Debating the morality of Rachida Dati

Ms. Rachida Dati, France’s first female Muslim minister, has been criticized for returning to work only five days after giving birth to a baby girl. The media seems to favor the public view that Dati’s decision is a reckless political stunt that makes light of the responsibility of mothers everywhere. Dati, half-Algerian and half-Moroccan, is the second of 12 children. She’s been the center of media attention, primarily because she’s style-conscious, attractive and single, ever since France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy appointed her justice minister in May 2007. This would be problematic if Dati did not crave the attention, but her decision to agree to fashion shoots in popular French magazines is evidence of her belief that femininity and politics can go hand-in-hand.

(Coincidentally, Sarah Palin, another influential woman known to mix glamour and politics also chose to go back to work less than a week after giving birth).

Pierre-Philippe, Getty Images

Rachida Dati. Photo: Pierre-Philippe, Getty Images

The media’s focus on her now is no surprise, although the nature has changed from tabloid gossip about her designer duds and competition with Sarkozy’s wife, to her morality. Did she do the right thing by going back to work so soon after giving birth?

Some blogs claim she set a bad example for women by neglecting her daughter. Others accuse Dati of undermining the feminist movement by refusing to take the 16-week maternity leave working mothers are entitled to.

The debate over Dati’s decision is valid and warranted, especially since gender equality in the workplace is far from perfect. It also brings attention to the plight of single women, less privileged than Dati, who are forced to take maternity leave because they can’t afford daycare. I’m very curious about one question the media doesn’t seem to be asking: Isn’t it bizarre that a Muslim woman in the public sphere has given birth out of wedlock?

The media has not focused on the reaction of Muslim women for example, or whether her family, who once forced her to marry, has accepted the child.

In raising this question, I don’t intend to reduce Dati’s accomplishments: that a Muslim woman from an oppressed immigrant community can rise to become not only the first woman to hold the Office of Justice Minister, but the first North African to do so is extraordinary. Normally, this would be a HUGE success for Muslim women and the somewhat ghettoized Muslims in France. Yet Dati’s success cannot be so easily celebrated, because her actions are not consistent with mainstream Islam: according to shari’ah, sex outside marriage (zina) is forbidden in Islam.

To the Muslim community, her sin is emphasized whenever the media speculates about her baby’s daddy.  Dati does not seem to be concerned by this traditionalist view of her pregnancy, and from her rush to return to work and show off her daughter to fans, it is obvious she is not embarrassed by what she calls a “complicated situation.”

Should she be?

Should Muslims undermine her success because of her obvious disregard of Islamic law, or should it be celebrated as revolutionary, in terms of a Muslim woman’s fundamental liberty?

Ultimately, the painful question boils down to this: Is Dati courageous or is she ridiculous?

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    She gave birth via caesarean section, so the big issue is that she’s gone back to work 5 days after having major, painful surgery. Her wound has not yet healed and she is probably still on antibiotics and strong analgesia.

    Would anyone expect a man to back to work five days after having major abdominal surgery?

    I’ve read several articles about this and the comments are full of men saying that giving birth is no big deal, women in Africa give birth and go straight back to work*, so why do women need maternity leave? The sad fact is many will look at her behaviour and use it to undermine women who do take maternity leave and seek to balance family friendly working practices.

    As for Dati as a Muslimah, as far as I’m aware, she identifies as non-practicing, so that’s why “Muslimah angle” isn’t very evident in news coverage.

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Oops! I meant to add at the bottom of my comment, that far from the stereotype of all women in agricultural societies giving birth and going back to work in the fields straight away, anthropological studies show that often, they are allowed total rest with their baby while the other women cook for them and look after them and they are gradually introduced back into work.

    On a personal note, I’m due to give birth in 8 days, insha Allah and I can’t imagine being back in work so soon afterwards.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Safiya: Enshallah you’ll have an easy, painless birth and a beautiful, healthy baby in eight days! :D

    I agree that Dati doesn’t identify as a role model for the Muslim community in France, so there’s really no reason that they’d be interested in Muslim women’s reactions. I’d also add that the coverage surrounding her pregnancy and birth have been pretty sexist: this “baby daddy” drama? Please.

    As for the “zina” angle: have any outlets pondered whether, as a 43-year-old woman, it’s fairly likely that she could have been undergoing fertility treatments and artificial insemination? This takes the “zina” argument right off the table.

    In my opinion, it shouldn’t even be a factor. This is all Dati’s personal life, which likely has little bearing on her political and career performance. I think the fact you brought up Sarah Palin is an apt one; the American media’s speculation that she couldn’t be a good mother to her children and be in political office was just as sexist as the coverage Dati faces. It just assumes that neither mother cares for her children, instead of examining the type of childcare they get, the parenting styles they have, etc. No one would accuse a man of being a poor father if he came back to work five days after his child’s birth.

  • http://www.muslimahcomments.wordpress.com Muslimahcomments

    Assalaamualaikum-

    I agree with Fatemah. I see her singledom and sex life as her business.

  • cycads

    As a woman who’s never given birth before, I might not be qualified to debate Rachida Dati’s decisions (ditto to men who make snide remarks about a new mother. They should really f*** off). What she did was really her choice, but it does undermine the reasons why the maternity (and paternity) leave are put in place. She’s not really doing feminism much favour by proving that she doesn’t really need time off to be with her baby, just because many men don’t. But that’s just my opinion.

    The problem with being a public figure, and a political one too, is that your personal life belongs to the people. There will always people critiquing every minutiae of famous people. In a way, I’m actually quite glad that the media (as Yusra pointed out) didn’t make a fuss about a Muslim public figure having a baby out of wedlock. It just means that her being a Muslim (okay, albeit a non-practicing one) and of immigrant/ethnic minority descent do not really matter in this issue. Maybe it’s a French thing.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ cycads: while I see where you’re going with the statement, “She’s not really doing feminism much favour by proving that she doesn’t really need time off to be with her baby, just because many men don’t.”

    I don’t agree, however. First, I don’t agree that men don’t need time to be with their baby. Yeah, they don’t do the breastfeeding, but I think fathers have just a central role and so paternity leave is important.

    My major qualm, however, is with the idea that she’s giving the finger to feminism by going back to work. While her going back to work so early could be used as proof of maternity leave as unnecessary, it shouldn’t. The reality is that she can afford expensive healthcare and nannies to look after a newborn that many women can’t. So her decision shouldn’t be used as a yardstick for all women’s maternity leave needs.

    I also disagree because feminism should be about choice. She’s chosen to go back to work; that doesn’t null maternity leave needs for all women, nor does it automatically mean that she’s neglecting her baby. For all we know, she gets up extra early to pump breast milk, goes home to spend time with the baby for lunch, and spends all night with her.

    I think that the media coverage should have stuck to her recooperation; like Safiyya said; she had a C-section, which is some serious surgery. That’s more of a concern than maternity leave or mothering choices.

  • http://www.7obsessions.blogspot.com Yusra

    Dati grew up around Muslims in a North African populated community. In fact, her rise in gov’t is attributed to Sarkozy’s desire to incorporate more diversity within the the gov’t, so her ethnic and religious affiliation (no matter if it’s more secular) is of extreme relevance, which is why the media has portrayed her story as a rags-to-riches one. It’s difficult for people from the poverty stricken community she grew up in, to enter politics. So the fact that she defied those odds, coupled by the challenges of being a Muslim woman in the traditional community she grew up in, is of extreme relevance, especially to Muslim women. She may not identify as practicing, but that doesn’t erase her background. Dati was forced to marry. I’d argue that many Muslim women in France, who can identify with that, are intrigued by that fact alone and therefore look at her as a Muslim woman who overcame societal challenges. By that same token, I think it’s important to understand how other Muslim woman who grew up with Dati or in similar circumstances, perceive her success and her “complicated situation.” Mainly do they feel that in order to overcome their own challenges and enter politics, they’d have to defy traditions they grew up with.

  • laila

    “according to shari’ah, sex outside marriage (zina) is forbidden in Islam” or “obvious disregard of Islamic law”

    Yusra, do you have the 4 witnesses that have testified that she had committed zina? Is there anybody who stated that she was sexually assualted, because a baby could also be a result of rape?

    Many people might find a sexual attack ironic considering her position as the Justice Minister. But as a Justice Minister she may also be very wealthy* and could afford artificial insemination (impregnating the female by using means other than sexual intercourse). This assisted reproductive technology is also primarily used to treat infertility. OR In vitro fertilisation, a process by which egg cells are fertilized by sperm outside*** of the womb. Yusra we don’t even know if Dati is menopausal (IVF has allowed women to be pregnant in their 50′s and 60′s), because she could even have received an embryo that originated from an egg of an egg donor. So Dati may not have a genetic link with the child but an emotional one.

    Dati did state it’s a “complicated situation.”

    Yusra why did you assume this woman Dati was a fornicator before considering other possibilities?

    “Her sin..” so you have officially accused her Yusra?

  • Tara K.

    I find it very frustrating when the media focus on women for issues of good or bad motherhood in this way. Is her child healthy? Yes. Is her child cared for in her absence? Yes. So what’s the big deal? I just look at it as women being judged as mothers rather than individuals, which men don’t deal with. And motherhood being turned into a standardized, prevaling premise of femalehood, when it shouldn’t be.

    Unless a child is being neglected, abused, unloved, etc., why care? I’m pretty sure the child of this wealthy woman is set up for a life of privilege, so why not focus on situations that aren’t?

    As for whether or not she’s “attention-seeking” by doing photo shoots, I find that few publications want to write about female figures without a photo shoot.

  • http://www.7obsessions.blogspot.com Yusra

    I hate the word fornicator, but forgive me here, but I’m gonna assume a non-practicing, unmarried, high-profile, 43-year old woman once in Sarzoky’s intimate inner social circle has sex, yes. She’s not menopausal but admits her pregnancy is delicate because of her age: https://www.france24.com/en/20080904-justice-minister-rachida-dati-pregnancy-media-france-politics-aznar?pop=TRUE

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    I think it’s not enough to say she chose her choice and therefore we should accept it. Yes, she may be able to afford nannies, as could other women in her income bracket.

    However, women in these types of high pressured jobs are often under extreme pressure not to take too much time off work for maternity leave (note that financial organisations and law firms are rife with sex discrimination claims) and they might not want to leave their child with a nanny. Dati’s example will be used as a justification for pressuring these women back to work.

    In most of the articles it mentions that Dati’s position is extremely insecure and that is what has motivated her early return, it’s not really the strong woman stance that people might think it is.

    The right for maternity leave and for employers to make allowances for pregnant women and mothers has been a massive fight. Many women are still being fired or otherwise forced out of their jobs just for having a baby.

    Even if you don’t have/ never intend to have children, employers having to make allowances for family circumstances has been good for everybody, it’s lead to things such as carer’s leave, increased availability of flexible working and bosses having to realise that they employ people, not robots.

    For the majority of women, pregnancy is a big deal, giving birth is a big deal. It’s a life changing event. For most fathers it’s the same (and companies are starting to realise this). Like it or not, what Dati has done will harm women and that’s very sad.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    If Dati returned to her job because she is worried she’ll lose it, then it’s not a real choice.

    “what Dati has done will harm women and that’s very sad.”

    The fight for maternity/paternity leave was and still is a big one; I’m not diminishing that. The fact that Dati’s return will be used as ammo against women’s choices to take maternity leave is the problem, not Dati herself. The media has painted her as a boogeywoman who’s a bad mother, rather than a woman who wants to work OR a woman who is being pressured by the government (i.e., her boss) to shorter her maternity leave.

  • laila

    I agree with you Fatemeh and Yusra on the word fornicator (I hate it!)
    However, Yusra stated “Her sin” and “sex outside marriage (zina) is forbidden in Islam.” Zina implying either fornication or adultary, therefore throwing judgey labels without proof. I don’t think I’m caming across very clear, what |I want to say is essentially what your saying Fatemeh; that likewise we can’t use the Zina without proof.
    Stating someone committed Zina is not only defamatory but also a very dangerous statment.

    I will NOT assume an unmarried, high-profile, 43-year old woman once in Sarzoky’s intimate inner social circle had sex!
    ……………………………………………………………………………………….

    I wonder why the media doesn’t discuss the pressures Dati would face if she did take maternity leave. Because she would face alot of pressure! Just like the Spain’s pregnant Defense Minister Carme Chacón http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1730927,00.html

    For example, the bottom of this article on the pregnant Defense Minister, it had the nerve to state “For now, the most pressing question is what Chacón will do when she gives birth in June. Thanks to Zapatero’s efforts, Spanish women are entitled to 16 weeks paid maternity leave. But can a defense minister — especially a female one — afford to take four months off? ” WTF (but a legitimate question reflecting the society) As if this job is more important than other jobs women have, and therefore they can’t have full maternity leave.

    Can Dati afford to take four months off without people raising objections or hurting her career?

    I don’t think Dati can take four months (16 weeks) off without hurting her career!!!!! NO. Alot of women are scaried they will be replaced or that employer will learn they can do without them. Why do we still have these fears?

    What do you ladies think and she afford to take 4 months off with out people being pissed off?

  • islamic law person

    under islamic law fornication or adultery cannot be proven without four males or eight females who witnessed the act of intercourse.

    not to mention that an unsubstantiated accusation – which is what is happening on this blog site!!! – that a woman is a fornicator or adulteress, is punishable in the quran.

    please don’t call what you are doing “islamic law.” it is vile and horrid gheeba or petty gossip.

    under islamic law dati doesn’t owe any of you any explanations.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ “islamic law person”: put your claws away, mkay? Yusra’s intent isn’t petty or malicious.

    Nor has everyone here reached a consensus that Dati has sinned. That’s what most of us are arguing. Read a little closer next time.

  • Muffy

    I find it is tragic that it is the 21st century and women, no matter how accomplished, are judged due to the decisions they make about maternity leave and childbirth. If Dati were male and his wife just had a baby, nobody would question his decision to forgo paternity leave and go back to work. Similar disgraceful criticism was leveled against Sarah Palin. How dare a woman with a Down syndrome baby rush back to work so quickly and run for vice president?! Apparently it didn’t matter that Palin’s husband had taken time off. I’m sorry, but I just can’t buy the argument that Dati, Palin, or any other women in comparable positions are harming other women. They’re entitled to make whatever choices they want to, and they’re doing nothing to harm women who do want to take maternity leave.

    I also question whether people would speculate so much on Dati’s possible “sinful” behavior if she were Christian instead of Muslim.

  • arrafah

    perhaps she married secretly?

  • http://www.hijabtrendz.com Mariam

    When I read about Dati, I have to say I just felt sad and stressed out. The way I read it, is that she basically has to show that she is not going to be hindered by having a baby.

    You’d be surprised at this day and age how pressured a woman can feel about having to return to work soon after the baby.

    I only got six weeks of maternity leave, only six weeks! I was freaking out because I had these plans that “oh I’ll pump my milk and put her in daycare and go back to work full time”

    That didn’t happen. I couldn’t even bear to leave my baby, and at the same time I was under immense stress of maybe losing my job.

    Luckily I was able to work something out with my employer.

    The moral of the story here is that there needs to be more freedom for women who have kids. We need a break to allow our bodies to heal and to get back to full speed. I’m sure many of us could go back to work a day or two after having a baby, but the health consequences will catch up sooner or later.

    And in Dati’s case, she is probably trying to save face and act like it’s no big deal, when in reality she’s torn inside about what the right decision is.

    It’s great to see she made some historical strides, but I do feel sad for her. I can’t even imagine what she’s going through.

  • sandy

    Muffy: Mme. Dati isn’t hurting other women by not taking her full maternity leave, no . . . and whether she’s hurting herself or the baby, is for her to decide. I’ve never had a child; I have not walked in her shoes and must try not to judge! The problem is that people who (for various reasons) don’t like the idea of women having high-profile jobs, political power, or even just full-time work outside the home, will probably use the fact that she didn’t take her leave, as an excuse to, as others have said, try to reduce this important legal right, which is what _will_ hurt many women who must work outside the home.
    Also the fact (and it is a fact, unfortunately) that taking 4 months off from the type of job that she has, would hurt her career. Which is really too bad, because bringing children up to be honorable people is also a pretty important job!

  • laila

    I’m so torn after re-reading this!
    On the one hand, I want Dati to motivate the maternity leave fight. She would be a great example for the right of maternity leave. On the other hand, Dati has her own individual rights and dreams to think about, like what works best for her or her job and furthering her career (whose going to help her in that? No one but herself). Dati is facing double the pressure, from both sides, and that’s not fair! People always place obstacles in front of women so that they can fail.

    By the way there should NOT be any discrimination in maternity leave laws regardless of your job. If you are the Minister of Health or a bus driver! Why should one or the other be excluded from maternity leave?

    Like Fatemeh said “The fact that Dati’s return will be used as ammo against women’s choices to take maternity leave is the problem, not Dati herself.”

    Dati is a victim of the bullshit that women constantly face.

  • muffy

    I don’t see any reason why we should call Dati a victim just because she decided not to take maternity leave. Perhaps this is a decision she wanted to make. Believe it or not, not all women want to take maternity leave.

    This is an interesting story. First, feminists fought for the right of women to go to work and have careers instead of being forced into being stay-at-home moms. Women who chose motherhood over careers were viewed as victims. Then feminists realized that there are women who actually want time to take care of their kids and fought for maternity leave. Now women who prioritize careers instead of spending any time as mothers are viewed as victims! Yes, more choices should be given to working mothers (and fathers, for that matter). However, the moral of this story as I see it is that people need to stop viewing other women as victims just because they make different decisions.

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  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Asalaam Alaikum,

    Here’s a thought. A lot of people are saying that in her job, Dati couldn’t take four months maternity leave, it’s not feasible as her job is too high pressured and so on.

    Now, imagine if she was diagnosed with cancer. Do you think people would still say she couldn’t have any time off? Especially after all the male politicians who have done the same? No, of course not. Someone would be appointed to cover her position and she would be able to go back to work whenever she felt ready to do so.

    So the issue, isn’t really her job, it’s that there is still resistance to the concept that giving birth or child rearing is worth having time off work for and that employers should accommodate it.

    P.S I submitted another comment before. Did it get eaten or was there a problem with it?

  • ahmad

    I think if Rashida Dati had been held up as a model for (practising) muslim women then her pregnancy outside of marriage would have been more of an issue in muslim circles.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Safiya: I think you make an EXCELLENT point about cancer leave vs. maternity leave. SNAP!

    The last comment I have from you was the one you submitted on the 12th; maybe it got eaten?

  • Faith

    Safiya, let me give you another snap for comment no. 24!

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  • Omar

    You know what, give her a brake and your right “Muslim woman’s fundamental liberty” is just that her right. Or do you think she should be changed to the kitchen sink – to be denied education and stoned for being a normal woman.

    I am both a father and a Muslim, and I would be furious if my daughter came home pregnant and unmarried. But it is better she is home, pregnant and safe.

    I absolutely stand by Ms Dati, and just for the record – it was her choice, she was not forced into it, and that is what freedom is all about. Being free – a lesson some Muslim countries could learn from, by stopping stoning and honor killing and discrimination against women.

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Asalaam Alaikum,

    Further to my point, Steve Jobs, the head of Apple Corp no less, has just announced that he’s taking a six month leave of absence due to ill health. No mention at all of him losing his job or needing to quit.

    In response to Omar’s comment, our choices do not occur in a vacuum.

  • http://hennamariage.blogspot.com/ flifla

    i am french muslim woman the debat about the maternity leave is the most important in this topic not her morality as a muslim that’s all

    the reason why she go back to her job that fast it is because Sarkozy president decide to reform justice more precisly the reform concern the examining magistrate
    the president made the announcement of this reform wednesday and Dati gave birth friday before so no choice

    [This comment has been edited to reflect comment moderation policy.]

  • http://hennamariage.blogspot.com/ flifla

    I DO NOT KNOW WHY U DELETED HALF OF MY COMMENT THAT IS A SHAME

    DATI WAS IN THE COMMISION STASI WHICH IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE HIJAB BAN

    [Mod note: Please read our comment moderation policy. The parts of your comments that I have deleted violate said policy in the form of personal attacks, which we do not allow.]

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  • Kawthar

    Apparently, Dati is stepping down.

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  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    I hate the word fornicate, too.

    While it’s not unlikely that she has sex, it can’t be proven. It’s just as likely that she used artificial insemination; we can’t throw around judgey labels like “fornicator” without proof. Not just because it could be slanderous and defamatory (particularly in our community), but because without evidence, it’s rumor and not journalism.