasies of "well mannered ... teenagers ... home-baked bread ... marvellous local shops," and a kitchen garden:

If you think about it, just about everything people are nostalgic for in the 21st century was achievable only if women stayed at home with a fully employed male workforce and, by extension, spouses and children who were financially secure.

  • Getting Back to Childcare  This topic was bound to come up somewhere in the discussion, and the Guardian's Marie-Helene Martin does the honors. She thinks the elephant in the room here is affordable childcare, which France, in fact, has in spades but which is not so common elsewhere.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.