Jacina Arden has become the youngest Labour leader in New Zealand history at 37. However, barely a day into her tenure, she’s started experiencing workplace sexism, particularly regarding her future childbearing plans. While appearing on the AM show with Mark Richardson, she weighed in on the opinion that employers should be made aware of women’s childbearing plans before giving them jobs.
“For other women, it is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace. That is unacceptable in 2017. It is the woman’s decision about when they choose to have children. It should not predetermine whether or not they get the job.” she said.
She has also faced media scrutiny about whether she will eventually forego her political career to have children barely a few days into her run as Labour leader.
Far from an isolated incident, things like this only serve to remind us of the constant misogyny that women are subjected to in the workplace, often treated as second-class employees or people bidding their time until they move on to their higher purpose- a wife and mother.
From an early age, they are discouraged from certain careers that are deemed ‘manly’, as they advance in their education, they are reminded not to get too serious lest they forget their higher calling (I’ve personally seen an older aunt say ‘Congratulations on your B.sc but don’t forget about the most important degree, the M.R.S’ at a young lady’s graduation party). When they finally get to the workplace, their ambition is treated like a character flaw and their diligence beyond a certain point is seen as a hindrance to their true calling.
One has to wonder why men aren’t asked whether they intend to have children. After all, the women being asked aren’t having children with ghosts. Of course women tend to fulfill a majority of the child-care role, but acting as though only the woman might have her work inconvenienced by a child is ridiculous at best. Even after the said child is born, women’s careers are now expected to take a back seat. She’s expected to ‘relax’ and ‘focus on her home’ and is constantly questioned about whether she can ‘balance both worlds’ (another irritating question that men are rarely asked). Later on, we begin to ask why there are less women in positions of power. We demand that women purse motherhood above all else and when the said motherhood is attained, we treat her as though she has a disease.
All this can be boiled down to the fact that we see a male employee as a male employee but see a female employee and someone’s wife and someone’s mother who happens to be in the workforce. If we can stop reducing women to walking wombs and breathing babymakers, workplace misogyny would slowly recede to the pits of the abyss from whence it came.