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If a woman doesn’t want to hold a baby, that doesn’t make her a monster

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Megan Murray
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Gender stereotyping sees women demonised if they don’t act overly maternal, as shown by this Reddit thread. We’re sick of it.

It’s a particularly boring stereotype that every woman, upon coming into contact with a baby, is overwhelmed by maternal hormones and turns into a cooing, high-pitched version of herself who is hell bent on holding said infant.

But it’s time for a news flash: not all women feel maternal. Not all women want children of their own. In fact, some women think that, sure babies are lovely, but are not a big source of interest for them. Oh, and here’s another news flash: that’s completely OK.

However, one woman has felt the need to reach out to the people of Reddit and ask for advice on what to do after being labelled “The Baby Hater”. What did she do to deserve such a nickname? Politely decline to hold a colleague’s new baby. That’s all.

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Last week, Reddit user Thatlilone started a thread entitled “Am I the asshole for declining to hold a co-worker’s baby?”

In the post she explains that a co-worker who had been off on maternity leave came into her office one day to introduce everyone to her new baby. So far, so normal.

However, while most of the other women in the office had been keen to hold the little boy, Thatlilone didn’t feel comfortable in doing so. Instead, she congratulated her colleague and commented on how cute her son was, before attempting the return to her desk. But unfortunately, as she continues to detail, this reaction seemed to generate some hostility.

She writes: “The poor baby was being passed around like a hot potato. I made some basic remarks of ‘how cute’ etc and tried to make a quick escape back to my desk, but then mom offered me the child to hold.

“I went ‘No thank you, I’m good.’ And she was like, ‘oh it’s okay, he’s a good baby!’ Me: ‘Ah, no thank you though, I don’t have my flu shot yet (something I read is important for new-borns).’

“Mom: ‘That’s okay! Go ahead!’ Me: ‘No, I don’t really want to hold your baby.’

“She looked mightily offended and a lot of the other girls who I’m usually friends with looked at me like I just slapped her in the face. Then she asked me the dreaded question: ‘Why?’”

Being a woman doesn't mean you are automatically obsessed with babies.

The Redditor went on to explain that she felt awkward about admitting that she just didn’t feel comfortable, and felt pressured to lie, excusing the issue by saying that she didn’t want to pass on any germs from outside. 

As well as being the cause of several extravagant eye rolls, though, it sounds the backlash was severe. Not only did she offend her colleague, whom she describes as behaving in a “cold” manner towards her after the interaction, but her fellow co-workers took against her, too. Indeed, as Thatlilone explains in her post, she was uninvited from another co-worker’s birthday party, and has since been dubbed “Baby Hater” by almost everyone in the office.

It’s an understatement to say that this treatment is wildly unfair, and it sounds like a really difficult few days for Thatlilone followed.

She describes wanting to say something, but in the end returning to her desk and getting on with her work quietly for the rest of the day. As other Redditers asked her in the comments if she would ever go to HR about he co-workers behaviour, she says she would only be tempted if “it got out of hand” but that she’s willing to put up with the nickname seeing as there are “some less than tasteful nicknames” already being used in the office about other people. 

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Of course, while Thatlilone seems happy to deal with the backlash, there’s no denying that this is gender stereotyping at its most insidious. After all, the year is 2019, and no woman should be pushed to coo over a baby, just as she shouldn’t be pushed to do the cooking or cleaning.

It is a matter with Stylist digital writer Hollie Richardson feels very passionate about. “I absolutely do not have a problem with people bringing their babies into the office,” she tells me. “What I can’t deal with is this weird expectation that we all need to stand around the baby, coo over it for half an hour and ask to hold it. ‘Maternal’ is the last word I would use to describe myself so, unless I know the parent, I just don’t feel comfortable around babies. Also, there are many other personal – and perhaps triggering – reasons why a person wouldn’t want to hold one.”

Hollie adds: “As there is always a huge crowd of people around any given baby in the office anyway, I doubt the parent really cares if I join them or not – particularly if I’ve only ever chatted once when waiting for the photocopier. And yet I must admit that I’ve felt quite guilty in the past, as if I’m a bad person for not being very interested in their little bundle of joy.

“Should I just put my own discomfort to one side and pretend to be interested?”

Of course, every woman is different. Some love spending time with babies and small children, others are interested – but only if they know the parent quite well – and some couldn’t care less. Every single choice is valid: we’re all different and that’s more than OK.

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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