Having a young, unmarried new mum as our Prime Minister is a momentous representation of the continued progress of women’s rights. However our PM’s journey, of pregnancy to childbirth and now the future as a working mum, also serves as a reminder of the progress we are yet to make.
From the beginning, for every positive response to Jacinda’s news there was a multitude of negative responses. People questioned her marital status, her ability to keep her feelings under control with ‘baby brain’, the amount of time she was planning to take off – because six whole weeks was obviously enough for the country to fall apart, be undeserving of her job and also selfish towards her child.
Now, Jacinda faces a huge challenge. If she lets motherhood impact on her work, she will be used an example of why women shouldn’t or can’t do both. If she spends too much time working, people will find a way to question her ability to be a mother. And if she manages to balance it all, people will say she’s un-relatable and setting an unrealistic standard.
Everyone in the country seemed to know better than Jacinda herself about her ability to balance work and parenthood. But, no one seemed to have an opinion on the capacity of Simon Bridges and his ability to balance a nearly three-month-old baby and his job as Leader of the Opposition.
Not a single person, talked about his ability to be a good parent and do his job. Not a single person took it upon themselves to worry about the wellbeing of his child, or tell him that his selfish career prospects were harming his child. It was just instead called “a massive few months” by one particular magazine.
Now, I’m aware that the workload and responsibilities of a Prime Minister vs the Leader of the Opposition are significantly different, and that there are many differences between bearing a child yourself and supporting a partner who is bearing a child.
But, should there really be such a difference in how we treat the roles of mother and fathers in the workforce?
Well, apparently we still expect that much that childcare and unpaid domestic labour is a woman’s responsibility.
When men do take responsibility, they’re often overly praised for it. In an article published by Stuff for the ‘Rad Dads’ series, English is praised for how he always makes sure he is home for dinner. He talks about how this often meant he missed out on social functions and such like. Women sometimes don’t get this choice, they often are simply expected to go home to cook dinner for their child, skip networking opportunities and deal with the effect that has on their career.
Yes, English does note how the role of fathers is changing. And he’s right. You can’t just assume now that a man doesn’t do any domestic and childcare work shows. This in itself shows we have come a long way. But we should in general, in an equal society, be able to expect that both the working men and women in your meetings have done just as much unpaid domestic labour and child care that day.
And yet, in contrast to Bridges “massive few months,” Jacinda is asked repeatedly and at length how she will balance being a new parent and work. She has addressed this saying that with her job she will naturally be criticized – and times it might be well deserved. But she also says she has thought to herself that she hasn’t heard the same criticism leveled against male politicians.
She does face a big challenge, not just of parenthood, but the navigation of public opinion. So far she seems to have dealt with the whole situation with intelligence, complexity and grace. Her most famous response to the challenge of her future, is to say simply, “by no means the first woman to multitask.”