Last year when Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s prime minister she also made history by being the world’s youngest female head of government. If that wasn’t enough for the army of cynical misogynists who control our media, now she’s having a baby: due 17 June this year.
As a feminist, it’s about the most exciting and possibly most important thing to happen for the women’s movement: in less than 12 months one woman has created three trimesters of change. Talk about shaking up the patriarchy!
Firstly a young woman is prime minister. Then not long after, a pregnant woman is prime minister, and then a new mother, possibly even a breast-feeding one, is prime minister. She’ll be the first Labour leader to actually be in labour while in her country’s top job.
In just 12 months Ardern has radicalised politics by doing something entirely ordinary and commonplace to most women: She’s decided to become a mother. But unlike most women who are forced to put their careers on hold because of inflexible workplace arrangements, or are forced because of circumstance to choose between motherhood and career, Ardern is having both.
Yes, she’s having her cake and eating it too. And why wouldn’t she? What is the point of even having cake if you can’t eat it? But as women that has long been our reality – creators of cake we are never expected to eat. The cake has been for men.
By the simple act of gestating in government, Ardern has proved once and for all that women can be mothers and career women and leaders. For too long women have been expected to ‘resign’ from the world to take up mothering. If powerful men can become fathers while CEOs or politicians, then why not women? Because patriarchy demands we acquiesce.
Patriarchy demands we take our baby-filled stomachs and our leaking breasts and go home. You can’t make decisions about coal mines and tax cuts and homelessness while you’re swollen with humanity. What would the world come to?
Patriarchy believes it has the right to tell women when we can have children, under what conditions, how long we can take time off, when we can come back, and on what terms. Patriarchy still wants to put us where it believes we belong. Patriarchy demands we step aside for someone else to fill our shoes. Probably a man. Or a woman who lives a life equated to that of a man.
Fully fertile females are not supposed to remain socially engaged. They are certainly not permitted to be powerful. Engorged bellies belong to ageing members with poor dietary habits and too much alcohol consumption, not plump uteruses flowering with child.
Telling women to ‘go home’ perpetuates the lie that women who become mothers suffer a sudden loss of competency. But it’s quite the opposite. I know it was for me. I worked the night before my first child was born and was back working two weeks after all my children turned up. Becoming a mother actually made me more competent. More powerful. More angry about injustice. More intolerant of cruelty. Motherhood made me compassionate because it taught me how to stand in the service of others. Isn’t that what any good prime minister should do?
Women should not have to bend to fit the workplace; the workplace should flex to accommodate us. A woman’s choice about when or if she has children belongs to her, it is not a decision made by the workplace. Jacinda Ardern is a champion for new mothers. I can’t wait to see the prime minister of New Zealand breast feed her new born while addressing parliament. I can’t wait to see the opposition’s arguments hushed so as not to wake the sleeping baby.
We as women need to embrace our biology, not to disappear because of it.
Thank you, Jacinda Ardern, for making the ordinary extraordinary. Happy International Women’s Day (8 March). We still have a long way to go. Time to start eating cake.