Last week, an image of New Zealand speaker Trevor Mallard cradling a colleague’s baby went viral. Parliament member Tāmati Coffey, the child’s parent, told journalists how supported he felt as he returned from parental leave.
British filmmaker and fellow new parent Greta Bellamacina said she had, shall we say, a different experience when she tried to bring her baby to work.
While attempting to attend a screening of her film “Hurt by Paradise” at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, she says her infant son was denied entry by security. Only after “much stressful debate” was she allowed in, but she still reportedly had to pay a fee and use different entrances when using a stroller.
“Ironically, my film is about a young single mother trying to balance her life as a writer,” Bellamacina told The Guardian. “She is treated quite patronizingly in some scenes in the film, but never as rudely as I was treated as a mother at the film festival today.”
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Her experience is perhaps indicative of the film world’s ongoing male bias, especially in leadership roles. One 2018 study found that just over 3 percent of all films released by the six biggest studios in Hollywood were directed by women. And half of those studios — Paramount, Sony and Warner Bros. — didn’t hire women directors at all. A gender gap persists for other film and television jobs, too.
But powerful women are now fighting to make it easier for employed moms to bring their babies to work. Actresses Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba frequently bring their children on the set of their new show, Spectrum’s “L.A.’s Finest.” Union says Alba negotiated to have her child nearby before signing on, and made sure her fellow moms felt comfortable bringing their kids along, too.
“No one’s had to make that crazy, crazy sacrifice of going back to work and just, like, leaving your kid,” she says. “Jess was like, f*ck that. I’m going to create the Hollywood that I’ve dreamed of and that I need.”
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Performer and entrepreneur Eva Longoria is also pushing to normalize women bringing their babies to work — in part, because she feels a responsibility to use her privilege to help them. “[I]t is uncommon in our industry for women to direct and produce, much less so a woman with a baby,” she says. “So I do think there’s some course correcting I can do by normalizing” having a child on set.
And earlier this year, actress and Fabletics founder Kate Hudson made the viral rounds herself by sharing a photo of her breastfeeding her daughter while on a break. “When you’re working but [baby’s] gotta eat,” she cutely captioned the post.
While the photo was heartwarming, the problem it represents is anything but. Nearly 4 million babies are born each year in America, and about 80 percent of their mothers choose to breastfeed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And many of those moms go back to work quickly, for economic reasons — in fact, it’s not uncommon for women to cut their maternity leaves short, placing them in the difficult position of balancing work and parenting duties.
We’ve got a long way to go. But if women continue to speak and act up — especially those with large platforms — perhaps we’ll see the day when a female film director’s child is welcomed at a high-profile event and more workplaces have an open-door policy to babies.
[Related: Why Hollywood’s Gender Gap Exists, and How to Fix It]