Heather Roy

5 August 2018

Australian journalist and author Natalie Ritchie has written a follow up blogpost (Jacinda Ardern – Business as Usual for Women?) to her article published in the NZ Herald recently where she asked if the PM would consider working part-time. It may sound like a crazy idea, but whether Ritchie thinks it possible or not, she raises very valid questions about feminism, support for women in the workforce and whether the PM’s choice to come back to an extremely busy full time role after 6 weeks of maternity leave sets up unrealistic expectations for other women.

“If Jacinda is genuinely happy as a full-time PM working traditionally ‘male’ hours, then we can all be happy for her.

However, that doesn’t mean we should be happy for ourselves, or for other women. As Jacinda herself said on her first day back at work on Thursday, she is no role model. She has made the point before that few women have the resources, staff and at-home dad to help them take on such a supersize endeavour.

Our feminist society doesn’t want whatever Jacinda wants. Our feminist society wants Jacinda to want what it wants—and that’s to kow-tow to the ‘male’ domain of politics by making the ‘female’ domain of motherhood disappear.”

She also talks about unhelpful comments from former female NZ Prime Ministers’ Shipley and Clark.

Helen Clark, in an article in The Guardian on 21 June, the day Neve was born, recapped it when she wrote:

“Arrangements were made for Ardern to work until very close to the birth, and then for the deputy prime minister to act in her place while she takes some six weeks maternity leave – although no one really believes that Ardern will be far from her phone! After that, Gayford takes over as primary carer for the foreseeable future.”

Ritchie goes on to say:

Helen Clark’s mocking implication is that any new mother who can’t do all this and take phone calls about affairs of state too is a loser.

That first child is a cosmic shock. A mother transitions from a person in possession of her own life, to someone who lives in a permanent state of renunciation in order to give a new little person their life.

Yes – I can confirm the cosmic shock is absolutely accurate. I wrote about this in my own blog post a couple of weeks ago.

Six weeks after having a baby, the average mother is frazzled beyond imagination, tormented by sleeplessness, ravaged by the baby’s crying, barely able to sit down to a decent meal, bereft of exercise, and plunged to a nadir by the obliteration of her time.

Natalie Richie’s original article brought predictable criticism, mostly from women!

“My goal was not to criticise her parenting arrangements, or to imply she should be lead parent, as one critic claimed …My goal was to challenge her to stand up for herself, and, by extension, all women.

It seemed obvious to me that a part-time ‘feminised’ Prime Ministership was a superior one for a woman if it unlocks badly needed time to be a mother and run her home. For the great majority of women, it is a more empowering option, not a disempowering one. A super-full-time ‘masculinised’ PM timetable isn’t ’empowering’. It’s crippling. It’s inferior.

It seems simple to me: we need to recognize that women can do anything, but we can’t do everything. When we accept that, we can start to have a discussion that might actually improve things for those wanting or needing to combine motherhood and paid work. It would be great if Jacinda can help facilitate that discussion, but will she? We don’t need more superhero’s, we need high profile women to ‘ like a woman’.