A New York Times debate bluntly titled “Motherhood vs. Feminism” in April was just the latest of many attempts to cast today’s movement toward baby slings, family beds, and years of breastfeeding as the antithesis of feminist principles. And Time’s now-infamous breastfeeding-toddler cover ignited the argument yet again. By talking to hundreds of mothers, though, psychologists Miriam Liss and Mindy J. Erchull show it’s not that simple. They found that feminist moms were actually more likely to support attachment-parenting techniques than non-feminist moms, but that stereotypes about motherhood and feminism still persist.
In a study published in the journal Sex Roles, Liss and Erchull asked 222 self-identified feminists and 209 non-feminists to rate, on a scale of 1 to 6, how much they agreed with statements like “Parents should carry their children as often as possible” (a key principle of attachment parenting is the recommendation that parents carry children close to the body in a sling as much as possible while doing daily tasks, eschewing strollers and sometimes even carseats) and “It is important to co-sleep with your child.” They found that feminist moms agreed with the attachment-parenting tenets the most:
They also asked women how long mothers should ideally breastfeed (on a scale of 1, or no breastfeeding at all, to 6, or more than 18 months). Feminist moms were most likely of any group to be in favor of extended breastfeeding:
Despite finding that feminist moms were more likely to subscribe to attachment-parenting philosophies, the study authors found that non-feminists, especially non-feminist moms, still believed the opposite: that feminism meant you weren’t interested in things like co-sleeping or carrying your baby in a sling. Liss and Erchull wrote, “these stereotypes are consistent with the image of a feminist woman as being less invested in her children and family, perhaps because she is more invested in aspects of her life outside of the home.”
Their findings aren’t the first to poke a hole in these stereotypes — a number of writers in recent months have argued that attachment parenting is in fact a feminist approach. Belinda Luscombe wrote in Time that it was women’s rising economic and social status that made attachment parenting possible in the first place. And it’s worth remembering that much as not all attachment-oriented parents are conservative stay-at-home moms, not all feminists are career-obsessed women with no time for kids. As Liss and Erchull write, “there is actually no such thing as a typical feminist.”
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