While in the Netherlands the heated debate as to whether it’s okay to tell a woman what not to wear is still raging, in Pakistan public debate is focussing on additional assistant commissioner Sara Tawab Umar who has brought her baby to work. Social media is full with pictures of her holding her child while inspecting shops, checking for illegally raised prices on commodities. The situation in the pictures looks calm and relaxed and, if it wasn’t for the uniforms around her, one would think that she was shopping for sweets on her day off.
A lot is being said about this news, with most people praising her for her courage and example. However, there is also a group of pre-dominantly male social media users who are accusing her of neglecting both, her job and her child.
One of the posts that has gathered quite some popularity is by Usman who states ‘motherhood is a full[y] dedicated job[,] so is state commissioner, she is doing injustice to both’. He actually (re)posted a photo of Sara Tawab Umar in her office, bottle feeding her baby. When reading through his comments, it appears that he assumes that there must be a baby sitter with her who might be the one taking the picture.
So to get that straight, a mother who may or may not be nursing her child, has (arguably) arranged child care in her office so she can be close to her child while still focussing on her work, and this man is still arguing she is doing injustice to both!
It is self-evident that this comment is full of assumptions that only people very close to the woman in question would be able to verify. Nonetheless, this does not keep self-appointed (male!) experts on working motherhood from offering their damning judgement.
Another argument stated repeatedly on twitter is that if a ‘lady doctor’ would bring her child to work it would cause a public outcry and as a logical consequence we should all agree that an assistant commissioner should not bring her child to work either.
Now first of all, let me just mention that calling a female doctor a ‘lady doctor’ is just another way of telling her that she is not behaving in the way she expected to. If it was considered ‘normal’ that a woman can be a doctor you would call her a doctor not a ‘lady doctor’. In fact, I have never heard anybody utter the term ‘male doctor’ like this.
Having said that, the fact that a parent (male or female) cannot bring their child to work if they are a doctor handling highly contagious diseases or highly complicated operations does not have anything to do with a state commissioner doing her job in a completely different setting. And in fact, if decent child care facilities are made available within the hospital, I do not see why a doctor should not be able to bring their child to work, either.
Of course, there will be jobs where it is relatively easy to take your child to work and there will be jobs where no parent would even consider it. It would be absurd, however, to think that the fact that an active duty soldier, for example, cannot take his or her child to work would somehow mean that parents in other jobs should not be able to take their children to work.
Each parent is unique and different parents will have different ideas about how they want to raise their children and how they would like to combine this with their careers. What makes this discussion so infuriating, however, is the fact that, once again, men are using a combination of fake logic and guilt to tell women what ‘their’ place in society should be.
We are used to working women in poorer families and nobody is taking issue with, for example, domestic workers taking their child to work. In fact, in a society where child labour among the poorest families is a wide spread phenomenon, it seems grotesque that it causes a public outcry when a parent takes their child to work, not to work but just to be close to the parent. It shows how far apart the worlds of the lower and the upper classes are in this society.
It also shows that the real issue at stake is actually something else. As long as women are invisible and are doing work that does not enjoy a lot of respect, nobody seems to worry about what they are doing. However, when women, without financial urgency to work, are choosing to have a career outside their homes and are taking up public office, things change.
Women in highly respected positions are occupying still pre-dominantly male spaces and as a consequence are often expected to behave according to male stereotypes. Bringing a child to the office does not fit into this picture at all. Men seem to feel comfortable as long as it is men who solely occupy the public space. Now that their world gets disturbed by the arrival of women in ‘their’ spaces, they refuse to allow the existing order to be upset even further by women, who not only occupy traditionally male spaces but also behave differently in these spaces and are starting to reshape these spaces in a way that they become more hospitable for women in general. This constitutes a major loss of power and control which some men find difficult to handle.
As a result, now that there is a slowly increasing number of women who are defeating the stereo typical role prescription, men have found a new way of showing women ‘their’ place. This is exactly what this debate is about: men telling a woman, who has found a work-life balance that works for her, that she cannot possibly do her job while being a mother, leaving her with only one available alternative, namely, staying at home. It is very telling, though, that if a woman is staying at home, nobody seems to be thinking that they are not doing their children justice, while, here too, women are unable to give their children their undivided attention, as they are taking responsibility for domestic chores.
Looking at Sara Tawab Umar, I am delighted to see a woman making her own choices, finding a way that works best for her, both professionally and as a mother. I applaud and support her for being herself and claiming the space that is rightfully hers without making any excuses.