COMMENT: Prime Ministerships are for women—so why is New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern acting like they're not?
It won't be long now before Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern comes out with a statement about how she wants her baby daughter Neve to "grow up knowing she can be anything
— even a Prime Minister and a mother!"
Good luck with that, Neve.
After more than half a century feminism, Neve will grow up to enter a workplace that acts like mothering doesn't exist.
And that world will be the legacy of her mother.
Seven months' pregnant at the April 20 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting state dinner in London, Jacinda looked ravishing.
However, those images of that Maori korowai forming a sheltering vignette around her near-term tummy sent two conflicting messages, one a positive: "Look! Mothers can lead a country!", and one a negative: "Long-haul travel? Intense schedule? Easy. Motherhood is nothing."
Back home, Jacinda showed worrying signs she sided with the latter view. She continued to travel and to post what appear to be personally written updates on Facebook until June 18, a few days before the birth, with scarcely a word about fatigue, excitement, or bub-preparations.
What the women of New Zealand would have loved to hear was defiant honesty and connection — "Does this feathered cloak make my ankles look puffy? Put your feet up, mums-to-be of NZ! Pregnancy is harder than being PM! #bumpnation"; "Fave nursery colours? Send your tips!"; a pic of partner, Clarke Gayford, making dinner with the hashtag, #closingtheunpaidgendergap, that kind of thing.
Yet they mostly got silence. The NZ Government announced on May 14 that Jacinda would work until her due date, with no apparent concessions.
In her handover letter to Acting PM Winston Peters, Jacinda could not even bring herself to write the cringe-worthy words, 'maternity leave'. She called it a 'leave of absence'.
This long feminist tradition of walling out mothers' reality was recapped by former PM, Helen Clark, in an article in The Guardian on June 21, the day Neve was born: "Arrangements were made for Ardern to work until very close to the birth, and then for the deputy prime minister to act in her place while she takes some six weeks maternity leave – although no one really believes that Ardern will be far from her phone! After that, Gayford takes over as primary carer for the foreseeable future," she wrote.
Yet Jacinda seems to have made few 'arrangements' beyond a paltry six weeks of maternity leave.
To dump the care of a newborn on the child's father, and then crow, as Helen Clark did, that "having a baby while being prime minister can be managed," seems to broadcast the very opposite—that having a baby while being Prime Minister can't be managed.
Flipping the script is no solution. It keeps the old patriarchy firmly in place, while pretending to do away with it.
If Jacinda truly believes the Prime Ministership is for women, she will unlock the role from a timetable and conditions designed for a man with a 24/7 wife at home.
How? She will step the PM's workload back to something like 25 to 30 hours, and step up the role of Deputy PM.
She can get a second Deputy. The PM role surely has some trimmable fat: all those ribbon-cuttings, medal-awardings to the rugby under-14s, and stagey 'community' photo opps drop-ins could be offloaded to others.
On duty, she could work from home, or bring Neve to the office.
Is the PM's job too weighty to be part-time? Maybe. Maybe not. Is there a universal algorhythm that says running a country takes around the 60 to 80 hours a week that a male PM works?
Or is that just the comfortable limit of a man's week (when we excuse him from his 'equal' 50 per cent share of the housework and parenting)?
Shrinking the PM's duties to accommodate mothers may seem radical now, but the day must come when we will shake our heads at those dark days when a PM was forced to expel her six-week-old baby from her company in order to kiss other people's babies.
In 1893, New Zealand made history as the first country to give women the vote. It would be great to think that Jacinda can make history again.
What if she led like a woman by forging the first nation to boast a truly female Prime Ministership that accommodated motherhood's sleeplessness and physical debilitation, the time-consuming and unpredictable daily childcare routine, and a child's need for a mother's presence?
Will you do it, Jacinda? I doubt you will. Prove me wrong.
Natalie Ritchie is the author of Roar Like a Woman: How Feminists Think Women Suck and Men Rock, released in June 2018. She is a mother of two teens, and lives in Sydney. roarlikeawoman.com