We tell little girls and boys that they can do anything, be anything, change the world, challenge stigmas and form opinions.
When I was a little girl, everything that happened to me after this point suggests that yes, I can; but it wasn’t going to be easy. There will be roadblocks, and behavioral expectations that sometimes don’t necessarily exist for men.
Too confident, and bossy. Too passionate, and hysterical. Too feminine, too flamboyant. Too much of a pussy, gay, a dick. Try not to laugh so loud; it’s not ladylike. Guys can’t play with barbie dolls, girls can’t ride motorbikes. Wear pink, wear blue.
Stop the press! 2018 has materialised and with that Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand has announced she is pregnant and on her way to becoming the second world leader in recent history – behind Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto – to give birth while in office.
Jacinda and Clarke celebrated their news with hamburgers, and flowers from the corner shop. Their relaxed approach to trampling gender norms and shaking up parliament is proving a winning formula for many New Zealanders who have navigated the same demands since women began entering the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s.
So, she is pregnant, the sky hasn’t fallen in and this is an amazing day for men and women everywhere.
It’s amazing for a number of reasons. The first evidently is just because it’s genuinely exciting news- bringing a new life into the world. If it is what you wanted with your partner and especially when you didn’t think it would be possible without IVF, that is incredibly exceptional. As humans with a heart, we should be happy for Jacinda.
The second is because by being both Prime Minister, the most exalted office in the country, while being pregnant, she is proving that it can be done. She’s showing that women can procreate while campaigning, negotiating coalition deals, deflecting sexist comments about babies, and just generally going about their everyday duties.
(Would it be too much to hope that the fact she maneuvered her party into Government while in the first trimester of her pregnancy, when nausea and tiredness are often at their worst, means that we can stop using the condescending term “baby brain”?)
It’s exciting because, as Helen Clark tweeted: “Every woman should have the choice of combining family & career.” It’s exciting because her partner Clarke Gayford will be the primary caregiver, hopefully opening up a national conversation about how entirely possible it should be for men to take more paternal leave, and challenging stereotypical and outdated ideas around masculinity. It shows little boys out there that there are other ways of being men, too. It’s a reminder and an assertion of everyday equality from the first country in the world to give women the vote.
Both Jacinda and Clarke’s relative prominence makes the impact of their decision greater. Even Clarke’s on screen persona as a ‘macho outdoor man’ (as some would lamentably describe it as) increases the significance of their announcement. It demonstrates that they recognise there’s an important sense in which neither of their high-powered jobs is going to be as influential as the work they do as parents and which neither of them should be defined by from the stereotypes imposed on them.
Of course it will be hard. There will be depreciators. Being a parent is incredibly tough, whether you choose to work or stay at home. Former Green MP Holly Walker has written a book about how hard she found it being a mother in parliament.
But if it’s that difficult for mother’s voices to be represented, then the system needs to change. If women do face penalties for having children – and studies suggest they certainly do – maybe Jacinda’s own experience will highlight this and usher in an era of improved workplace rights. Maybe equality will be within our grasp.
But there can’t be a single right answer for everyone to the question of how to balance paid work and being a parent. Both men and women differ in their enjoyment, their tolerances and their ways of seeing the world. Their choices should not be imposed on them nor influenced by the outside world. We still have a long way to go to get there. For most parents, with Jacinda and Clarke being no exception, there is no real choice. A combination of social and economic pressures force them to conform to ‘how it always is’ and ‘how it’s always been’. Changing this will demand an immense global revolution- one which will make living life better for everyone.
Let us embrace and not disgrace the fact that this nuclear model of how families, husbands, wives, partners, children, men, and women should live their lives. Raising a child fortuitously does not require a piece of paper between their parents proving their love nor does it require a certain gender, race, sexuality or religious bias.
If girls and boys can see it, girls and boys can do it. And Jacinda and Clarke are proving that.
Women AND men can do anything, after all. Who says we can’t?
This is the first in a three-part series consecrating something I just made up called Feminism February. So strap yourselves in and lend an ear to what we have to say. But save the bra burning for another decade…