Stella Creasy, it seems, has been a naughty girl – or at least, that’s the conclusion you could be forgiven for reaching given her recent “reprimand” for bringing her three-month-old baby into the parliamentary chamber.
Apparently, such tiny companions, however young and reliant on their parents, are against official rules designed to champion “behaviour and courtesies”. Though it’s hard to imagine how the quiet presence of a contented baby in a sling could really be some kind of affront to good manners. Perhaps he was blowing bubbles at Jacob Rees-Mogg – and frankly, who could blame him? And we’ll gloss over the fact that so many Tory MPs seem to find their smartphones far more interesting than whoever is speaking at the time.
The good news is that the confusion around this apparent rule is now to be the subject of a review ordered by the speaker of the house, Lindsay Hoyle. The bad news is that the continued struggles around allowing new parents – and specifically new mothers – to participate fully in society are as real for those of us outside parliament as within it.
As a new mother myself, I’ve already found a lingering misogyny when it comes to what we expect women who procreate to do. “Good” mothers stay at home while their babies are little and attached; they limit their expertise and their conversation to their children. And they accept that they won’t be allowed back into certain aspects of their lives until they can at least pretend not to have children at all. It’s a way of forcing women to divide up their identities – you can either be speaking in parliament or a mother. God forbid you should be unapologetically both.
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Given these messages, it’s no wonder so many women feel their sense of self fracture when they have children. I’d always hoped that my identity would simply expand when I became a parent, but it’s hard to stay part of the world when the world keeps telling you you can’t bring your baby along for the ride.
Ms Creasy, if this rule is allowed to stand, faces a choice between giving up the right to speak on subjects that concern her constituents (as she has been elected to do) and leaving her tiny and dependent baby behind. Maybe there’s a convenient table outside the chamber she could stick him on. Or perhaps one of those Tory MPs on their smartphones could stay outside and babysit for her, instead of simply ignoring the debate – baby in one hand while continuing to browse with the other.
The truth is that Stella Creasy’s contributions are just as valid and needed now as they were before she became a parent. And the example it sets when she does speak with her son alongside her – that women absolutely can contain multitudes; that they can be mothers and leaders; that they can change the world as well as changing nappies – matters hugely. Especially to women like me, who are currently doing more of the latter while wondering how to incorporate the former into this brave new world of parenthood.
The thing is, Stella Creasy is not a naughty girl. She’s a woman and a leader and a public servant. And yes, absolutely a mother too. She shouldn’t be facing what amounts to a telling off for wearing all of these aspects of herself simultaneously – and for reminding other women that we can, too.
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