Saturday 10 January 2009

Keep ‘em Barefoot And Pregnant In The Kitchen – For The Sake Of The Sisters..

Madeline Bunting is hot on the case of a stupid, uppity woman who believes that her body is her own – the French justice minister Rachida Dati, who foolishly returned to work without first checking if it was ok with the sistren:
Photos of her freshly back at work are over all the newspapers on both sides of the Channel. Not only has the 43-year-old returned to her job but she has magically regained her figure and managed her usual immaculate coiffeured elegance. She has even, damn it, managed to find matching earrings at a time when most mothers are blearily staggering around their bedroom in a daze of exhilaration, exhaustion and pain. If she can do it, why can't they?
Oooh, a touch of the green-eyed monster there…?
The problem with Dati's astonishing example is that it sets a new bar in the already immensely fissile public consensus about how a woman is to combine mothering and her career. Even more enlightened bosses - those who have come to accept that having babies is not something one squeezes in around one's career - will still sneak a look at Dati's example with admiration and conclude that this is what commitment to a job really looks like.
And will they be wrong…?
So when people say that what Dati does is entirely her own business and no one else's, they are wrong. What Dati has done is bad for her health: she has just had major invasive surgery and should be resting. Second, it is bad for her baby. The first few weeks of a new baby's life is a critical period for mother-child bonding. A huge amount in terms of emotional security and attachment is shaped in those early months when a mother - particularly an older first-time mother - has to find what might be a completely new set of skills: far more patience, empathy and attentiveness to the needs of another person.
As it happens, I agree that women who go straight back to work do take a huge risk – but when women were emancipated, they were given the freedom to make their own choices, even bad ones.

We don’t know what advice Dati was given by her doctor, and we shouldn’t need to – the decision is hers to make, and hers alone. Members of the commentariat like Maddy get no say in it.

So why is she so het up?
What makes this worse is that Dati is a public figure, part of a government which, through a whole raft of measures, aims to influence the behaviour of other people - that is part and parcel of the role of a politician. Part of their unwritten job description is role model; indeed, this burden falls even more onerously on politicians now that so many other forms of leadership, such as church figures, have lost significance.
Ahh, the picture is becoming clearer – Maddy could care less about a woman’s right to choose how she lives her life. A woman is subordinate to all other women on the planet, and cannot take a step without considering the effect of her actions according to the prevalent beliefs of the sisterhood at the time.

Especially if she happens to be a public figure…
What Dati has done is give a mighty boost to the prevailing trend that what one achieves - fame, wealth, performance in a turbo-charged career - is vastly more significant than the investment we make in emotional intimacy. The tragedy is that Dati is as much the victim here; because we now know more clearly than ever - from extensive research - that it is the latter that is far more likely to make us happy.
Poor little victim! She doesn’t know her own mind, she’s just a weak and feeble woman. She needs someone to tell her what to do. Someone like Maddy. For her own good, and the good of others, of course…


Anonymous said...

It's Bunting's opening line that perplexes me:
"There is a school of thought among some men and even a few women that having a baby is no big thing"

Is there?

JuliaM said...

Must be. Bunting's never wrong... ;)