Israeli poll reveals facts, fantasies of sexual equality

But only about one-third of both sexes reported that in their homes, household responsibilities are indeed divided fairly.

In most of those homes, it is the wife who shoulders the majority of household and child-care chores

The poll surveyed more than 500 Israelis. It found that the Israeli public is not quite ready to fully embrace the concept of equality between the sexes within the family.

The poll paints a portrait of a people that is still deeply ambivalent about the proper roles of men and women within the family.

For example, an overwhelming majority — 79 percent of the women and 81 percent of the men — believe that women are far more "suited" than men to care for children. Nearly half of those polled believe that the children of stay-at-home mothers are happier.

These findings should lead to the conclusion that most Israelis picture an ideally happy household as one in which the husband works outside the home while the wife stays put and cares for the children.

Yet, the idea that women are more fulfilled and happy when they have roles other than that of wife and mother has become deeply ingrained in the Israeli consciousness.

"The poll shows us that women's organizations have a responsibility to educate both women and men on how their roles are changing and evolving," said Michal Moda'i, WIZO's president.

"I see hope for the younger generation in closing this gap. I see young couples able to internalize the education they received on equality."

A mere 39 percent of men and 32 percent of women feel nostalgic for the days before the women's movement when women were expected to stay home and care for their children.

Most of them — 68 percent of women and 53 percent of men — believe that working mothers are happier than those who stay at home.

"It's obviously important that men do things inside the home — not just because they have to, but because they want to — and that they learn that coming home and feeding and bathing their children is a privilege and not just an obligation, a necessary way of connecting to their family," Moda'i said.

"Making them understand that is an important step to the goal of creating a society in which both fathers and mothers educate and raise their children."

Life in an era of equality is clearly confusing and difficult for many to cope with — especially men. The section of the WIZO poll with the most pronounced differences between the sexes was the one in which people were questioned about the difficulty of getting used to the concept of equality between men and women.

A majority of the men — 56 percent — admitted it was hard for them to think of the sexes on perfectly equal terms. Their female counterparts perceived it as even more difficult for men to deal with the idea of equality: 71 percent said they believed men were having a tough time with feminism.

The women, in contrast, seemed to have comparatively little difficulty accepting the change.

While 45 percent of the men thought that women were struggling with equality too, actually only 27 percent of the women thought it was a problem for females to live with the idea that they were no longer the "weaker sex."

The poll also examined perceptions about violence within the family and found a very low tolerance for it in any form. An overwhelming majority — 88 percent of men and 95 percent of women — completely rejected the notion that it is "understandable" if spouses occasionally slap their partners.

There was little consensus on the precise reasons for family violence.

However, the majority of those polled agreed that the most common factor leading to violence in the family is weak men seeking a way in which they can feel strong — and too many women forgiving violence on the part of their men.