Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rachida Dati: Good or Bad for Women?

In a nutshell:
Rachida Dati, the French Minister of Justice, came back to work five days after the birth of her daughter. Is this an admirable dedication to work, or a grievous neglection of her daughter? Is this any of our business?
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Photo source: Wikipedia

Rachida Dati was bound to attract attention from the start: an immigrants' daughter, a woman (and a good-looking one) in politics, a single parent-to-be, who wouldn't give away the father's identity (as if this is any business of the public). She could have done or said nothing for the rest of her career; she would still be controversial.

But then again, she probably couldn't have sat still, because this is not her style. Instead, she chose to get back to work only five days after the birth of her daughter. Finally: a real issue to deal with concerning Dati!

This time, it's not so easy to undervalue the criticism of Dati: it is not merely a private concern, such as the identity of her daughter's father. It is not even the sensational question of whether she did or did not have an affair with President Nicolas Sarkozy. It is, so say some of her criticizers, a major question: How will her choice affect other women, who wish to have a full maternity leave – and then resume their career?

Those against her move argue that having a "maternity leave" of five days undermines the whole concept of a maternity leave, since if a five days leave can be enough for her, why wouldn't it be for any other working mother? Decades of struggling for the right to take a significant time-off to raise the newborn are now threatened by this one miserable move, say Dati's opponents.

On the other hand, those in favour of her decision stress the fact that she is not to be compared with other working mothers, since most of them are not, after all, the Minister of Justice of France. Her choice demonstrates her dedication to her work and to her electorate, so goes this argument, and it serves to show that women have no less responsibility than men do.

Whom does Dati's decision serve? Career women, struggling to accept recognition as devoted workers? Anti-feminist or anti-socialist activists, fighting to eliminate rights women have fought to accept for decades? Politically, there is no doubt that Dati's actions will serve activists of several kinds, but speaking to the point – isn't the mere meddling with Dati's choices a male chauvinist business? Do all women share the same need for a maternal leave, of the same length and of the same nature? Unequivocally: No. It depends on the specific needs, possibilities and prospects of the specific mother, her specific baby and her specific life view. What example does Dati present to working mothers? That of a mother who holds a very high-ranking job, and who chose to get back to it as soon as possible. What example should Dati present to working mothers? – None at all: every mother should have the right and the opportunity to have a full maternity leave, and decide for herself whether she chooses to take advantage of it fully, partly or not at all. Dati deserves the same right. ,



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