Can we please stop calling maternity leave ‘time off’?
In her first Friday column, Marie Claire's entertainment editor Lucy Pavia tackles the language of maternity leave, Nepal's period banishment and why Cameron Diaz should demand a 'Reese' rider
A friend of mine has quit his job to travel the world for a year. I feel little pangs of jealousy every time one of his Argentinian waterfall shots pops up on my Instagram feed – usually timed to the second I’ve folded myself into the remaining air pocket left on the train to work – but I also know he’s worked his socks off for the last ten years and deserves some time off.
I recently heard the same words – ‘time off’ – used to describe a friend who is on maternity leave right now. Her baby is going through the 4-month sleep regression. I think she would quite like to be standing by a peaceful Argentinian waterfall right now, if only for the baby-free opportunity to lie down on the cold hard rock and sleep.
Is it time to call bullshit on using ‘time off’, ‘a break’ or – as my colleague had it put to her once, ‘your holiday’ – when we’re talking about maternity leave? Not only do the words denote relaxation and me-time, things maternity leave definitely doesn’t involve, there’s the underlying suggestion that we’re not all part of the same cycle.
Were the people I’ve listened to moan about the ‘disruption’ caused by their colleague ‘going off to have a baby again’ raised by a stork? Or did they simply materialise, age 25, in a suit with adult social skills and a law degree, ready to take their place in the workforce?
Perhaps they believe the business of continuing the human race has nothing to do with them, even if many of those humans will one day be adults who work in an office and pay taxes like they do, or care for them when they’re old and infirm?
A man once told me quietly that he wasn’t entirely sure he was a feminist after seeing his brother run a small business that was ‘disrupted’ (that word again) by a woman having a baby. I argued that his problem wasn’t with women but with a system that still sees child rearing as a ‘women problem’ in isolation.
I know it’s a cliché to bang the Scandi drum when it comes to parental leave policy, but case in point is a work meeting my husband had recently with a group of Swedish men. They told him a man in their office had been nicknamed ‘the caveman’ because he only took three months of parental leave. They’d all taken six.
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