The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women

The Conflict Cannot Be Taken Seriously
What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
April 26 2012 3:47 PM

The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women


Elisabeth Badinter’s job is to increase sales of baby formula. Why is no one talking about her laughable conflict of interest?

Enfamil and Similac


I am really surprised by how willing you are to give Elisabeth Badinter a pass on the clear conflict posed by her substantial financial ties to Nestlé. Since my last dispatch, I discovered that not only does Elisabeth Badinter’s billion-dollar PR and advertising company represent Nestlé’s infant formula products, but Publicis also appears to be the go-to agency for the infant formula industry’s other major players as well, including Abbot Laboratories (Similac) and  Mead & Johnson (Enfamil).

The fact that the author of a major new book asserting that breast-feeding “enslaves” and “undermines” women also personally holds controlling interest in the agency of record for the three companies that collectively control much of the infant formula market share in the United States is glaringly disturbing. I don’t find your counterargument that Badinter has been expressing the same point of view about “naturalist” parenting for the past 30 years to be persuasive. Why? Publicis has been charged with marketing Nestlé to the public since at least 1984, and has been promoting infant formula on behalf of Abbott Laboratories since 1997. Just as her views on breast-feeding may not be new with this book, neither is her revenue stream as the result of marketing infant formula.


This isn’t a case of a college professor inheriting shares in a big company from which she’s functionally detached, instead single-mindedly devoting herself to feminist theory. No, Elisabeth Badinter has been a member of the Publicis Supervisory Board since 1987, and since 1996, Badinter has served as Board Chair. That’s not a ceremonial position—she’s directly in control of strategic decision-making for the company.

So how can anyone take anything Elisabeth Badinter has to say on the topic of infant-maternal nutrition seriously? Her ethical conflict is so enormous, and her motives so glaringly questionable, that her position on the topic ultimately doesn’t even matter. There’s just no way to get past who it is making the argument. It’s as if the Board Chairman for American Beef Association’s publicist released a book criticizing Americans’ “naturalist” eating habits, and vegetarianism in particular. It wouldn’t matter if she had a Ph.D. in nutrition from Harvard or a history of bashing vegetarianism. It also wouldn’t matter if her book were well argued and persuasive. The very idea of someone in that position writing such a book would be laughable.


The issue of how American women feed their babies is medical, cultural and personal. Sometimes breast-feeding goes well, and other times—as with my own last baby, born in 2010—a woman is unable to produce sufficient breast milk and turns to formula. And as you note, Hanna, the relative safety of today’s commercial infant formula does allow women, for the first time in history, to choose whether they will breast or bottle-feed. All of this is inarguably the case.

But what is also true is that the manufacturing, marketing, and selling of formula are immensely profitable endeavors, generating billions of dollars of revenue annually for the brands on the formula cans at the supermarket. And while these brands certainly compete against one another for market share, their No. 1 market competitor is not on the shelf next to them. It’s breast milk. Every time a woman in the United States breast-feeds her baby for one month—whether she does this out of necessity or personal choice—that represents around $100 in lost revenue to the formula manufacturers  jockeying for that mom’s debit card at the check-out aisle.

It appears that at least three of the largest infant formula companies are actively relying on Elisabeth Badinter to convince U.S. moms to spend that $100 monthly on their brands of formula rather than going with the noncommercial alternative. After reading The Conflict—and all the attendant (and uncritical) coverage of the book—I’m guessing that right now those clients are feeling pretty good about choosing Publicis.

Katie Allison Granju blogs at Mamapundit and  is a featured contributor to Babble Voices.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Dear Prudence
Oct. 21 2014 9:18 AM Oh, Boy Prudie counsels a letter writer whose sister dresses her 4-year-old son in pink tutus.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:25 AM The Brilliant Fake Novels of Listen Up Philip
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 9:39 AM The International-Student Revolving Door Foreign students shouldn’t have to prove they’ll go home after graduating to get a visa.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.