The real story behind Elizabeth Vargas' departure.

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May 25 2006 5:42 PM

Pregnant Pause

What's the real story behind Elizabeth Vargas' departure from World News Tonight?

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What everyone is talking around are some of the same issues we didn't talk about last year during the brief national flip-out over the dearth of women columnists in major newspapers. Somewhere between the insanity of the assertion that a pregnant woman asked to be benched permanently from a major news show (for her second child but not her first), the bland media assertions that the pregnancy was a convenient smoke screen for legitimate business decisions, and the overreaction from advocates and feminists who see this as brazen discrimination, there may even be some snippets of truth.

At the core of all this chatter is also an interesting and unspoken problem about pregnancy and maternity, and the ways in which women who are fully competent to do any job at any other time may nevertheless falter or choose to rejigger their priorities for a few years. There were days during my pregnancies when I couldn't even rinse and spit, much less cover a major news story. When do you think I'll be allowed to write that without setting back the feminist cause?

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Everyone is turning Elizabeth Vargas' pregnancy into a referendum on pregnant women in the workplace, and particularly in the media, because it's happening on a big screen in front of us, but also in our homes and our book groups. Vargas isn't just carrying the extra weight of her unborn baby here; she's carrying the weight of a whole nation of people who still see gender in absolute and defining terms. Maybe the reason we can't quite stomach a hugely pregnant news anchor is that we can't even manage to talk coherently about all the ways in which they somehow freak us out.

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