10 January 2009

There is such a thing as "too tough."

Human mothers do something that other primates aren't required to do: pass disproportionately enormous heads though their birth canals.
In Genesis, after early humans eat from the Tree of Knowledge they're condemned to painful childbirth. In a sense, Genesis is accurate. Relentlessly accumulating knowledge, our brains have evolved faster than our bodies, and human heads are almost too large to pass through human bodies. Until the last hundred years or so, childbirth was the principle cause of women's death.
In the not terribly distant past, an expectant mother on the cusp of childbirth was admitted to the hospital in advance, then stayed at the hospital several days afterward. All in all, it was about a week.
All in all, that seems pretty reasonable. And civilized. It was going to be the last break she'd get for a couple of years.
Then women entered the workforce en masse and started competing directly with men. Now an expectant mother arrives at the hospital when labor begins, and is sent home a day after labor ends.
I'm thinking about this because of an essay that I read here (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/amy-jenkins-give-birth-and-feel-the-power-1242496.html) about the French Minister of Justice Rachida Dati, seen here beside President Sarkozy. Five days after her c-section, she's back at work.
French Justice Minister Rachida Dati with President Sarkozy. The inclusion of a number of Muslim women in the cabinet has provided girls and women in the Muslim community with role models.
Okay, that lady is one tough hombre, and you can tell by her steely gaze she probably has chunks of people like Sarah Palin in her stool. How many dudes would show up to work five farking days after having surgery that severed their abdominal muscles and opened an internal organ? "Weaker sex" indeed. So I take back the hombre thing. That's by definition beyond hombre. 
But in the interest of acting as civilized people, can we all agree that this isn't necessary or any kind of reasonable standard that folks should be expected to meet?
We seem to be in a terrible rush to return to serfdom.

4 chimed in:

J9 said...

Five fucking days? Are you shitting me? That is WAY too soon, and in FRANCE, where they actually give people longer for leave than here in the U.S. This does not bode well for Women in France. If this is going to set up some sadistic expectation. Of course, what you don't know is that her gaze is actually pain med stupor, and her arms are crossed with the intent of holding in her stitches and all of her guts.

Tammy B said...

I used to have the same opinion, and then I went through child birth four months ago. I think from the experience, I have learned that however a woman wants to handle child birth is totally up to her. There is far to many opinions on how women should be treating their bodies in general, and when a baby is involved, it just becomes more extreme.

I personally wouldn't want to do what that minister did, but she obviously had reasons for making that decision, and I have to respect them. My decision to be out of work for a year (almost the antithesis of her decision) is also the subject of a lot of criticism and judgment. I have to give her props for making a decision she felt is right for her. Given that she is in the French system, she had many other legal options about taking time off, but she chose not to take them. What is unfortunate it that many women do not have options and can only do what her employer feels is necessary.

J9 said...

At this point, my concern is how this will affect policy. She is certainly free to do what she feels she must, as dictated by her employer and herself. I am worried that his will be used (as I have seen similar) when an employer responds to anyone requesting family leave.

Tammy B said...

I would have totally agreed with you a year ago. However, she made a personal decision about her life and her family not a political decision - there is an assumption that she was forced into it. I have known women so dedicated to their careers that they have made similar decisions. Who are we to tell them that she should choose otherwise? The French society actually pressures women to do exactly the opposite of what she did, which makes her choice even more unusual.

We can project our own opinions about how we think she came to that decision, but in the end, she is obviously and intelligent person who made a decision. She probably does feel like crap in that photo, but it does not mean that she doesn't want to be there. People who come into work after any major medical procedure also feel like crap and should probably be resting, but they also would prefer to be there.

As for the policy implications, you can't stop people from trying to use her as an example of what other women should do, because everyone else seem to thinks that they know what other women should do, especially if those women are mothers (as is apparent by the post, the article and our discussion).

The 'problem' with motherhood is that there are so many variations that policies are almost always inadequate. The French system does a very good job at having many options available to women. In this political climate, she still made the choice to go back to work five days later. At least she had a choice. If I were still in the US, I would be back to work already after taking six weeks of unpaid leave and paying most of my salary to pay for childcare. That wouldn't have been my choice.