Fierce

Opinion: Why Are Women Being Applauded for Working While in Labor?

As of 2020, women on average earned 84% of what men earned in the same fields and positions. Even worse — according to the National Women’s Law Center, Latinas are paid $0.57 for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic male makes. This equates to about a $1.1 million loss over a 40-year-career. Myriad explanations for this discrepancy have been offered over the years, and motherhood is always at the top of the list. 

So, when Stephanie Beatriz recently revealed that she was in labor while recording one of the songs for “Encanto,” I wasn’t surprised. Why should I be? 

I can completely understand why Beatriz felt compelled to continue working and pretending as if there wasn’t a fully formed human banging on the walls of her body, demanding to be let out in the world. 

Beatriz, who plays protagonist Maribel Madrigal, admitted that she didn’t “want to freak anyone out” and just hoped she could just finish the song before the baby came, as her contractions continued to crescendo in both frequency and intensity. I listened to the song in question, “Waiting on a Miracle,” and tried my best to identify any potential moments during which her pain may have seeped through somehow, but guess what? I found nothing! 

The song does not lead on that anything of significance was happening during its recording, although some of the lyrics do seem to resonate with Beatriz’s plight at the time. In the song, Maribel starts, “I’m fine, I’m totally fine,” only to quickly retract her statement after a moment of reflection, singing, “I’m not fine, I’m not fine!”

I wonder if this is how Beatriz felt, giving birth to her baby the very next day. Still, despite the pangs of labor, the song went on to become a perfect addition to the hit soundtrack. 

Of course, a part of me does want to praise Beatriz’s badassery. Women’s bodies are powerful and mysterious and magical, even, capable of incredible feats and then some. 

Frida Kahlo once said, “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.” I think she was exclusively referring to women. 

But if Beatriz felt strong enough to tackle the task at hand, to sing through labor pains and deliver a performance worthy of a standing ovation, for more reasons than one, then why not? Feminism means respecting another woman’s choice, even if we wouldn’t necessarily make the same one for ourselves and particularly if it’s as brave and impressive as Beatriz’s.

However, it seems to me that women’s strength is also a blessing and a burden. Although we may feel empowered and resilient — perhaps in part because we’ve had to — does this mean that we should power through every harrowing situation? Does this mean we should refrain from taking breaks, deny ourselves basic human rights in pursuit of recognition, and continue to prioritize responsibility over rest?  

Zoila Darton, founder of WORD, doesn’t seem to think so. In a recent interview with Inc Magazine, Darton disclosed that she was negotiating a deal while in labor and even taking conference calls in her hospital room as she recovered from her C-section. “This is NOT a flex,” she clarified, “This is the manifestation of an extremely flawed society at play. This is the patriarchy at work.” 

Darton went on to laud Beatriz for what she did, but concluded with a very important question that has been plaguing women since, arguably, the dawn of civilization: “Why are women constantly applauded AND expected to put themselves through hell to ‘make things happen’?” 

I don’t have an answer for this. I can’t rationalize why women continue to be paid less for their efforts and commended for extending themselves far beyond the limits of their minds and bodies for a chance to compete with their male counterparts. To be totally transparent, I’m guilty of this myself. Why do I agree to take on multiple projects when I’m already inundated with work as a Ph D student? Why is checking my emails the last thing I do before I go to bed and the first thing I do when I wake up? Why do I feel forced to feign excitement over an opportunity, even if it seems mediocre? 

Perhaps it’s time, as Darton recommends, that we start saying “no” to saying “yes.”

What’s most important is that we don’t overwork ourselves out of fear, that we follow our truest instincts in terms of what feels right for us, what we can handle, what we can turn down, and not feeling guilty in either case. In a recent feature, Kim Kardashian offered a piece of advice to women in business: “Get […] up and work. It seems like nobody wants to work these days.” Here, I’d like to offer a piece of counter advice: Work as much or as little as is healthy and sustainable for your lifestyle. 

Work toward reaching your own goals and fulfilling your own ambitions. Work towards your dreams. But: do not overwork yourself into a coma and please, please, please stop glamourizing “the hustle” and “the grind.”

Let’s recall the true origins of the word “grind.” It means to be crushed and reduced to nothing.

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