A great crime is currently being perpetrated within New Zealand. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is having a baby! In January of this year, she and her partner, Clarke Gayford, announced the news of their upcoming, and unexpected, parenthood – and the crowd went wild. Some were ecstatic and happy for them, as we generally are for a couple who are joyfully welcoming a child into the family. Others were incensed by the outrage of a Prime Minister daring to become pregnant whilst on duty.
And the vitriol from that section of crowd hasn’t stopped since.
Even releasing the news that a pregnancy was the last thing Jacinda and Clarke expected, having been previously advised by the medical profession that this was unlikely to happen without assistance, didn’t assuage those baying for her blood. Oh, the betrayal of her not doing things like the men do! Which, as far as I can ascertain, revolves around the following four arguments:
- A pregnant woman is in no fit state to run a country.
Since when? How does anyone know that, seeing as it’s only been done once before in recent history/herstory (in 1990 by Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto)? Women have been pregnant, given birth, and then carried on since time immemorial. It’s what they do. True, growing a baby inside oneself and then giving birth to it has its challenges. Support during those times, and for the raising of the child afterwards is vital for the best outcome. This is a normal expectation. Achieving any sort of best outcome in life is almost impossible without support. Not all women are in a position where they get that, but Jacinda Ardern is. Oh, that’s right – the naysayers know a woman they worked with who complained of ‘nappy brain’, or they themselves had it. Seriously? Do they really think that a high functioning woman like Jacinda Ardern is going to succumb to ‘nappy brain’? Do they seriously think that in comparison a man’s thought processes and memory are razor sharp the whole time? The previous Prime Minister, John Key, admitted several times on national TV to “not remembering” when questioned by reporters about different issues, and he wasn’t pregnant. Talking about memory, let’s remember that Jacinda Ardern was handed the reins of the Labour Party in a swift decision by the then leader to step down eight and half weeks before the 2017 general election, due to low poll ratings. In that short time, she successfully raised Labour up to get enough votes in the election to be a viable contender to govern the country. Then, whilst experiencing morning sickness in the early stages of her then undisclosed pregnancy, Jacinda Ardern successfully negotiated a coalition of three uneasy bedfellows – Labour, New Zealand First, and the Green Party – to form a government, and took over from National. Barely six weeks after becoming the Prime Minister of New Zealand, she went to the Apec summit, with her pregnancy still undisclosed, and didn’t miss a beat. This is not a woman for whom the quirks of pregnancy will get in the way of her leadership. They will simply be absorbed into it, as any personal experiences are. No leader is a machine – they all have personal experiences which must be successfully juggled with their role as a leader. Jacinda Ardern is just pregnant, not broken.
- She will be taking six weeks maternity leave, and the country will be left in the hands of the deputy Prime Minister during that time.
As in the case when the Prime Minister is out of the country, or incapacitated in any way, the Deputy Prime Minister will act as Prime Minister. That is what Deputy Prime Ministers are for. Daily contact will be maintained while Jacinda Ardern is on her six weeks maternity leave, as she will be at her home, and not in some far away galaxy. The Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters – like him or loathe him – is an experienced old war horse, and unlikely to send the country to perdition during the Prime Minister’s six weeks of maternity leave. I’m still trying to get my head around why this is a mountain instead of a molehill, but can only surmise that this is not what a male leader does, therefore it is wrong.
- She will not be able to manage the juggling act between home, family, and running the country.
Why not? Male leaders do. Like male leaders, she has an arrangement with her partner to be the principle carer of their child. Why is that less likely to work than the traditional roles to date? Her partner, Clarke Gayford, who has a career as a TV fishing show host, will be the stay-at-home parent. Eventually, at a suitable time in the future, he’ll probably transition back into his career, as do many other stay-at-home parents. My female hairdresser’s husband provides the full-time care for their two daughters, while my hairdresser provides the income for the family. It’s not some weird new thing.
- She’s a bad and unnatural mother for abandoning her baby into the care of its father.
Hahahahaha – I’d like a dollar for every bad and unnatural mother out there, as judged to be so by someone else. I’d be rich beyond my dreams. If the worst thing Jacinda Ardern does is entrust her baby into the care of its loving father, then it really doesn’t register on the ‘badness’ scale at all. She may feel some pangs at leaving her baby while she goes to work – or it might be that she will hardly be able to wait to go back to work. So far, so normal. There are no rules for how she should feel, or who the best stay-at-home parent will be.
Our old friend Facebook has been the vehicle for much of the vitriol. Where would we be without this platform to inappropriately vent rage at women, with little fear of punishment or reprisal? As per usual, much of it has been from the men who firmly ally themselves with patriarchal principles, followed by women who firmly ally themselves with the men who ally themselves with patriarchal principles (i.e. the women are allying themselves with the perceived power group).
Luckily, there are also many women and men who are happy for Jacinda Ardern and what has turned out to be ground-breaking leadership – unexpected and inadvertent though it may have been. She has been smart enough not to choose a dick-wad of a partner, and is very clear that this wouldn’t work without his complete support and involvement. Any male leader would also need the same level of support and involvement with their family from their partner/spouse. Clarke Gayford is obviously comfortable in his man-skin, and is taking his new non-traditional role, as well as the inevitable snide comments, in his stride. He might be bloody petrified, but what new parent doesn’t experience some of that?
To not like a politician’s politics is one thing, but to fall into the age-old sexist default of eviscerating a woman on her looks, style, and fecundity – and then have a go at her for her politics on top of that, is a double whammy of shameful savagery. And it’s not only the unintelligent and unthinking who do it either. Some of it is deliberate and calculating political knife work.
Jacinda Ardern is an unintentional pioneer, and like all those who break the mould, the backlash from conservatives and those afraid of change is fierce. How things go in the next general election may possibly reflect this, as they rally to re-establish the status quo and sooth their ruffled feathers, regardless of how well she does her job. For the moment, though, I’m glad Jacinda Ardern is upsetting people; I’m glad she’s bringing a new element into the fusty old boardroom of politics; and I’m glad she’s walking her baby-belly through the corridors of parliament, and sticking it to tradition. Perhaps Jacinda is finally bringing a new era into government, in the form of real life.