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French feminist thinker Elisabeth Badinter blames the green movement for pushing French women back into the traditional role of a mother chained to her home and child - a role the feminist movement has worked hard in helping women have more freedom of choice in whether and how they fulfill it. According to the Telegraph, Badinter's new book, Conflit, la Femme et la Mere (Conflict, the Woman and the Mother), argues that green politicians and extremists in the environmental movement are "burdening mothers with intolerable guilt unless they stay at home and breast-feed for as long as possible." She goes as far as to liken the situation with women devolving into female chimpanzees. Is the green movement causing feminism to backtrack?Green Movement Versus Feminist Progress
I haven't gotten my hands on this book yet, so I'm going off the Telegraph article when it comes to understanding the details of Badinter's argument, nor am I well versed in what's happening in the feminist sphere in France. But, the article brings up a key issue that can certainly be examined more closely with or without Baditer's book: Is the green movement and feminism at odds?
The Telegraph reports, "Their [the green movement's] perfect French mother, Banditer writes, "breastfeeds for six months and doesn't put her baby in a crèche or not too early, because baby needs to be with mum and not in a nest of germs; she is wary of all things artificial and is ecologically-minded. The jar of baby food has become a sign of selfishness; we're back to the purée mashed by mum." Women in childbirth are even made to feel that epidurals are wrong, she goes on, adding: "We don't need to bow down to nature."
Those who choose to stay at work or to not have children are ostracised. "It's as if we were all female chimpanzees," says Mrs Badinter, 65, who is widely admired in France for her outspoken views."
Feminism Is About Women Finding The Role That Best Suits Them
Like all -isms, feminism has a wide range of themes, extremes, theories, and "should"s. However, what is center to third-wave feminism is that the women's movement is intended to allow women to fulfill - happily and without judgment - any role that fits them. If that's a corporate powerhouse, rock on. If that's a mom who purees her own organic bananas for baby and spends the afternoon washing reusable diapers, then rock on.
The green movement has its extremes too, but it's a tough call to say that it is to blame for sexism in society. Returning to more environmentally friendly practices for raising a child doesn't mean that the green movement is guilting women into roles they don't wish to fulfill.
Rather, that's sexism using the green movement as cover.
Is it possible that some women are feeling pressured by the green movement to do more at home than they really enjoy? Possibly. But that might also include recycling more and remembering to take the reusable bags to the farmers' market, as well as breastfeed her child.
We can't forget that men can, and should, take as much part in raising a child as a woman, and that everyone can, and should, be eco-minded when doing so. Does it mean we have to be perfect greenies? Nope. But it also doesn't mean that feminism and the green movement are necessarily at odds.
Indeed, Cécile Duflot, head of France's Green party, retorts, "She has completely missed the point. The real issue is to find out why today there is still inequality between men and women on pay and domestic chores, not to consider that today having a child is a problem," she said. "She blasts washable nappies as an extra burden for mothers without thinking for a second that a man could put them in the washing machine. What she completely forgets is the notion of pleasure. One can take pleasure in raising one's baby - that goes for men too."
It's about choice - not pressure from any "movement" - that is at hand. Raising a child in an eco-friendly fashion is not drudgery when someone takes joy in it. And likely, it is very few women who are feeling pressure specifically from the green movement to stay home and raise a child - more likely it is other social pressures as the root, with the rising awareness of green living that is adjusting how women raise their children.
The Green Movement and Parenting
Examples of men taking on the green parenting role abound; we can point directly at Derek Markham of the popular green parenting site Natural Papa, a blog that "focuses on natural parenting and fatherhood, home remedies for common children's ailments, homeschooling, green and simple living for families, and natural foods. We hope to be a valuable reference for parents and parents to be, and to engage in a conversation with our readers about issues in raising a family in an environmentally friendly way." Being a green parent is about being a green parent - male or female. And anyone in the green movement who is purposefully guilting women into antiquated motherhood roles is probably a member of the more fringe areas of environmentalism and/or feminism and/or is sexist and needs an excuse.
Pitting feminism against green and healthful living can be done without a malicious intent, however. After all, this is not the first time feminism and the green movement have been set at odds. Michael Pollan tried to blame Betty Friedan and the spark she added to the feminist movement for the unfortunate eating habits Americans have adopted, pulling us "out of the kitchen and onto the couch." Simply untrue - women can simultaneously be on equal footing as men, and find their footing in or out of the kitchen as they please, all without giving up their green edge.
Another point barely glanced upon in the article is how the green movement can be seen as a boon for women in gaining greater access to birth control. After all, for those of us wanting a sustainable future, we can't ignore the issue of population control. While as hotly debated in the green sphere as it is in the feminist sphere, getting a grip on human population goes hand in hand with women having complete control over their reproductive rights.
"She argues that France will go the way of Germany, Italy and other low birth rate countries if women feel too pressured into staying at home."
For a sustainable planet, is that such a terrible thing to see lower birth rates - not just in the west, obviously, but worldwide?
Keeping An Eye on Sexism In The Green Movement
"If we don't watch out, we can say goodbye to women's freedom of choice and to the struggle for sexual equality," Elisabeth Badinte told Le Journal du Dimanche.
She is absolutely right.
But it's about more than watching the green movement - it's about watching out for negative and harmful extremes in human societies as a whole. We're struggling to achieve so many important things all at once - women's rights, human rights, the rights of nature to thrive - that sometimes priorities conflict. Balance, however, is possible, and there is no reason why being environmentally conscious has to mean relinquishing choice or becoming a martyr when it comes to women and family rearing.
Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
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