Monday 29 December 2014

This is no monster, nor is she a traitor to her sex

is she a traitor to her sex

Published 15/01/2009 | 00:00

French justice minister Rachida Dati. A witchhunt followed her decision to return to work five days after delivering her daughter by Caesarean section

A woman returns to work five days after having a baby -- and her decision prompts an international witchhunt.

French justice minister Rachida Dati has been denounced, among other charges, as an unfit mother and a traitor to her sex.

Just a tiny bit disproportionate, don't you think? The shrill clamour has tended towards the downright nasty -- with women leading the charge.

Immediately after checking out of hospital she attended a meeting, minus baby Zohra, with government colleagues. This is represented as the epitome of evil -- personally, I'd call it ambition, drive and minding your job.

Far from betraying women, she is a pin-up for feminism. She has slaved to earn choices and now she is exercising one of them.

Surely access to a range of options is what the feminist ethos wants for women. It was never supposed to be about backing us into a corner and force-feeding us imposed norms.

Rachida Dati's behaviour is feminism in action and it should be celebrated. Instead she is being demonised.

An independent woman making her own decisions is still feared, apparently.

Unusually, the backlash is almost entirely female. And how disappointing to see so many fall into the trap of condemning a woman who doesn't conform.

She has been strung up by a mob operating on 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' principles. This rage levelled against her exceeds any acceptable boundaries: she is being held personally responsible for downgrading the status of mothers.

People are antagonised because she isn't operating by the usual rules.

If she played by those rules she wouldn't be where she is today, however.

This "Cinderella of the housing estates" is the first female Muslim cabinet minister in France. An immigrant born in Morocco, a bricklayer's daughter, one of 12 children -- she earned her stripes the hard way. No privilege in her background.

She has refused to kowtow to convention. Refused to take on the mantle of everywoman. Refused to be a nice girl and offer good example.

She has the courage to do what she judges best, pressing ahead in the knowledge she'll be attacked.

Surely that is true liberation.

Some women might feel reassured if she looked podgy or unkempt. Some feel threatened by her chic reappearance in the workplace -- they'd prefer to see baby sick smeared on that designer jacket. One commentator even gnashed her teeth over the minister managing to find matching earrings to wear. (It's called paying for help).

There seems to be a presumption that highly motivated women make sub-standard mothers. How unjust. They make excellent role models. Do we still need to perpetuate the mother-as-sacrificial-victim myth? Haven't we moved on yet?

Staying at home is not to everyone's taste; caring for infants does not suit all women. It can't be imposed universally.

Nobody is insisting nursing women race back to work because a French politician at a pivotal time in her career did -- maternity rights are enshrined, rightly, in legislation.

Equally, a woman cannot be condemned as unnatural or heartless if she temporarily swaps baby for a BlackBerry. She is not subtracting another woman's rights by exercising her own.

Some women return to work sooner because they need the money and cannot afford the unpaid element to their entitlement. Not everyone in the workplace has a career -- some are earning a living. Others return from fear of demotion or missing out on promotion.

But in high-powered posts, people do look over their shoulders. Men and women.

Clearly some senior women have insecurities about their jobs, but when they aren't so outnumbered this should change.

Meanwhile, people have been tripping over themselves to judge without knowing Rachida Dati's circumstances. They are behaving as though she left her daughter locked alone in a room for 12 hours. I have every confidence she made appropriate childcare arrangements.

Criticism is couched in faux caring language: she needs to rest after her Caesarean section, she must bond with her baby.

Bonding isn't some mystical process and she doesn't have to be there 24/7 to do it. She can bond with her baby before and after work. Infants aren't bothered who attends to them so long as the care is consistent and one-on-one.

Studies which insist babies do better with their mothers always use daycare centres for comparisons. There is no evidence that personal, quality childcare is detrimental to a child's development.

Employers do complain in subtle ways about maternity leave, all the same. It can cause difficulties in small firms and we cannot ignore that reality. But if there were more flexible working arrangements, including the right to switch to part-time hours, more women might return to work sooner.

Do women who take several bouts of maternity leave get passed over for promotion? Sometimes. You would hope jobs always went to the best candidate, but we all know other dynamics are at play.

One factor is gender. Others are whether you went to the right school, have the appropriate accent, or a relative employed in a senior capacity within a company -- nepotism remains rife in Irish life. Everything doesn't come down to being a woman with a biological clock in the workplace.

As for Rachida Dati, the reaction to her choice is Orwellian, with freewill being squeezed out.

She is not a monster, she is a single working mother juggling demands on her time.

One final thought: whatever happened to minding your own business?

mdevlin@independent.ie

Promoted articles

Read More

Promoted articles

Don't Miss

Editor's Choice