So, do we need ‘meternity’ leave?

Why a US author is facing a backlash for suggesting "meternity" time for childfree women

The Internet is aflame with rows about “meternity” leave. This is the term, coined by US author Meghann Foye, for a period off work that is taken by someone who isn’t having a baby.

If you have or have ever had a baby, you will probably now be thinking, “well, gosh, that sounds all wrong.” If you don’t, you might now be thinking, “hey, that sounds like a great idea!”

Meghann has been through the mill a bit since launching her book on the world (not quite Witness Protection Programme but almost – she’s cancelled media and promotional appearances and Phil and Holly were even called out on Twitter for “bullying” her on This Morning) so before we launch into her, here’s a bit of background.

SO WHAT’S THE BACKSTORY?

Meghann, a 38-year-old author and ex magazine editor first outlined her new book (yes, it’s called Meternity) in a blog post called: “Why I Wrote a Book About a Woman Who Fakes Being Pregnant”.

She described how the heroine of her book, Meghann (oops, I’m sorry, I mean “Liz”) was “strong-willed, funny, a little angry, a little sarcastic, a little stuck for reasons she is too quick to blame herself for, but most of all she’s very, very tired…Liz’s worked her ass of in high school to get into a good college. She worked her ass off in college to get a good job. And she worked her ass off for 10 years, expecting for it to all pay off with a top-of-the-masthead title and a life that has magically worked itself out. But instead of “having it all” all, that “leaning in” has only left her staying late at the office to finish all the work from the women on staff who didn’t forget to get married and have kids.”

Hold your fire, mums! There’s more.

Mehann goes on: “She’s tired of controlling everything, tired of the frenetic pace and tired of pretending she can do it all by herself. And tired of the women at work who seem to have it so easy and find ways to rub it in her face while handing her their files to finish.”

Later she explains how she conceived (see what I did there?) the idea for the novel after three of her close friends became pregnant aged 31 when she had recently split from her longterm boyfriend. “Yes, I had always dreamed of marriage and motherhood, but I still wasn’t ready. I wanted—needed—some time off to figure out exactly what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life,” she blogs.

And so the concept of “meternity” was born.


WHY METERNITY IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Right. (Gargles in preparation for long rant.) So here’s what I think about meternity (disclaimer: I have three children, and have taken three maternity leaves, one of which was completely self-funded, the other two unpaid in part).

Firstly, let’s park the blindingly obvious observations of what it is like in the weeks after having a baby (fanny in tatters, nipples blackened by the lamprey-like suck of a newborn, hormones volatile as a Molotov cocktail, sleep deprived to an extent elsewhere employed as a form of torture so vile it’s outlawed in the free world…)

Let us instead consider the gender pay gap, which pretty much kicks in at age 30 – hey that’s funny, it’s the age women start having children! Well, whaddya know? Loss of earnings over a working lifetime are down to inequalities and the way women are perceived, sure – but why are they perceived this way? In part at least because they are mothers – or could become mothers at any time.

Yep, motherhood is a feminist issue. Because, for now at least, it is only women who can have babies. And this stays true whether you decide to have one or not.

MATERNITY LEAVE – LIKE A YOGA RETREAT BUT WITH A BABY???

The idea here is that it’s unfair for women to be given time off (often largely unpaid) with a job to go back to so they can give birth (as opposed to what? Giving birth at the office) unless you “balance” this out by expecting society/employers to pay for what Meghann calls “some time off to figure out exactly what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life. A moment to breathe and create, rather than continue on the burnout track”. This is frankly insane.

Why not take a holiday? Or save up and take a sabbatical? A colleague of mine has just gone on a gap year aged 29 for exactly these reasons. She saved up and left her job. She made the choice and I have followed her joyful journey around the world via Facebook, full of admiration.

But Meghann, by now writing in the New York Post, cranked on:“…the more I thought about it, the more I came to believe in the value of a “meternity” leave — which is, to me, a sabbatical-like break that allows women and, to a lesser degree, men to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs. Say whaaaat???? Why in the name of fuck should men have it to a lesser degree??? Now you’re even being sexist against men.

Also, sorry to be boring, but how would this all work from a practical standpoint? Will women go from job to job demanding a “me-ternity “ leave from each and every employer until retirement age? Sheesh, Meghann! Women have it hard enough already without getting a rep for this as well. Plus Meghann is only 38. She could still easily have children. Actually in the New York Post article she says she’d like to have children one day and might even like to have maternity leave. Meghann. Just, stahp!


OWN YOUR CHOICES!!!

In any case you only see one side of the coin. Those women you’re moaning on about walking out of the door “breezily” handing you their file. Really? They’re rushing back to the nanny who’s on the clock, to the nursery which is about to fine them for being late when their trains is cancelled. They will be smothered with kisses, yes, but also smeared with Nutella and punished in various cunningly concocted ways (for some it’s food, for others bedtime, if you’re really unlucky there might be some sort of dirty protest) for earning a salary.

Why older mothers rock

But that’s not even the really annoying bit. Meghann observes: “It was assumed co-workers without kids would stay behind to pick up the slack.” Who assumed it? If you don’t like it walk out the door yourself. You’ll be no more or less unpopular. You’ll probably be overlooked for the next promotion – just like all the mums in your office. The reality is a lot of women tailor their lives (and careers) to accommodate the fact they have children so they can give a fair amount to both. They could “lean in” but they don’t. They don’t want to be unsisterly and take advantage of their colleagues (or their bosses) so they do a job a rung (or two or three) down from what they could achieve on full pelt. Is this fair? Probably not, but it’s too much of a ball-ache to work out why and what to do about it, so in the meantime they make a choice – same as Meghann could have done, by giving up her job any time.

Yet on she goes, yadda yadda. “It seemed that parenthood was the only path that provided a modicum of flexibility. There’s something about saying “I need to go pick up my child” as a reason to leave the office on time that has far more gravitas than, say, “My best friend just got ghosted by her OkCupid date and needs a margarita” — but both sides are valid.” Of course they are. So do it! Don’t blame other women for your choices.

Ironically Meghann also (eventually) concedes that finally she took some unpaid time off, and says: “Ultimately, what I learned from my own “meternity” leave is that any pressure I felt to stay late at the office wasn’t coming from the parents on staff. It was coming from myself. Coming back to a new position, I realized I didn’t need an “excuse” to leave on time.”

Shame she didn’t say that at the beginning but it might not have sold so many books.

Bottom line. It doesn’t stack up. And it’s unsisterly.

Phew. So that’s what I think. Now what about you?

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