“Attachment Theory and Women’s Subjection”
Presenter: Katherine Logan, PhD candidate, Philosophy Department
Katherine Logan’s work centers on the struggle that many women in our society continue to face, the conflict between their private lives and their work lives. This struggle takes on new urgency in light of the evidence that many of those women who have most benefited from increasingly relaxed attitudes toward women’s education and participation in the work force are increasingly more likely to sideline their careers for the sake of adequately mothering their children. After many years of trying to ‘balance’ the demands of family and career, these women are finding this balance impossible to maintain. Undoubtedly, there are many reasons for this imbalance, not least of which is the slow transformation with respect to family policy in both public and private enterprise. However, there is also a powerful trend in popular parenting literature that places enormous demands on the mother–breastfeeding, baby-wearing, cloth diapering, homemade baby food, limited childcare–that almost absolutely precludes the possibility that one could balance both a demanding career and the responsibilities of motherhood. This style of parenting, ‘attachment parenting’, bases its claims on what are purportedly scientific facts… facts that place the onus of care for the infant largely on the mother and seem to indicate that it is ‘natural’ for a woman to center her life around ensuring that her child attains a proper ‘attachment.’
Katherine critically interrogates this parenting philosophy, arguing that there are at least two reasons that we need to remain skeptical about attachment parenting. The first is that attachment parenting, which borrows its terms from the field of attachment theory in psychological research, misuses the concept of ‘attachment’. In other words, we ought to be skeptical about attachment parenting because its claims are inaccurate. Second, we ought to be skeptical about attachment parenting because of its rhetorical strategy, through which it authoritatively demands things of mothers (e.g., “Breastfeed your baby!”) while also taking on the guise of a non-authoritative discourse (e.g., “Don’t listen to those experts who claim that your child will be OK if she’s not breastfed.”). In other words, we ought to be skeptical about attachment parenting because it disingenuously deploys authoritarian strategies while masking itself as a non-authoritarian discourse. In so doing, attachment parenting numbers among those modern practices that encourage women to discipline themselves into vulnerable and undervalued societal positions. Through a parenting style that purports to provide better answers to questions in contemporary parenting, attachment parenting employs methods that encourage educated, successful women to actively reinstitute sex-based inequality.
That said, there are normatively praiseworthy aspects of attachment parenting that ought to be taken seriously, and Katherine concludes her research by pointing out some of the pressing social and personal problems that attachment parenting attempts to answer. For example, attachment parenting has found popularity at a time when the increase of women in the workforce has left a care deficit in our society. Even though our institutions have become more amenable to women’s public participation, this does not mean that the important (and unpaid or underpaid) caring work that women have done in the past is no longer needed. Even if we need to be skeptical of the intensive mothering demands of attachment parenting, anyone who hopes to enable women to achieve equal standing in their public pursuits will need to propose strategies for the means by which their care-giving work can still be accomplished. In this way, attachment parenting is a reminder that there is much work to be done to complete the ‘women’s movement’ in our own time.