It looks like the entire world has gotten their knickers in a twist over French Minister of Justice Rachida Dati. In her black stilettos, sexy suit and with perfectly coiffed hair, Dati smiled and waved at cameras as she attended a weekly Cabinet session a mere five days after delivering a baby girl via caesarean. And to add a good dose of French intrigue to the situation, Ms. Dati has chosen not to divulge the details of le papa.
Much has been said and written about Ms. Dati’s decision to forgo her three months maternity leave. Many say it’s a publicity stunt. Some feminists are calling it a disservice to feminism and accuse her of ‘ letting the side down’. Experts have given their opinions on the physical implications of going back to work just five days after having a baby.
At first, my reaction to the news would have done any Visu movie mother proud “What kind of a woman is she?” I screeched, clasping my child to my bosom. Ok, that’s not true, but I did think she was nuts. Five days after my son was born, I couldn’t tell day apart from night and was trying to convince my doctor to write me a prescription for a lifelong supply of gas and air.
But then after a day spent trying to squeeze writing in between diaper changing, bottle sterilising and prising bits of hardened porridge out of my hair, I had to admit to myself that perhaps I was a little jealous of Ms. Dati. She has done what I could not do. She had rejected the halo of piety new mothers are forced to wear and has gone about the task in a business like manner.
What disturbs me are the assumptions that are being made. ‘Work’ is seen as something that must be done outside the home and in a cubicle. What of the women who after having a second or third baby come home to look after her children? Isn’t that work too? And are all stay at home mothers by default, better mothers? And must all women have the same reaction to motherhood? Must we be
straightjacketed in to the same Hallmark mould where we must all want to breastfeed, we must all have the patience of Saints, we must sacrifice and put ourselves last,we must want to be with our children 24 hours a day seven days a week, we must, we must, we must.
Rachida Dati has decided not to wear that straightjacket and yes, in the process has made some of us look and feel bad. While many of us still struggle with post baby bulge, walk about in tracks and t-shirts with dried baby sick on the shoulder and can’t remember the last conversation we had that was not about babies she is very much the alpha mummy. The impossible ideal. But that is not her problem. That’s ours.
I won’t lie. There is a part of me that wonders how long Dati will be able to go on at this pace.
I wonder why she has had a child at all. I wonder if her daughter will grow up to resent her mother for leaving her with a nanny so soon after she was born. I wonder if Dati’s smiles are for the cameras alone or if she is genuinely happy with her choice. But then, none of that’s really my business. Perhaps we would all be better off, minding our own business and getting on with looking after our own children the way we choose too. It look’s like Dati is already doing that.
(An edited version of this piece, appeared in today’s edition of Zeitgeist.)
(Yes, I’m posting this at 6:50am on a Saturday. My son did not get the memo and is wide awake)