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We are all victims of sexism

When he gets his kids fed and makes sure they do their homework, he's acting just like a...parent

In a mild state of shock, I had to ask the woman to repeat herself.

She had called from my HMO’s complementary medicine services to invite me for a free consultation in hopes of setting me up on a long-term regimen of massages, acupuncture, or whatever they think I’ll be willing to shell out the shekels. There was an open slot that afternoon, but I told the nice woman that I was unavailable. My two daughters were almost home from school, and it was time for lunch and homework.

“Just like a mother,” she said.

“Excuse me…?” I asked her, not quite believing what I had just heard.

She repeated “Just like a mother.” I responded “No, just like a parent,” and I quickly ended the call.

The truth is that I was not angry or offended by her personally. She was, after all, essentially representing what is still a very prevalent societal attitude – women are the ones who focus on the child-rearing (whether or not they also have a career outside of the home), and men, who also (presumably) have an “outside” career are the “exception” if they take a role in the day-to-day schedules of their offspring.

But I was still pretty pissed off. And, it brought back memories of when my wife and I were relatively new parents, still figuring out exactly what we were doing.

Our oldest (at the time, only) daughter was about six months old, and we were invited to a party. I showed up with the baby in a snugli while my wife was at a lecture, and she joined me a couple of hours later. When she got there, a very nice young woman with whom we were friendly gave her an update on how I managed without her. “Asher was a very good babysitter,” she reported.

Before I had a chance to show my righteous indignation, my wife blasted her with “He is not her babysitter! He is one of her primary caregivers.”

And that was that.

Since then, In Israel and abroad, the struggle to eradicate sexism has come a long way. Still far from over, things have gotten a lot better

Two of the major parties in Israel’s upcoming elections – Labor and Hatnua – are headed by women as are some of the smaller parties. An increasingly large number of women are joining the upper echelons of the business world, sitting on Supreme Court benches, and participating in societal leadership roles both in Israel and abroad.

In the November elections in the United States, 101 women were elected to Congress – 20 in the Senate and 81 in the House of Representatives – both record numbers. While those numbers do not represent an equal representation by gender, it seems clear that we are closing in true equality in that arena.

Nevertheless, society still has a long way to go in truly battling sexism – in all of its manifestations.

But “equal representation” is not really the goal. The goal is to get to the point where determining and classifying one’s abilities (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with their gender.

We generally associate sexism with the demeaning of and devaluation of women – in the work place, in the home, and in society. As that aforementioned phone conversation indicates, it works both ways. And it victimizes all of us.

Just as we should not presume that a woman is out of her element in the workforce, in management or in politics, neither should we assume that a man is any less comfortable or capable in day-to-day domestic life, managing the home and dealing with the children.

Such presumptions are equally offensive and detrimental to men as well as women.

My child-rearing skills (and commitment) are as deserving of respect as my wife’s three academic degrees, including electrical engineering. Her skills in the high tech world are as irrelevant to her gender as my ability to get the kids fed and finished with homework is to mine.

Even with the strides made towards gender equality, I still often see on Facebook (and I hate to say this, but much more often by women) posts which, in and of themselves, are fine, but between the lines, they still make gender distinctions that are both unnecessary and even offensive.

Those memes saying that “being a mother means being able to do x, y and z for the kids while still managing to do a, b and c for the house or the husband” are all well and good – but shouldn’t they apply to being a father as well? Would it not be more accurate to say that this is what it is to be a parent, a spouse, or even (God forbid!) an adult?

In 1977, many people fell in love with Dustin Hoffman in the movie “Kramer vs. Kramer.” At the beginning of the film, right after his wife (Meryl Streep) leaves, he is completely clueless when it comes to preparing his son’s breakfast. By the time the big custody hearing arrives at the film’s climax, he and the kid are a “well-oiled machine” while making the pancakes.

Likewise, the 1983 movie Mr. Mom showed a recently unemployed Michael Keaton go from using the hand dryer in the men’s room to dry his baby’s bottom to being the glue that keeps his household together.

Thirty years ago, these movies were amusing, quirky.We could even relate to them. If made today, they would be – one would hope – offensive.

It is not only possible for us, but incumbent upon us, to open up our minds to the point that we can see each individual as an individual – without feeling the automatic need to relate gender or skin color.

Rather, relate to every person as a fellow human being with the spark of potential within.

We all deserve that – for ourselves and for one another.

I could write more, but my kids are home and it’s time for homework.

About the Author
Asher Zeiger grew up (well, sort of) in North Carolina and moved to Israel in 1988. He lives in Modi'in with his wife and two daughters, and works as freelance writer, editor and translator. In his spare time, he tries hard at not taking himself or life too seriously (successfully) and at unwrapping himself from around his daughters' little fingers (not so successfully).