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Mommy wars: Elisabeth Badinter vs Amy Allen

Much work in second wave feminist theory of the 1970s and 1980s converged around a diagnosis of the cultural value system that underpins patriarchal societies.

Feminists argued that the fundamental value structure of such societies rests on a series of conceptual dichotomies: reason vs. emotion; culture vs. nature; mind vs. body; and public vs. private. In patriarchal societies, they argued, these oppositions are not merely distinctions -- they are implicit hierarchies, with reason valued over emotion, culture over nature, and so on. And in all cases, the valorized terms of these hierarchies are associated with masculinity and the devalued terms with femininity.

Men are stereotypically thought to be more rational and logical, less emotional, more civilized and thus more fit for public life, while women are thought to be more emotional and irrational, closer to nature, more tied to their bodies and thus less fit for public life.

-- Amy Allen, the Parents Distinguished Research Professor in the Humanities and a professor of philosophy and women's and gender studies at Dartmouth College.


the publication of the English translation of Elisabeth Badinter's book, "The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women." In it, Badinter argues that a certain contemporary style of mothering -- a style that requires total devotion of mother to child, starting with natural childbirth and extending through exclusive and on-demand breastfeeding, baby-wearing and co-sleeping -- undermines women's equality.

Badinter claims that it does this in several ways: by squeezing fathers out of any meaningful role in parenting; by placing such high demands on mothers that it becomes nearly impossible to balance paid work with motherhood (especially once fathers have been sidelined); and by sending the message that day care, bottle feeding, sleep training and the other things that allow women to combine motherhood with paid work are harmful to children, and that the women who use them are selfish.



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