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March 5, 2018 | by  | in Features Splash |
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Jacinda’s Pregnant (Now Everyone Freak Out)

The news shook the nation. Granted we’re a small nation, so it doesn’t take much. When McDonald’s brought back Georgie Pie, let me tell you, Facebook went off. The news of Jacinda’s pregnancy reached me via text one morning at work — just a simple suggestion from Boyfriend to check the news. Within an hour, everyone in the office was talking about it. Everyone feels qualified to have an opinion. Why, despite New Zealand being a tiny, relatively well-connected, reasonably liberal country, did the opinions of its citizens vary so greatly over this news?

I must hate myself, because I spent an hour trawling through Facebook comments, wondering why the entire population of straight white males and religious old women come out to play whenever NZ Herald posts an article. How do these people find their way onto every post to give an opinion? Do they have a Google alert on? I click “show more comments,” and cry. One woman was “totally disgusted” at her lack of transparency, and yet another showed a proficient grasp of the hashtag function by commenting, “You are the 1st female PM to get knocked up out of wedlock. Such a great example you are #losersinoffice”. And finally, there was the simple, subtle dig; “The Prime Minister looks very tired”. I cornered a friend over coffee one morning, and despite being somewhat taken aback at my aggressive opening line of, “So do you think Jacinda should have told us she was pregnant earlier?”, they did provide me with some heart-warming comments that reassuringly proved a trend of enthusiasm and sympathy among young people I asked.

Should Jacinda have kept New Zealand in the loop from the first minute she knew she was pregnant, or even that the possibility of becoming pregnant was likelier than we all thought? While she’s at it, she may as well have disclosed the frequency and quality of her sex life! First and foremost, Jacinda is a person. While yes, she is a person with a lot of sway, influence, power, and responsibility, she is not a robot, and when it comes to matters of humanity, like her coffee preference and her decision to have children, she should be held to the same standard as anyone else.

If our Prime Minister was of the penis-wielding persuasion, it would be a different story. Bill English is a father of 6, and when asked about how he finds balancing work and kids as part of Stuff’s RadDad series, he replied that lots of people work long hours, and he is no different to them. His response was not questioned. A male politician announcing he is soon to be a dad would not, unlike Jacinda, have their ability to do their job questioned. He would be congratulated for five minutes, and the story forgotten.

The obvious reason why men and women are held to account differently when they have babies is that men do not have to grow the thing in their stomachs. They are therefore not responsible for lugging another human around inside his body, while simultaneously trying to appear unflustered, graceful, photogenic, and capable of running a country. That’s gotta be hard.

But here’s a cool thing. Women around the world literally do this on a daily basis. When a woman gets pregnant, they don’t closet themselves away in their rooms, fan themselves with leaves, and lie uselessly on a chaise lounge. They work, and cook, and clean, and read, and write, and converse, and shop, and mother, and function. The Queen of England, Elizabeth II, had two young children at the time of her coronation, and went on to have two more. Jacinda has a high pressure, high stress job to do, but do you really think she herself doesn’t know this? If she thinks she can do it, you have no qualifications to tell her otherwise. That is, unless you are both a gynaecologist and a mind reader, in which case, get in touch, I have some questions.Jacinda

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that she’s wrong. Perhaps she has the best intentions, perhaps she’s naive, perhaps women don’t really know what’s coming until it squirms out of them covered in blood shrieking its head off, then never sleeping for more than an hour at a time (I know, how rude). Perhaps she will suffer terrible hormone changes and mood swings, and someone will leave the Big Red Button out, and she will find out they’ve run out of Earl Grey, and the jug’s just boiled, and she just… SNAPS? Then what?

I think the fact that I had to stretch so far for an appropriate analogy here demonstrates my point. It’s true, people make mistakes when they’re tired, and are perhaps more likely to be aggressive or unreasonable when running on no sleep, or being bombarded with baby-making hormones. But the political equivalent of a Big Red Button doesn’t exist in this country. We’re too small, and our two opposing parties are too politically aligned. Compared to to the Democrats and Republicans in the US, Labour and National are best buds. We’re nuclear free, protected by some big powers, and unlikely to be invaded for anything except a personalised director’s cut of the Lord of the Rings. I think we’ll be fine.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I think running a country, especially in a way that pleases at least some people, is bloody hard. I wouldn’t do it. I think Jacinda is brave and inspiring, and I think she can do a lot of good for some people who haven’t had it good for a while. I’m just trying to make the point that these naysayers who flock in the dozens to the comments sections of Facebook are going a little bit far when they compare this baby to the fiery end of New Zealand as we know it. For every decision in parliament there are hours of deliberation, critiques from all sides, public announcements, and a certain amount of transparency. Jacinda is being held to account by the media, by us, and most of all, by her fellow Members of Parliament. The Labour party laboured hard to get where they are, and they want to stay there. Jacinda is surrounded by people with a lot to lose, and therefore, she won’t be allowed to mess up.

Interestingly, many of the cynical comments on news articles and posts were from older females. Why, you and I both ask, are women in particular so strongly divided on this? Men tended to be less passionately opinionated, ranging from a cheerful “Yeh pretty happy for her aye!” to an obviously faux-bored, “I see Repco have got a sale on today…” (which has 28 laugh reacts, I am sorry to say). One man was, I’m sure to his great relief, able to make it all about him again by writing “lol [this is] perpetuating the myth females are the only ones capable of multitasking. If men gave birth we’d be building bridges while giving birth,” which is something I would pay to see, to be honest. The women, however — one actually commented on a Facebook post, “GET ON WITH IT and do some work instead of riding the gravy train,” as though Jacinda is taking time off from running the country to write these articles herself. Another remarked that there is “nothing wrong with being pregnant, I just don’t think the debating chambers are the place for babies[. I] can’t see how you can give your full attention to your job”.

Perhaps women feel more entitled to an opinion on motherhood. Perhaps since some have experienced it themselves, they know how hard it is, and they don’t see how being a mother fits into their idea of a Prime Minister’s job. Many women confessed, both online and in person, that they don’t think they could be both a mother and a Prime Minister.  But this isn’t a good enough reason to begrudge Jacinda the opportunity. It isn’t a competition. Just because she has the chance of making this work, it doesn’t make any of these women who weren’t faced with this double responsibility any less worthy or successful than she. We need to lift each other up, not tear each other down. People are doing enough of that for us, and Jacinda is, I truly hope, about to prove them all wrong.

On the flip side, as well as being a fantastic demonstration of how competent women can be, this is going to be a time of growth for men, and how they see themselves fitting into family stereotypes. Clarke Gayford’s role as the stay-at-home dad will show men all around the country that being the primary caregiver is not weak, or lesser, or something to be ashamed of. Surprisingly, even a few of my friends were holding some unjustified ideas about what this decision means for Clarke as a person. When I brought him up, one dropped the comment that, “He kind of seems unmotivated in his career”. I pressed for more, and we went around in circles for a while with no real consensus on whether it was, “Just his face, I guess”. Society has got the idea that staying at home to care for a child means he can’t possibly be as ambitious as the next man. I’m just saying. Our society continually drives home the image of husband as breadwinner, and at present there seems to be little place within that role for nurturing a child.

Finally, as I always do in times of quandary, I turned to my mum. And, as always, she had a pearl of wisdom to offer.“What guarantees are there that anyone’s life situation is going to be all plain sailing? […] But I think in this day and age we offer support and solutions.” Support and solutions. Nice. I’d much rather live in a country of support and solutions than put-downs and should-have-beens. This baby is coming whether New Zealand likes it or not. We might as well be positive about it. And by request of at least one person I talked to, Salient will be accepting bets on the name. Personally, I like Windi.

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