Friday, January 9, 2009

Mothers' choices

A lot has been said about the decision by Rachida Dati (french minister for justice) to go back to work five days after giving birth to her newborn. Most of what has been said was negative: concern over mother's and baby's wellbeing and bonding, lack (or reduction) of breastfeeding, and fear of backlash on all mothers who choose a more usual timetable.

Let me start by saying that my country has a compulsory maternity leave of several months - i.e., you can't go back to work, even if you want to, and you get full (or next to full) pay. I think this is a sound policy, but this is not what I want to discuss now.

A minister is not just "a woman doing a job". She is a person who has chosen a very special, very demanding career; like all such people, she chose it with her eyes open, and took into account that this might lead to some disruption in her family life - if she ever had a family. Nobody beats an eyelash if a politician moves to a different town and sees their children only occasionally, even for years.
Rachida Dati has chosen to go back to work, knowing that she is missing something; at the same time, she knows that her baby will be well taken care of (France has a solid culture of nannies, and I imagine that a minister can choose the best). If she chose not to breastfeed, or to supplement with formula, again it's her choice; it has some drawbacks, but most kids thrive just as well on formula.

And I don't understand the anger about her looking well; some women stay overweight after pregnancy, but not all do. I expect she chose to wear some kind of corset; it's not unhealthy, at most uncomfortable (and some women having had a c-section tell me it can actually help). Her shoes look indeed very uncomfortable, and possibly unhealthy, but in our culture nobody criticizes women for their stiletto heels.

Summing up, she's a woman whose choices are very different from mine, but they are imho reasonable and consistent choices, worthy of mine and everybody else's respect. I would like to live in a world were such either/or choices wouldn't be necessary, but pending a revolution, I'd rather blame the patriarchy than the women who have to deal with it. And Dati has shown ample ability to beat the odds against her.

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