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A Strike in Israel Brings Gender Equality for Parents Into the Spotlight

If you turned on the television in Israel on the morning of December 21st, you’d have been greeted by news reporter Eli Rachlin — and by two little girls who look like they’d probably rather be somewhere else. Of course, with the public workers’ strike taking effect across the country and nursery schools and other public schools shutting down, there was nowhere else for them to be.

As parents across the country scrambled to figure out last-minute childcare, some took the day off, some worked from home, and many settled on the non-ideal option of taking their children to work with them. When Israelis saw the girls with Rachlin, many assumed they were his daughters, with him because the school day was canceled. “Strike? What are you talking about? I have no clue what strike you’re talking about!” he jokes into the camera as the girls play on either side of him.

The positive reaction was immediate and enthusiastic, with the clip going viral on social media after it was circulated on popular Israeli Facebook groups. For many women, the idea of a high-profile reporter publicly and unabashedly bringing his children to work was inspiring, worthy of high praise. The comments section overflowed with exclamations like “#1 Dad!”, “Kol HaKavod (All the respect)!”, “What a great man!” and emojis of smiley faces with hearts for eyes. It prompted discussions about equality and exclamations that perhaps society really is becoming the egalitarian paradise we’ve always wanted.

The catch? The girls aren’t even his daughters. So much for modern men and for fathers stepping up. They’re the daughters of a colleague, and essentially just props for a news segment: a physical manifestation of the strike’s immediate repercussions. But that doesn’t change the public discourse kicked off by the perception that Richter was a man unapologetically taking his daughters to his workplace when his usual childcare arrangements fell through. It also doesn’t change the double standard that the discussion exposed.

Apparently, when you’re a man, parenting responsibilities interfering with work are not just an accepted part of life, but something worthy of nationwide praise.

I’m not saying that I disagree that fathers taking active roles on the childcare front is a good thing. All parents should be cheered for the hard work it takes to juggle family and career. But that’s the key: all parents. Not just fathers. Because behind all of the good-natured laudatory remarks when men are viewed as active parents lies something more sinister: a frustrating and sometimes debilitating double standard.

When we sing men’s praises for “babysitting” their children or for making their children lunch or for taking the night shift with the new baby, we are acknowledging that these men are the exception. We’re saying that mothers are the “default” parent and that any relief their husbands or partners provide them is extra, or voluntary, or is somehow more impressive than when mothers do the same thing many times over. Rather than seeing these “praiseworthy” examples as an indication that we’ve reached parity, I see it as a sign that we still have a long way to go.

I can’t help but doubt that a female reporter bringing her children to work would have gotten the same reaction. As a writer that works with many corporate clients, I think back to the times that I have apologized for the very presence of my children in my house when I conducted interviews or took meetings over the phone from home.

Other moms in Israel such as Chana, a single mother of one that I know through a Facebook group for working mothers in Israel, told me that they could also relate to the feeling of being subjected to a double standard, where taking time off for kids or even talking about kids could raise doubts about their reliability, while men who play active roles in their families are praised for being “responsible.”

In spite of some disappointment and debate about whether the incident was just a “stunt,” many women were just glad that the show’s segment got people thinking. Arielle, a mother of two and a member of the same group, told me she was pleased that the occurrence is “bringing the issue of parental equality to the public conscious in a relatable way.”

By all means, let’s go ahead and tell fathers who are taking the lead on childcare during the strike what great parents they are. But when the mother in the office next door to you is apologizing for taking her kids to work, tell her she has nothing to be sorry about.

Jessica Levy is a writer living in Jerusalem. Her work has been featured in publications including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter: @jesslevy

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