Comment

Jacinda Ardern’s personal becomes political

Comment: It feels somewhat churlish to look at the news of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s pregnancy through the prism of politics.

After all, bringing a child into the world must be an intensely personal experience.

And yet, the feminist slogan that “the personal is political” has come to apply in reverse, with politicians encouraged, even expected, to share intimate details of their lives with the voting public.

It’s typical of the modern era that Ardern broke news of her pregnancy not through a media conference, but posts on social media networks Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

So with that in mind, how might Kiwi voters respond to the news of Ardern’s pregnancy?

While there appears to be little in the way of substantive research into any link between motherhood and political popularity, it seems reasonable to expect the baby bump to be followed by a polling bump.

Most people tend to take delight in the idea of new life entering the world; after all, there’s a reason why Americans talk about things being as sacred as “motherhood and apple pie”.

The reaction to the news online has been almost universally positive, bar the predictable griping of trolls and political critics (never read the comments).

Ardern’s pregnancy is also likely to add emotional heft to her government’s policies around reducing child poverty, providing more financial support to families, and increasing paid parental leave.

Of course, National leader and former prime minister Bill English is no stranger to raising children — he does have six — but it feels different for a female leader to be so publicly going through the process.

After all, Ardern is the first female leader in New Zealand to have a child in office, and only the second in the modern era throughout the world (Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto was first, back in 1990).

“I was used to functioning highly, packing a lot into my days, excelling at everything I tried. I assumed that combining parenting and politics would be no different. I was wrong.”

There will undoubtedly be some political challenges that Ardern will have to face though.

While she has noted that “I’m not the first woman to multitask, I’m not the first woman to work and have a baby”, it appears to be particularly difficult for female politicians.

Former Green MP Holly Walker has written eloquently about the challenges she faced in Parliament.

“I was used to functioning highly, packing a lot into my days, excelling at everything I tried. I assumed that combining parenting and politics would be no different.

“I was wrong.”

Walker did note that others “could — and should” succeed where she struggled, but Ardern could be forgiven for feeling some trepidation as the due date gets closer.

Then there is the simple question of time. With a wide range of international trips planned in any given year, coupled with domestic engagements and the need to manage coalition relationships, there is more than enough on her plate.

Ardern has rightly noted that she and her partner Clarke Gayford are in a privileged position, where he can afford to be a stay-at-home dad while she goes back to work for the country. Winston Peters will also step in as acting prime minister while Ardern is on leave (a development that has already led some critics to question whether voters were misled).

But it seems fair to wonder whether, and how, the job will change as a result of her motherhood.

That’s not to say it shouldn’t — quite the opposite.

As we have seen with Speaker Trevor Mallard cradling babies in the House, Parliament is already starting to feel a little more child-friendly, and Ardern could progress that even further.

She — and all women — should be able to have both a personal and professional life catered to their needs, as a matter of course (that many don’t, and why, is an article all of its own).

What that looks like when the job is that of prime minister remains to be seen, but most Kiwis will be wishing her all the best.

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