Dati's rush back to work does women no favours


It is a bogus feminism that has propelled Rachida Dati back to work five days after a Caesarean, writes SARAH CAREY.

I HAD A friend who rushed back to the office a week after a Caesarean section. Her incision opened and bled during a meeting. At the first opportunity she got herself another job and the boss who thought he couldn’t do without her for even a few weeks lost his star employee permanently.

That’s the real-life version of this nonsense of Rachida Dati’s so-called return to work just five days after she gave birth. The woman, apart from being the French minister for justice, is a 43-year-old first-time mother who should have been at home in bed instead of showing off in high heels. Expelling another human being from your body is traumatic and a Caesarean section is a major operation. Apart from the fact that Dati was endangering her own health she was also actively engaging in a lie – well, several lies in fact.

First, the claims that her tummy had miraculously flattened were rubbish. That black dress was extremely flattering but even it couldn’t disguise her perfectly normal post-partum bulge despite statements to the contrary by excited commentators.

Secondly, what did “going back to work” entail? A high-profile photo opportunity and attendance at a meeting or two is not what most women must face if they have to work.

Thirdly, Dati’s action was interpreted as a message to women that they too could bounce back from childbirth and do their jobs if they wished. The political reality is that Dati was actually sending a message to Sarkozy that he needn’t consider her for demotion when he conducts his expected cabinet reshuffle in a few months. It’s typical, isn’t it? A woman tarts herself up for a man and gets the backs of women up in the process.

But the biggest lie was that Dati’s appearance, whether positively or negatively judged, was firmly labelled a consequence of feminism. Isn’t this precisely what women wanted? Feminism demanded a choice for women and now that she has exercised that choice why should anyone complain?

The notion that Dati’s so-called choice can be placed in the context of feminism is utterly bogus. Pretending that a post-partum mum, never mind a post-operative mum, is physically or mentally fit for work is not a sign that feminism has succeeded but rather that it has been soundly beaten into the ground by capitalism.

The Industrial Revolution was enormously dependent on the labour of women and children. Women were expected to work right up to the birth of their child and return to work straight after. It’s taken 100 years of campaigning and legislation to protect mothers from the demands of employers and establish maternity leave as a legal right.

If a new mother feels the need to show up at work to protect her job, it’s evidence that changing laws does not always change culture. Dati’s heavily publicised drop-in at the office means that managers will see no reason why their underlings can’t do the same. She isn’t a role model for feminists; she’s a trophy for exploitative employers.

Western governments have legally protected mothers in varying degrees for over 30 years now and feminism can take credit for that. But occasionally I wonder why some feminist ideals have materialised and others haven’t. We have the choice to work outside the home but still do most of the work inside the home too. Why did that happen? Did feminism “succeed” in those cases where its goals aligned with consumerism and fail where they didn’t?

The suspicion is that emancipation coincided with evolving economic theory. Incorporating women into the labour force turned them into consumers and labourers, thus fuelling economic growth. However, a perpetually expanding economy requires babies too. If employers and governments didn’t make arrangements for the care of children, then women would either stay at home or stop having children. That’s bad news for an economy.

This is the experience of Germany, a country with one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. Their kindergartens close at 1pm – no use to a working mother, and culturally working mothers are held in low esteem. Mothers who work are known as Rabenmutteror raven-mothers, birds that abandon their chicks early in life. This logistical and cultural challenge sets off a spiral of doom. Women’s labour force participation rates collapse after childbirth. Because women like working, they decide to have fewer children.

This deprives the German economy of future workers, consumers and taxpayers. It’s big trouble.

Some local governments in Germany are now piloting new policies around childcare that will enable mothers to re-enter the labour force. The state needs women to work and the most successful way of achieving that is to provide good maternity leave and great childcare.

That’s great for women, but it does expose the driving force behind working mothers – it’s not feminists, it’s the state.

Feminists do want a choice – but this is no choice. This is being press-ganged by a combination of economic necessity and cultural pressure to ignore every human instinct to care for a tiny baby.

I’ve seen plenty of women fighting back tears as they persuade themselves that walking away from their four-month-old – never mind five-day-old – baby is normal.

It might be the norm but that doesn’t make it normal. Women can have it all – but not at the same time. Have a baby and have a career, but one at a time will do.