30 May 2012

Feminist Rage: Twitter, Badinter and Questionable Motives

I really did promise that I was going to stay out of the whole "mommy wars" thing, but often my militant feminism means I have to step back into that arena.  The whole "Elisabeth Badinter (author of  The Conflict which I am very much adding to my reading list) vs. all mothering that is known to be right and good" controversy has been floating around for a while.  I really wasn't going to blog about it, everyone else has to death, but then this happened and well, it sure lit a fire under my womanly ire.
Sadly, my beloved Wil Wheaton rubbed me the wrong way by perpetuating this drama.  I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt that he just retweeted this in objection to "the man*" and did not do so with a full understanding of how perpetuating this erroneous position undermines women everywhere.  So where do I even begin with what is wrong with this discussion?  Let's just bullet this one out...
  • Jay Gordon MD FAAP- Check out his bio and let me know if people in glass houses should be tossing Chevy's around.  This is surely someone who benefits financially from furthering the "breast is best at all costs" mentality.  If we are going to question Badinter's motives, then turn about is fair play.  Is Dr. Sears called out because he makes money off AP books?  Nope.  Is anyone telling Dr. Gordon to can it because he also makes money directly from furthering the AP cause? Nope.  Only the woman who went against the norms gets called out.
  • Men and Breastfeeding- I know this is equally sexist, but it really bothers me when men feel free to weigh in on the issue as if they enjoy some sort of insight that us silly little women don't have.  Until you have nursed a baby, you need to temper your opinions (actually that goes for everyone, no one seems to know more about feeding babies than people who are not yet parents...go figure) and/or I don't want to hear you sniveling about not liking breastfeeding or thinking it is gross or indecent. Men weighing in on the matter (judgmentally that is, empathy/support is OK, we are all parents here) just proves that women's bodies are still public domain.   I hate that.
  • Blatant disregard for what Badinter was actually saying.-   She did not say breastfeeding is bad, she says the way we treat women and breastfeeding is bad.  She did not say AP is bad, she said the way we devalue women through mommy martyrdom is bad.  Before we go tearing around the internet saying that "Elizabeth Badinter hates breastfeeding and has plans for world domination via sales of Enfamil" lets do some google-fu and actually see what she was saying.  (Just hypothetically, if you are a famous person who often speaks out brilliantly about the "war on women," this might be a good step before you retweet this nonsense. Just saying.) Much better examination of this issue and issues relating to this point here at Fearless Formula Feeder.
  • The immediate search for a way to discredit Badinter just because she broke the rules of womanhood by questioning how society told her to mother. -Now I don't agree with everything she has to say and I certainly don't always love how she says her piece, but she is saying things that need consideration. Yes, she is extremely judgmental  and frankly the way she talks about SAHMs does women everywhere a huge disservice, but her point that the way we treat issues of mothering sets all women back is very real.   Let me be clear: how you choose to mother is your business, how we treat women in their choices as mothers makes us all look like jerks.  If we want mothering/parenting/fathering to be an action of value in our country, then we do need to look at these ugly sides of modern parenting.  Badinter, in her often harsh and equally biased way, took a HUGE step towards useful discourse by putting this stuff out there.  Now if only we could all get over ourselves long enough to have new conversations instead of just rehashing the old ones for ratings.
My overwhelming feeling here is that Badinter told us all some painful truths about being a mom in this modern era and sadly the usual reactionary refrain of  "of course my way is best, how dare you question my authority" quickly took over.  I think that is what makes me the most angry about this.  At the end of the day no one cares what your individual choices turn out to be, but we all should care about making sure society allows us to make those choices.  This point is well articulated in the comment section of the above mentioned Fearless Formula Feeder post.   This need not be about picking one "right" way to parent; not when it can be about valuing all the ways one can pick to parent.

So the take home messages are: 

Yes, Badinter may have a conflict of interest, but almost all purported research does; research takes money and that doesn't grow on trees so pretty much any position by any expert will be tainted in this way.   In this particular case, her desire to sell a book may have very little to do with her desire to generate money for big pharma.  That is certainly more than I can say for the crowd of  extreme-AP "experts" for whom furthering the AP cause and book sale revenue are more closely related.
The overall message of Badinter's work is not to vilify breastfeeding and AP, but to point out that way we view mothering is pretty screwed up when the only possible way to meet the "mommy standards" is to have an un-medicated birth, breastfeed, cloth diaper, co-sleep, homeschool, cook everything from scratch with only organic-free-range ingredients and keep a Pinterest-worthy house.   Her own hypocrisy of saying these things are unrealistic then promptly bashing anyone who stays home and does this stuff only serves to, oddly enough, prove her own point. Society doesn't want anyone to "win" the "mommy-wars," especially when these wars keep ALL women firmly in their place.

*This I totally get.  I am so fed up with how almost everything that we regard as "fact" pertaining to our health and well-being is actually some kind of "pitch" designed not by science, but by lobbyists.  Dude, I hear you, but in this case, the call-out may be obscuring a MUCH larger issue.


The Fearless Formula Feeder said...

Thanks for the shout out, and for the great post. It's totally immature of me but I got a cheap thrill seeing you take on Jay Gordon - I have such issues with that man and what he stands for, and how he treats women... ack. Don't get me started. But yes, glass house. Like champagne-flute thin glass.

Anyway, love this post and I'm glad you gave in and wrote it - I relate to being too annoyed to even go there, but it's important for smart people like you to speak up about these things. There aren't enough articulate voices of dissension with issues like these.

Alexis said...

@The Fearless Formula Feeder Yeah. Dr. Gordon gets me kinda hot and bothered. I find this particularly offensive since he is questioning Badinter's qualifications/motivations meanwhile he runs an entire empire based on questionable science. Pot meet kettle...you know?

I just wish we could spend more time talking about the fact that modern parenting drama(and sadly by that I most often mean "mothering") sets us all back. We need less fighting about what choice is better and more time fighting for the right to make those choices without fear of derision. Sadly the status quo of "breast is best" and "you must sacrifice all to be a good mother" has become so ingrained in all of us that you have an exhausting battle just to get to where you can start talking about it all in honest terms. Purely exhausting for anyone who dares question the proposed "norms." Not that long ago formula feeding, sleep training and spanking were all cultural norms. How quickly we forget that parenting is a fluid system and not a strict dichotomy of right or wrong.