Being a woman is not easy. Being a working woman appears to be tough. Being a working woman who is in the public eye appears to be tougher. Rachida Dati, the French minister of justice is a brand new mother. There is nothing unusual about it. She is 43. That too is not unusual these days. Lots of women are having babies in their forties. What is unusual is her being back at office, attending meetings, just five days after delivering her baby by caesarean section. I for one can’t say how good that is for her health. If her obstetrician has allowed her and she feels fit enough, good for her. Who are we to intrude?
The trouble is that things that would not raise an eyebrow in case of men, tend to get everyone’s hackles up very often in case of women. (not that there could ever be a similar example of a man delivering a baby and joining work!) Sometimes, like in this case, one can’t even complain. What she has done, should justifiably be hers and her business alone. A lot of people could have been admiring her for her commitment to her work, her resilience, her will power. But here she appears to have generated a controversy. Women, specially the feminists, see this as an act of treason to their sex. They feel and rightly so, that her example could be used by employers to undermine the hard- fought and harder-won maternity rights.
A man could have a heart bypass, get a leg amputated, or donate a kidney and go to work any day he chose to and no one would bother to judge him. In Rachida’s case, the feminists would have been on her side had the traditionalists been sanctioning her for being a careless mother. But here are women, who want the right to choose more than anything else, denying Rachida the very same right! Does not seem right and yet, can they be blamed?
This act of the minister might not, though, lead to a law denying women the maternity leave; yet, it might change the expectations of the employers, especially in case of women occupying higher posts. They might expect another woman, high up on the corporate ladder to emulate her. But should that be her problem? Should that stop her from doing what she thinks is right? Or is it that she is doing this only out of a sense of insecurity? Is it that she feared that if she did not join office soon enough, she would lose her job? If a woman with her kind of powerful and prestigious job succumbs to such worries and pressures what would be the plight of her lesser sisters?
‘Sisters’ seems to be the keyword. It’s like preindependence India, when every Indian had to wear his/her nationalism in the form of khadi. The value of choice had to take a backseat when the more immediate one of independence was at stake. Perhaps what women expect from her is the same. Renounce the value of choice for the more immediate one of right to maternity benefits, the right to not to be penalized for being women and being mothers. Often women have to choose between motherhood and career.
Sisters, sisterhood… however sinister the implications of being put in a category, a class might be, yet women have to unite under a banner, which might as well be SISTERHOOD – a symbol of WOMEN OF THE WORLD.