French Justice Minister's Maternity Leave Ignites Media Firestorm


French Justice Minister Rachida Dati has the British media in a tizzy over her decision to return to work just five days after giving birth to her daughter via C-section.

So is she a bad mom or a bad feminist? Both, says Emma Burstall in a condescending piece in the Independent. Since she is psychic, Burstall can read Dati’s emotions by looking at newspaper photos: “Behind the power suit and million-dollar smile I see only pain and heartache.” Obviously Dati’s return to work results from “a lack of confidence, and fear and insecurity about her job — mixed, perhaps, with a touch of swagger, of pathetic macho posturing.”

All this is presumptuous, as is Burstall’s assertion that her three maternity leaves make her an expert on what’s best for every woman. But she does have a more interesting point — “it’s a shame, […] given her high-profile position, that she’s signalling to employers that this is what job commitment really looks like.” More difficult to dismiss than handwringing over Dati’s health, emotions, and the well-being of her baby — all of which she probably knows more about than any journalist — is the idea that Dati is making motherhood and maternity leave harder for less powerful women by refusing to take it herself.

“You can all too easily imagine how this story percolates through to others,” writes Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian, “the city boss who casually drops hints to his bright new pregnant protege that, perhaps, given the tough times, she might want to arrange a pre-planned caesarean and mark the time off as a weekend break. Or it may not even be direct pressure from the boss; it can be much more subtle.” Lots of women, especially in the US where paid maternity leave is a perk, not a right, experience this subtle pressure frequently — every time anyone says that motherhood and commitment to a job are inherently incompatible. But is Rachida Dati really responsible for this pressure? According to former French presidential candidate Segolene Royal, Dati is actually a victim of it: Nicolas Sarkozy announced a major reorganization of the French justice system just days after she gave birth, forcing her to come in and deal with the consequences.

Just Five Days Off [Guardian]
Emma Burstall: New Mothers Have A Job Already — They Just Don’t Go To The Office [Independent]
The Big Question: Is There An Optimum Time For A Woman To Go Back To Work After Giving Birth? [Independent]
Workplace Bullying Blamed For Dati’s Return To Work [Independent]
Rachida Dati: From “Power Suits” To Maternity And Back Like A Boomerang [The F Word]

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