A No-Win Situation

The recent conflicts in the news such as the access to birth control vs. religious freedom debate, the push to remove formula from NYC hospitals and restrict it's access to improve breast feeding rates, the breast is best, as long as it isn't seen in public controversy, and the recent news stories discussing how the new Yahoo CEO unwittingly became a lynch pin in the mommy wars debate; all hinge on one key aspect: the politicization of the female body.

Somehow, no matter how much we have fought for equal rights (a topic I discussed here, in Part I and Part II) we have failed somehow to address the politicization of the female body. Despite our challenging of gender roles from the early 1960s, we have made very little in-road towards reconciling our modern day lifestyle with pervasive traditional gender roles. I agree with the author of the article discussing the recent appointment of a pregnant woman as CEO of Yahoo who quotes Rosalind Chait Barnett, a senior scientist at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center, "If a man was taking a job like this and his wife was going to have his first child, that would be a yawn," she says. "People [wouldn't] be talking about it."

However, despite the fact she has made her way into the media spotlight for being pregnant, she has not helped matters when she declared that she is planning on taking only a couple weeks maternity leave and working through that. I agree with the author that she is setting up unrealistic expectations for normal working mothers (and perhaps herself). After all, there is no guarantee there won't be complications. I expected to go back quickly myself with my last pregnancy and ended up back in the hospital for a week with complications. We all know what they say about the best laid plans.

I also agree that she, as a high performing employee, has access to all the resources she needs to follow through on that promise assuming a normal delivery. After all, like celebrities who can afford a cook, a nanny, a night nurse, a chauffeur, and a maid, she will essentially be unburdened from all repetitive and physical domestic labor. That means she can function at a much higher level because she will be getting more sleep, eating well, getting personal time to improve mental performance and living in a clean house with no effort. Individuals availing themselves of these resources also don't see their children very often. There are trade-offs in all things.

So, rather than idolizing or demonizing this poor woman, we need to recognize that regardless if she succeeds in fulfilling her promise she will be condemned. She will be condemned for setting a bad precedent for other working mothers. She will be condemned as a neglectful or bad mother for going back to work so soon. Or, if she changes the plan, she will be condemned for not doing as she has said she would (as many first time mothers change their tunes post-delivery after the reality of the baby has arrived) because she will have given every employer out there yet another reason not to hire pregnant women or mothers. Literally, she can't win. She probably had no idea that the very fact of accepting the job would thrust her into the limelight of the mommy wars. Her body would become politic and her every decision criticized.

It is in this moment that we as mothers should stop and make a conscious decision not to judge her. Not to judge her certainty on her short maternity leave. Not to judge her decision to take on such a position of responsibility on the eve of one of the greatest transformations a woman can make. Not to judge her if she changes her mind and backs out or if she succeeds in fulfilling her promise to work through her maternity leave. When the entire country is focused on her decisions, we as women can only lose. It is only by letting her make her decisions for her family, for better or worse, without imposing our own beliefs on top of her that we can truly begin to loosen the politics around the bodies and choices of women.