There’s actually someone more scathing in her assessment of natural mothering than me

71210129 - sexist, 3d rendering, text on metal

Psychologist Susan Franzblau is even more scathing in her indictment of the inherent misogyny of natural parenting than I am.

I recently came upon her chapter Deconstructing Attachment Theory: Naturalizing the Politics of Motherhood included in the 2002 book Charting a New Course for Feminist Psychology.

Although Franzblau is refers to attachment theory, it seems to me that she is criticizing natural/attachment mothering.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Natural mothering is “a coercive theory that legitimizes and naturalizes the control of women.”[/pullquote]

She wastes no time in setting out her thesis:

In this chapter, I deconstruct attachment theory and argue that it is a coercive theory that legitimizes and naturalizes the control of women and contributes to divisions among women by social class, race and sexual orientation.


First, attachment theory steers women into accepting motherhood as the dominant condition of their lives, by characterizing and then romanticizing women as mother. Second, attachment theory promotes women’s labor within the confines of maternity by narrowing, reducing, and mandating women’s primary role as that of heterosexual mother. Third, attachment theory acts as the overarching paradigm with which to scrutinize women to see if their behavior meets the definition of “good mother.” Finally, if a woman resists the work of motherhood, either in thought or deed, attachment theory pathologizes her resistance.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. As I’ve written:

  • Natural mothering reflects biological essentialism.
  • It is about controlling women.
  • It has nothing to do with mothering in nature.
  • It pathologizes women who refuse to conform.

Franzblau traces the history of restrictive ideals of mothering:

The idea that women are evolutionarily prepared to mother … is consistent with a long historical tradition of using essentialist discourse to predetermine and control women’s reproductive tasks and children’s rearing needs. Evolutionary and biological theories have been embedded in a history of misogynist discourse… Women’s “natural” function … is to reproduce and provide continual care for infants and young children. If the treatment of women differs from the treatment of men, such treatment could be justified in terms of its biological and evolutionary purposes. Essentialism, therefore, is problematic for women who have challenged the idea that motherhood defines them …

Natural mothering elides its misogynist origins by insisting that it has the imprimatur of science. Franzblau describes it as “ideology configured as science.” And it’s not particularly good science because it takes animals, particularly higher order mammals and primates, as a starting point for determining normative behavior for women. In doing so it assumes inequality, male dominance and female nurturance of infants. In other words, the only thing natural about natural mothering is the gender stereotyping.

The ideology of natural mothering conveniently intersects with societal and political efforts to marginalize women. This is not the first time that mothering has been romanticized. It also occurred in the Victorian era and the immediate aftermath of World War II. In both cases, structural issues (the Industrial Revolution, the return of men from the military) made it attractive to pressure women back into the home, reserving employment for men. This was justified by ignoring women’s needs in favor of restricting them to their biological functions.

However, the choice was never women’s. The needs of children as defined by various experts, and the fact that women were positioned as exclusively responsible for those needs were translated into the fixed properties of mothers and valorized, unproblematized, and essentialized.

It the 21st Century, these so called experts are midwives, doulas, lactation consultants and attachment parenting advocates. Women’s needs are ignored and women who don’t want to give birth without pain medication, don’t want to breastfeed, and dare to have careers outside the home are pathologized as weak, lazy and selfish.

In the US, the ideology of natural mothering was elaborated by religious fundamentalists.

Organizations such as the Christian Family Movement (established by the Catholic laity …) became the founders of the La Leche League in 1956… According to one natural childbirth advocate of the time, “childbirth is fundamentally a spiritual as well as a physical achievement …” Breastfeeding was heralded as an extension of this spiritual connection. Out of concern that recently instituted bottle-feeding and drug-assisted births would break family bonds, these religious advocates of breastfeeding prescribed a regimen that included suckling on demand day and night with no pacifier substitute … Any work that competed with the infant’s need for continuity of maternal care was out of the question. One La La Leche League International group leader said that she was “pretty negative to people who just want to dump their kids of and go to work eight hours a day.”

Sound familiar?

The bottom line is that natural mothering has never been about what’s best for babies; it’s always been about manipulating women into pre-approved choices by disguising ideology as science. Unmedicated vaginal birth isn’t best for babies and it certainly isn’t best for women who don’t choose it voluntarily. Breastfeeding isn’t best for babies and it certainly isn’t best for women who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed. Attachment parenting isn’t best for babies and it certainly isn’t best for women who want to or need to work. The only people for whom it is best is those so called experts in natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and attachment parenting who profit from it and the misogynists who benefit from it.

Franzblau’s assessment of natural mothering is scathing and I couldn’t agree more.