Rachida Dati: from “power suits” to maternity and back like a boomerang

// 10 January 2009

French justice minister Rachida Dati was the centre of much media attention this week having reportedly returned to work just five days after giving birth by caesarean section. The nationals were quick to pick up the story. The Daily Mail, in true superficial style, concentrated its analysis on Dati’s “glamorous” appearance. The Guardian offered a compilation of opinions by its journalists , largely berating Dati for a move that will allegedly reverberate throughout the Western hemisphere and have damaging consequences for working women. The Telegraph, seeming somewhat impressed by her choice of “high-heels” as much as it was by her professional ambition, “breaking new ground with her maternity leave,” highlighted the secrecy surrounding the identity of her baby’s father. (Oh yes, because as well as refusing maternity leave entitlement, Dati openly admits to having a “complicated” personal life and has not surrendered to media pressure to name names). Her failure to “play the game” has made her a figure of intrigue, although with this has come a certain degree of criticism with media muppets metaphorically gnawing at her svelte post-partum silhouette, hoping that she will crack. But why? Is this really just? Is this even news?

French law states that women are entitled to six weeks leave prior to giving birth and up to ten weeks afterwards. However, Dati never intended to remain absent from the office for longer than she felt necessary. Just before going into labour she allegedly claimed that “giving birth is not a disease,” and was vocal about her intention to resume her position within a week – even working from her hospital bed. I’m not a medical profession, but as I understand it, a caesarean section is a complicated, serious procedure, with women often told to limit their physical activity for weeks following the operation. That Dati looked so healthy on her prompt return to work is impressive. For health reasons she will have to amend her schedule so that she can properly recover (and hopefully she has taken this seriously). That she decided to return so soon after giving birth is shocking because it is unexpected. It is shocking because the vast majority of media attention accorded maternity rights is orientated around the discrimination of expectant mothers in the workplace and reluctance of employers to neither support initial leave, nor introduce flexible working hours to cater for the needs of parents.

It’s a fact that pregnancy often leads to dismissal for many women, with those working in “the City” reportedly particularly vulnerable to discrimination. Mothers-to-be employed in the financial and legal sectors often work right up until they give birth, shrouding their baby bumps in black smocks to try and prevent their pregnancy from being visually apparent in male dominated environments. Why? Because many employers view pregnancy as a problem. Women who have babies are often not taken as seriously in the workplace. Their commitment and ambition is unfairly questioned, and thus many women feel that they have to work overtime in the hope that their careers won’t be irreparably disrupted. It’s unfair, but it’s common knowledge.

Therefore, that Dati has declined to take maternity leave to which she is legally entitled is seen as controversial and detrimental. Anne Perkins and Madeleine Bunting have heavily criticised Dati. Perkins wrote:

…her refusal to take maternity leave is the ultimate failure. If women in public life behave as if they cannot take time out from their career for the vital work of mothering, then who can? Dati has undermined the efforts of a generation to persuade employers to recognise the importance of family to their employees.

With Bunting claiming Dati has endorsed sexist speculation that women make an “inordinate amount of fuss” about pregnancy and childbirth, adding that:

Photos of her [Dati] freshly back at work are over all the newspapers on both sides of the Channel. Not only has the 43-year-old returned to her job but she has magically regained her figure and managed her usual immaculate coiffeured elegance. She has even, damn it, managed to find matching earrings at a time when most mothers are blearily staggering around their bedroom in a daze of exhilaration, exhaustion and pain. If she can do it, why can’t they?

The “ultimate failure?” Really? Not a bit harsh, do you think? Perkins and Bunting both make reference to Dati’s physical appearance. While she probably has a network of nannies working 24/7 to care for her baby (unlike the vast majority of new mothers who have to wake for night feeds and nurse their crying babies without the advantage of assistance), that she hasn’t gained a massive amount of weight and has regained her figure is not the result of “magic,” but probably good genes. Some of us have them, some of us don’t. Bunting takes a cheap shot. Sure, I can appreciate the argument that normal mothers may look at Dati and wonder why they haven’t recovered as quickly, but the vast majority will consider her relative position of privilege (she is, after all, something of a French celebrity and financially affluent), and also that what she has done is considered so extreme and unbelievable that it has been worthy of international media discussion. This is not what women do, and while I understand that, why, exactly, has Dati been so heavily criticised? And is it fair to claim that she has completely reversed the work of maternity rights’ activists?

Dati can return to work at her own discretion. She is accountable to no-one but herself and her child regarding her approach to work and motherhood. Regardless of her professional position, her role as a mother is part of her personal life; she shouldn’t have to justify her actions, nor amend her behaviour to do what is seen as the “right thing” by the standards of people she does not know. No one should, unless they are acting illegally or inappropriately in a way that is detrimental to another person. As with the vote, campaigners wanted women to have the option of maternity leave. They wanted it to be mandatory only in so much as it would be a viable option for a working mother, allowing us to be mothers and have careers. It needed to be made available so that women who wanted it could take it without judgement. While women can vote, not all women do. We have the privilege of choice, and that is what our foremothers wanted. Dati chose not to take maternity leave because she did not feel the need. We can speculate on the underlying reasons and consider her decision in the context of our pre-conceived ideas of motherhood, but the fact remains that it was a personal decision that she had the right to make. The personal life of any politician is often subject to media scrutiny, with those in the profession often invested with the responsibility of providing a “good example” to the masses about how one should behave. However, is this not a poisitive example? Is this not feminism in action? Can Dati not be viewed as the archetypal liberated woman since she has refused to do what is seen as convention, instead doing what she wants despite the anticipation of vitriolic criticism and speculation about her mothering abilities?

While men in the UK are now permitted to take a period of paternity leave at the discretion of their employers, very few do. The vast majority of new fathers rarely take more than a day or so off work depending on the time and day their offspring decides to make an appearance. So, should the fact Dati was eager to get her political thinking-cap back on almost immediately as the dressing was applied be seen as gender equality in action? Siobhain Butterworth echoes the same sentiments and has, in my opinion, produced the best commentary on this issue. She states that we should “mind our own business” and that:

Undoubtedly, if Dati had chosen not to return to work for several months, if she were to come out strongly in favour of breastfeeding, and if she were fatter, some women would feel reassured about their own choices. But you have to wonder where feminism has taken us when women are judged because they don’t conform to the current view of what a “good mother” looks like. This stay-at-home version of feminism may not suit every mother or every family. Women shouldn’t feel pressured by employers or anyone else into going back to work early after childbirth, but nor should they be made to feel that it is socially unacceptable, or that they are letting the side down, if they decide to take only a short maternity leave.

The most destructive aspect of Dati’s decision has been the news articles and commentaries it has provoked (which is not her fault). The vast majority of journalists – especially those writing most vehemently – have been women. That the national media has shown en masse the extent to which women can be women’s worst enemies (Bunting’s analysis, for example, is unnecessarily catty), judging each other most damagingly when one is not seen to conform (and at worst, as transgressive) does nothing for feminism. The implication is that should a woman decide not to take the maximum maternity leave then not only is she failing as a mother, but also as a woman, and ergo not only is she failing herself, but also womankind. Harsh, no? It’s certainly too much pressure. The unnecessary emphasis place on the fact that she wanted to return to work – which in this instance has been considered synoymous with the professional environment – does nothing for the status of mothers. The implication is that motherhood is easy, that caring for a new baby is almost like a vacation, when, while the demands are different, many would argue that motherhood can be not just as (but often more) demanding and rigorous than a job with designated hours of service and a set salary.

When stripped of polemic this was simply a woman who was told she could take 10 weeks off work and thought, should I? Nah! I’m alright, thanks. This isn’t news. It was suprising, but not news, and definetely not news that warranted the media attention it received. Maybe this is what Dati wanted. As a public figure increasing in status internationally any media coverage can be used to her advantage. However, what does this say about the nature of news in general? This shortly followed the groundbreaking reports that Paris Hilton claims to have slept with just two men (who really cares, would it matter if it was 100? It’s her business.) and Cheryl Cole’s admission that she does, in fact, struggle to keep her weight down. Both made national headlines and both were broadcast on news programmes. Perhaps critics would have performed a better public service had they considered Dati’s story in the context of the trivilisation and marginalisation of women’s news, since this is one of the biggest obstacles facing feminism in the twenty-first century – not a woman deciding she wants to work before her baby has even seen a rusk, let alone chewed one.

Comments From You

Kirsten Turner // Posted 11 January 2009 at 7:59 am

France, like the UK, has legal minimum maternity leave that women have to take. Under the French Labor Code of 1998 it is illegal for a woman to work 2 weeks before her projected delivery date and for 6 weeks after the birth. Her return to work after 5 days is breaking the law.

Ruth Moss // Posted 11 January 2009 at 9:09 am

I think this is a good analysis of the issue.

Maternity leave is great, it’s very important to have. Personally I think it should be longer, more flexible especially wrt partners and paid more but there you go. The vote is great. Personally I think it should count more (proportional representation) and should be open to more people than it is, but there you go. Feminists fought for the choice to take maternity leave (I think sometimes we forget this!) and feminists fought for the choice to vote. But actually, that means the choice not to do these things exists also. We do no one any favours by lambasting someone for making the choice not to do these things.

However, I do think it highlights something interesting, which you do touch upon briefly. Dati is privileged enough for it to actually *be* a choice. For many women, it isn’t a choice at all, one way or the other. Some women go back to work before they want to because they simply cannot afford to take their maternity leave, certainly not the portion of it that is completely unpaid. And because high-quality childcare (e.g. childminder, nanny, top nursery with each child assigned a key worker) is so expensive, they are often forced to leave their babies in cheap daycare centres. Dati doesn’t have to worry about any of this; her baby will surely have the best care possible. If her baby gets sick, she won’t have to do as some do, and dose the baby up with too-strong medication so the staff at the daycare centre don’t notice and ask her to leave work.

(And on the other hand, there are women who would love to do paid work, but any childcare is just prohibitively expensive. There are women who would love to do their own job part-time but their employer won’t consider it so they take a lower paid, lower skilled part-time job. And so on.)

I don’t think she is “letting women everywhere down” like some commentators suggest; if anything, it highlights the fact that nurturing work is unpaid and (therefore?) unpopular. It is not a choice I personally would make – and crikey, returning to work a week after what is actually a surgical operation takes some doing – but it’s her choice to make. It’s just a pity so many other women don’t have that choice, one way or the other.

Caroline12 // Posted 11 January 2009 at 11:59 am

I think Rachida Dati must be some kind of superhuman person! – it takes most women far longer than this to recover both physically and emotionally from birth – let alone after a section – not to mention the time spent getting to know your new baby. I do wonder whether this will catch up with her at some stage.

For her baby’s sake, though, I hope she doesn’t in fact have a “network of nannies working 24/7” as all the evidence shows that it’s important for young babies’ emotional health to have just one, at most two, primary caregivers – whether that is the mother or someone else.

Anne Onne // Posted 11 January 2009 at 1:06 pm

Very interesting analysis. It’s hard to express concern and well wishes without being a bit patronising, but I hope she will have as smooth a transition as possible into a good routine for her and baby Zohra, and that she gets what she needs to recover and thrive.

There are undoubtedly women who wish her well and are concerned that such a procedure is hard to recover from, and don’t want to see anyone suffer, and I’m sure many people’s comments fall into this category. However, concern (commonly known as concern trolling) is also a tactic to shame people into another choice, and I’ve seen this used in reference to Dati, too. It’s because society is so used to judging women’s decisions and insisting that it knows best that people can easily extend this controlling desire into looking like they care, whilst actually just wanting to shame people into making another choice. Which is why it’s refreshing to read here: lots of encouragement, some concern, but everyone understanding her right to choose and not be vilified for it.

On a related issue, I’m glad to say I know men who have taken paternity leave, though they’re not many. It’s a shame, because it’s a great hance to get to know the baby and help the mum, especially if she’s had a caesarean. I think that the reason many men don’t take paternity leave (apart from feeling its ‘not their job’) is quite similar to why women sometimes rush back. People taking leave are at a disadvantage the way this system works. They are vulnerable to being seen as less dedicated to their job, and the danger of being replaced, or having someone else promoted above them in the mean time. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was also on her mind, though she may just as likely felt that she was ready.

Either way, I think it’s important to support her right to do as she wishes. Platell of The Mail (where else?) was all over this story, as you can imagine, going on about how Dati is letting down her child and is being selfish, and how the child will be hugely disadvantaged, because it’s worse not to have a dad than to be poor (though since the two often overlap, I wonder how she decided one was worse than the other). Poor rich little baby, her life will be completely ruined because her mum isn’t properly under the control of a man!

If people like her care about the effects the work environment has on parents and children’s relationships, or how children from single parent households are disadvantaged, let them do something about it. Let them actually stand up for those children’s rights, rather than cheaply use them as an excuse to snipe at disadvantaged women.

But I wonder how much of the disadvantage children from these households suffer not because they don’t have a ‘father’ but because of how society views them as a result. The single-parent raised people in my family point out that the hardest part wasn’t necessarily the lack of resources or not having a father there, but the way society treated their mother and them as a result. In a society such as ours where single mothers are constantly blamed for society’s ills and judged whatever they do (have abortions, keep the baby, stay at home, get a job) all because they don’t have a man.

So, let’s see how disadvantaged these kids really are if we give them support and don’t demonise them or their mothers. I suspect that has a big part to play if they really are at a disadvantage.

Lastly, this is quite a privileged issue. Many women can’t afford to take leave. Either they run their own business (very expensive to take leave), are hired by a small business, or just have very inflexible employers, and need the money. Not everyone can afford to take leave, whether from a money point of view, or because their job would suffer if they didn’t. If we addressed this, I’m sure that women would have even more choice as to how long is right for them, and their partners could also choose to take leave.

Catherine // Posted 11 January 2009 at 1:43 pm

“Her return to work after 5 days is breaking the law.”

In which case, her male boss; who will certainly have known her medical circumstances, should not have scheduled the major shake-up of the French justice system requiring the presence of the Minister of Justice for 5 days after her caesarian section. Dati’s action is not simply the free choice of a privileged woman – she is a woman in a position in which a lot of people would like to see her fail, who has been inconsiderately treated by a boss who could have avoided it, something that happens to lots of new mothers. She was _put_ into a damned if you do, damned if you don’t position by other people. “Fail all the women of Europe by not taking maternity leave, or fail or the women of Europe by taking it, losing your job, and being told you have shafted the legal system and the cause of women in politics” is not an enviable choice.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 11 January 2009 at 1:49 pm

Who are these female journalists writing for? Certainly not women because these female journalists are writing for men and do not forget which sex holds power within the media. Certainly not women.

Quite right – what does it say for the media supposedly being reporting news. Where is the analysis on how the Gaza war is diamentrically affecting women and children? Missing of course because women are only visible when it is to criticise and judge them. I do not care about Paris Hilton’s private life neither do I care about Ms. Dati’s, but I do see how patriarchy continues to use female journalists as pawns and rather than blaming them we should hold the male editors and male owners accountable.

When will we read salacious details about well-known male politicians’ private lives or male celebrities private lives whilst simultaneously adopting a self-righteous and superior moral tone. Never is the answer because male politicians and male celebrities are individuals and therefore the focus is on their public aspects never their private ones.

polly styrene // Posted 11 January 2009 at 2:02 pm

Well a hell of a lot of women do work after giving birth, it just isn’t paid work. A lot of women who give birth have children already, and whilst looking after one new born baby isn’t a picnic, add in say a (jealous) toddler, maybe an ailing elderly parent – a not uncommon situation for a hell of a lot of women – and personally I’d much rather sit at a desk and flick through some papers with a large staff – which no doubt Rachida Dati has. But let’s remember that unpaid domestic work is real work.

Suzannah // Posted 11 January 2009 at 3:10 pm

Thanks Abby for this blog. I too read the Guardian’s article which only left me angry; surely there’s nothing more anti-feminist than suggesting an intelligent woman cannot make decisions she feels to be in her (and in this case, her country’s) best interest.

Shea // Posted 11 January 2009 at 6:44 pm

Ok I’m going to say it as nobody else will. Whatever her choices– she is mad, mad, mad! You dont go back to work 5 days- 5 days after major, invasive, abdominal surgery. She wont even be off morphine yet! Whether you’re a man or a woman, after a hernia op or a child, five days is too, too soon. Is there any job on Earth so important that you cant take ten days off? What is she–God?!

Sorry I respect her right to choose etc, but this is ridiculous, she is taking a massive risk to her own health, irrespective of the baby stuff.

Its a poor example, whether it was after having a baby or an appendectomy, the body needs time to heal. This is just the weirdest macho behaviour.

Caroline12 // Posted 11 January 2009 at 7:10 pm

Catherine – “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” just about sums it up, I think. I don’t envy her one bit. I think she is in a horrendous position.

There’s no easy way to say this without sounding judgemental or patronising, which is the last thing I want to be (Rachida Dati is doubtless far more intelligent and certainly far more powerful than I will ever be) – but I do hope the loser in all this doesn’t turn out to be her child. I have no idea what arrangements she has made so I know I don’t really have any right to comment. But to leave a tiny baby of five days old… I don’t know, it feels so wrong. (By which, of course, I mean that I personally couldn’t do it.)

I know men do it all the time and nobody turns a hair, but the difference is that in their case, there is usually a mother caring for the child in the early days. “Bonding” and “attachment” are not just trendy buzz words; they really matter.

I am probably going to regret posting this, and I do think Rachida Dati is admirable in many ways. To put on those stiletto heels and that smile, when she’s probably feeling like death warmed up, is remarkable. But I have to question (not condemn, but question) the decision she has made here.

Ruth // Posted 11 January 2009 at 9:07 pm


five day old babies really don’t much care who looks after them, actually (older ones are more picky). They can distinguish mum by smell, sure, but “bonding” and “attachment” are terms frequently bandied about by people who actually mean “once you become a mother, you better stay glued to that kid 24/7/365, or (s)he’ll end up a psychopath and it’ll be ALL YOUR FAULT”. As for “it’s usually just a mother caring for her child in the early days”, well, that depends, doesn’t it?

You almost certainly don’t mean to sign up to the psychopath argument, I understand, but implying that a mother cannot leave her baby even for a day is IMO mistaken. It’s HER health she’s risking. As long as baby has consistent care, evidence is she’ll be fine.

Caroline12 // Posted 12 January 2009 at 9:12 am

Ruth – I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that a mother must stay glued to her child 24/7, or indeed that anybody would be turning into a psychopath, nothing could be further from my mind! I guess I was just expressing my own feelings, which are partly to do with how distressed I personally would have been in this circumstance. (I realise this is no concern of Rachida Dati’s, though I can’t imagine that she doesn’t have at least some of those emotions as a new mother.) I do know something about five day old babies, having had two of my own, and have also been a single parent.

When you say “attachment and bonding are terms frequently bandied about…” – yes, sure, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important, or are just words used to beat women around the head with and make them feel guilty, which is what you seem to maybe be suggesting.

I didn’t actually say “it is usually just a mother caring for her child…” – I said that there usually is a mother there in the early days (I never said “just” – subtle difference!). Obviously it does depend – that’s why I said “usually”. The reason I mentioned this at all was because the (true) statement is frequently made that “men head off back to work and nobody bats an eyelid” but of course the situation is not the same, as in their case there is generally some family member, usually the mother, doing the primary care.

As you say, as long as there is consistent care, chances are she will be fine. I hope this is the case, as I think the problems would arise if there is a revolving door of nannies etc coming and going, which unfortunately can sometimes occur. Of course, this applies not just to Rachida Dati but to many parents both single and married.

Anyway it is of course not my concern, and I wish them both the very best of luck.

Cara // Posted 12 January 2009 at 11:52 am

Agree with Abby. Read Anne Perkins’ piece on CiF and it bugged the hell out of me.

Women are individuals and get to make individual choices, without it being a reflection on all women. If a man does x it is not taken as representative of all men.

It is Dati’s business whether and when she returns to work, and what childcare arrangements she has. Any mum who does want to stay home with her baby, is free to do so.

I was under the impression that a Caesarean isn’t as major surgery as it once was…five days seems plenty of time to recover. Sure she won’t be doing any strenuous physical activity, but to be able to go into a desk job and, um, sit at a desk doesn’t require complete fitness.

A male politician returning to work 5 days after surgery would be seen as dedicated, tough, all the things men are supposed to be.

So yes, the concern over Dati’s health seems a lot like concern trolling.

I agree with Ruth; a tiny baby doesn’t care who is looking after it. No-one bats an eyelid if the dad of a small baby works full-time and plays golf/ footy in his spare time. He’s seen as a feminist hero if he looks after the baby for the odd evening, or a few hours at the weekend.

I do wonder about the notions of ‘attachment’ and ‘bonding’…like Ruth says, they are often bandied around meaning something completely different. I’m not saying they do not exist; obviously, new mothers and their babies need to bond, but that doesn’t have to mean being together 24/7 and excluding dad and other relatives. It’s not some mystical process and does not require mum to be dedicated to the baby 24/7, sacrificing anything else in her life, to work properly.

It’s like the way small sex differences become OMG MEN ARE FROM MARS AND WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS. A nugget of truth is exaggerated.

(And it’s not uncommon for there to be initial problems with bonding. Such women often feel as if they are utter failures and terrible mothers, and are unable to ask for help in case they are judged for it.)

I actually think it’s far more important that mothers (and fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, & any other suitable adults, of course) are around for older kids, especially teenagers. Anyone can feed a baby and change its nappy, but older kids sometimes require emotional support. Although, by ‘around’ I don’t mean 24/7, again.

And in fact I think the nuclear family is a ridiculous idea…’it takes a village’ and all. What happened to communities?

Shea // Posted 12 January 2009 at 6:00 pm

Cara- I agree with most of what you have said. But here is the thing, a caesarean is major surgery, they slice the abdomen open, there is literally an open wound running through the uterus. Not even counting the pain or the blood loss accompanying a procedure like this, there is very limited mobility (as there is after any invasive surgery) making it hard to walk or bend etc.

There is the sheer exhaustion that going through surgery involves, it is a trauma and it is very tiring to recover from, not counting the fact that she has a new born baby to look after.

Let me couch it in these terms, I don’t think there is a man alive who would return to work five days after a hernia operation or a cardiac bypass. This idea that women just drop babies and go back to work (like African women or Chinese peasants, where maternal and infant mortality are up to 8 times what they are in the Western world) is so far detached from reality as to be laughable.

There is all this commendation of Dati’s “superhuman” ability and strength. It doesn’t look that way to me. She looks like a woman deeply insecure over her position and very vulnerable. There is a reason women often don’t take the full maternity leave or sick leave or holiday entitlement, whereas men do, and it has a lot to do with underestimating their abilities and their importance in the workplace and feeling very vulnerable. Especially at this time- with the current economic uncertainty, I’m afraid that the trend will be more towards that of Dati than towards women taking what they are legallly and morally owed (and have worked for!).

Anne Onne // Posted 13 January 2009 at 12:07 am

‘There is a reason women often don’t take the full maternity leave or sick leave or holiday entitlement, whereas men do, and it has a lot to do with underestimating their abilities and their importance in the workplace and feeling very vulnerable. Especially at this time- with the current economic uncertainty, I’m afraid that the trend will be more towards that of Dati than towards women taking what they are legallly and morally owed (and have worked for!).’

@ Shea: This. Hits it on the head.

But I’d want to quibble about men taking leave they’re owed. I’m sure many do, but men are also likely to try and keep away fromtaking leave if they can, when in such vulerable positions. It may be that women, having to carry the baby for 9 months, and then give birth and be expected to be the primary caregiver, may have more physical need for leave. Unfortunately, the current system gives neither women nor men room to recover, and puts women disproportionately at risk by not factoring in a system where maternity leave does not leave an employee open to severe conseqences.

I’d agree that there will probably be additional bias like you suggest working against women as opposed to men who take the same amount of time on leave, but I think it’s worth adding that women may also have more need for leave on average. It just serves to remind us that women are discriminated against on many levels: before they may even be pregant (in case they do!), whilst they are pregnant, and immediately afterwards, and whilst the child is growing.

Cara // Posted 13 January 2009 at 12:32 am

Shea – fair enough, of course a caesarean is major surgery.

I never said that women drop babies and go back to work; but equally, childbirth is not a disease.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some men did return to work 5 days after hernia surgery or a cardiac bypass, in macho careers such as politics and the CIty, where older men may be vulnerable to being pushed out by younger men.

I doubt those men take their holiday entitlement, either.

Especially in the current economic climate.

It’s not ideal, in fact, the long hours and presenteeism culture is ridiculous and anti-family and anti-women. But it happens.

I don’t think going back to work 5 days after a caesarean is ideal for her health, no. There is no way I would do it. But some of the comments (not here) seem to be masking something else beneath a veneer of concern.

I wouldn’t assume Dati was pressured to return, though; sure, maybe so, and you are right about the attitudes that pressure women to return to work sooner than they might have done. However, some of these high-flying people just really can’t bear to be away from work. She may only have returned part-time.

I absolutely agree that women should feel able to take the maternity leave they are entitled to. I just don’t think an individual woman who doesn’t take it is responsible for other women feeling they can’t, and should be blamed (not saying you are blaming her, of course). That’s the fault of society in general, not a few high-profile, wealthy women who go back to work very soon after having babies.

Cruella // Posted 13 January 2009 at 5:47 pm

I was on the BBC this afternoon discussing just this. I agree with more or less everyone that she is entitled to do what she likes. I fight for maternity leave rights for women, not to have women superglued to the pram for 6 weeks.

Also despite the legal obligation to offer maternity leave to French women in work – there is no obligation to offer such leave to female Ministers. In fact legally she was doing what she needed to do. Yeah – equal access to the workplace for women … oh except in senior political positions!

Finally there is no doubt dumb-ass corporate big wigs will use this news as an excuse to demand women take less leave. But then they would also see Pluto rising in Sagittarius as a reason to discriminate against women. If your employer thinks that because Dati returned to work five days after her baby, you should show them a video of Paula Radcliffe and ask if you should try to move around the office faster too?

Lisa // Posted 14 January 2009 at 2:23 pm

Given the pressure Ms Dati is under at the moment (since before she was even pregnant – some might say throughout her career), I have some doubts as to how much ‘choice’ she really has. The UK media coverage has been very superficial because they apparently don’t know that she’s been highly controversial for some time and is increasingly seen as a high-risk gamble by Sarkozy that has failed, with him now having to manage the liability as quietly as he can – he already discreetly took over direct management of some of her portfolios before the birth. She is fighting for her political life – whether she has made the right decision for her professional life and personal life remains to be seen. I have compassion for her as she is desperately trying to keep her head above water.

BTW having to look like you’ve just stepped out of Vogue is non-negotiable for a Parisienne – it would have been the end of her career if she was seen as anything less than elegant even if she was a humble civil servant.

Froufrou // Posted 14 January 2009 at 4:14 pm

I must admit, here in France we’re overwhelmed by the amount of attention the British media has given her-more than our media has.

One of the news programmes was going over the articles about her in the British press just today and I was seriously pissed when one newspaper, I think it was the Observer, called her “Mummy Judas”.

Now I don’t like Dati. She’s one of the worst Justice ministers we’ve had in a long time, in my opinion, but that’s just what I think of her professional capabilities.

I can understand her hurrying back, because she’s in hot water these days, mainly because, well, she’s not doing well at her job (managing to alienate every single judicial profession is a first, even in France^^) but on the other hand, Sarkozy couldn’t have fired her while she was away on maternity leave. The backlash would have been too much for him. There have been rumours of his wanting to get rid of her for a while, but samewise : he couldn’t get rid of a female pregnant minister.

So maybe she just wanted to work, and that’s entirely her business.

I’m, well, surprised that there aren’t more pressing issues in Britain than the French Justice minister.

Lynn // Posted 20 January 2009 at 2:34 am

Shea is spot on. A C-section is major, invasive surgery. Taking phone calls or answering e-mails from home is one thing, but going back to work after 5 days is macho behavior at its worst and just shows a lack of common sense. Not prudent at all. Issues of motherhood aside and accepting that she is more super-woman than the rest of us, even her body needs more than 5 days to heal after being cut open in such a major surgical procedure.

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