The (comparatively tiny) but growing percentage of expectant mothers opting for “natural” birth methods and home care has alarmed one French feminist (Elisabeth Badinter), whose newest book, The Mommy Trap , functions as a sort of anti-Luddite treatise, according to Heather Havrilesky’s review at Bookforum:

Badinter singles out the rise of naturalism as a key force returning women to the home. “Imperceptibly, nature had gained the stature of a moral authority universally admired for its simplicity and wisdom.” As they placed industrialization and the conveniences and shortcuts of technology in the firing line, women began embracing natural childbirth and home birthing, with the pain and suffering of parturition suddenly representing a transformative rite of passage. [ . . . ]

Badinter seems to prefer alarmist rhetoric to broader observations on current culture—even as she delivers sharp insights about the regressive turn of modern attitudes about motherhood. In addressing the oppressive nature of today’s pro-breast-feeding movement, for example, Badinter fills nearly four full pages with quotes from the La Leche League, an advocacy group for breast-feeding that is close to a caricature of naturalist-mothering dogma. For most long-suffering mothers, La Leche comes across as the breast-feeding equivalent of a corps of fiery Baptist preachers: good for a burst of inspiration when you’re close to giving up, bad when you’re seeking any sort of balanced perspective on motherhood.

In case you hadn’t surmised, this is a pretty punchy review, as far as academic book reviews go:
Willfully reactionary rhetoric like this doesn’t pound home Badinter’s arguments so much as undercut them; it effectively sacrifices an otherwise carefully conceived set of observations in order to pose a sloppy question that only a confused reader could encounter as anything but an incendiary digression. [ . . . ]

. . . do we really require a privileged French academic to tell us all this? “The best allies of men’s dominance have been, quite unwittingly, innocent infants,” writes Elisabeth Badinter, in her favored tone of one part outrage to three parts outrageousness. We can almost picture the author, sipping red wine with other photogenic idealists, surrounded by cobblestones, flanked by slanty rooftops, untouched by the compromises of contemporary womanhood.

Read the whole thing here .

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