April 17, 2024

Jacinda Ardern choosing to resign is not an excuse to ask ‘can women have it all? ’

Why shouldn’t she leave her job to spend more time with her partner and child? Especially considering that her job is probably the most stressful in New Zealand, and that’s before you even consider the extra scrutiny – and downright misogyny – she has experienced as a young woman in politics.

What initially started as a concept of empowerment (see Helen Gurley Brown’s bestselling Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money.  .  . Even if You’re Starting With Nothing) has become a double-edged sword for women to fall on.

Not only can we have it all, but we should be doing it all. When we decide to prioritise an area of our lives – whether it’s a relationship, our children, or our career – we open ourselves up to (self-)criticism about our failure to “have it all:” to fail at doing feminism, or indeed womanhood, right.

Throughout her premiership, Ardern has embodied an «authentic feminine leadership style,» notes Liz Villani, a HR expert and founder of #BeYourselfAtWork. Unlike many women in leadership roles – cough Margaret Thatcher – she was “unafraid to lean into her caring and loving femininity,” – as Villani puts it.

This was demonstrated repeatedly throughout her responses to crises. “She showed great empathy and leadership skills during the pandemic, relating to her fellow countrymen as ‘the team of 5 million’,” notes Villani.

Jacinda Ardern choosing to resign is not an excuse to ask 'can women have it all'

These skills were also reflected in her response to the Christchurch Mosque attacks in 2019, her apology to the family of the murdered student Grace Miliane in 2018, and her meeting with first responders in Whakatāne after the White Island volcano eruption.

Ardern’s leadership style prompted envy from many women in the UK, no doubt pining after a leader who seemed genuinely kind and caring – not to mention competent. Her resignation is not evidence of women’s inability to “have it all,” nor is it a pertinent rejection of “having it all. ” She leaves a complicated yet overwhelmingly positive legacy, warranting intelligent political analysis, critique, and celebration – not pointless platitudes rooted in sexism.

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