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Translated by Adriana Hunter
Today, to be pregnant seems not far from entering into a religious order. There is an expectation that mothers will fit the bill of breastfeeding, nappy-washing, home-cooking supermums.
So are mums who rely on formula, childcare and disposable nappies lazy or liberated?
The conflict between a woman’s individual identity and her identity as a mother is not unique to our time. In the 18th century, French women overcame the problem by shipping their newborns off to wet nurses. But not so anymore.
Modern mothers are bombarded by advice from ecologists, breastfeeding advocates, behavioural specialists, even politicians. The pressure to be a perfect mother is overwhelming, and it’s scaring women away. And why wouldn’t it when the expectation is that your child will become your god and you its humble servant?
In The Conflict Elisabeth Badinter, France’s foremost feminist thinker, questions why our ideas of motherhood have been skewed by unachievable expectations that compromise notions of self and womanhood.
No matter which side of the debate you stand on, this bold and revelatory book is essential reading.
Read an article about The Conflict and modern motherhood, published in the New York Review of Books.
‘Motherhood is both sacred and contested. Small wonder this book caused a fuss in France…Perfect motherhood is the ideal but it is impossible. And it is scaring women away from parenting. Better to consider a tripartite model of women’s lives: mother, wife, professional. An argument starter.’
‘To have a child and a career; to be a woman and a mother- this is the familiar clash at the heart of the philosopher Badinter’s latest book…Many of us know this from hard won experience. What worries Badinter so terribly is that we are no longer freely choosing but being duped by the rise of a pernicious naturalist ideology that dictates how we should mother.’
‘To say this woman is the voice of reason is an understatement. At a time when few dare to question multi-professionals, all clamouring to claim parenting as their own, she is indeed a breath of fresh air. Verdict: 185 pages of refreshingly pure commonsense.’
‘Badinter’s impressive imperative to own one’s own life, to take rigorous and energetic responsibility, to cast off the silly or cowardly or frivolously domestic ways, seems very appealing, and refreshing and brisk.’