Leave Sonia Alone

The election of Shimon Peres as president should not oblige Sonia Peres to have to change her habits and lifestyle and it is not the public's business why she chooses to do so or how she wants to spend her time.

I don't know Mrs. Sonia Peres. She doesn't know me either, and while I have heard her name, she no doubt has never come across mine. Nevertheless, as Shimon Peres spends his first days as state president, I suggest leaving Sonia alone.

The swearing-in ceremony was festive, as expected. In addition to the mounted guard and the important guests, Peres was accompanied by a trail of respect for the man who had spent his entire adult life in public service, as well as a feeling of relief that the President's Residence is finally going back to being an institution that respects us all. But parallel to the ceremony, everyone -- the media and the public, those in attendance and those watching from home or listening on the radio -- was busy wondering, will she come or won't she? Sonia, of course.

When Peres stepped out of the official vehicle, when the various generations of his family were seated opposite him, in interviews and in the analyses, everyone was busy time and again with "the Sonia question." Why is that? And why do they not concern themselves with this question when it comes to female elected representatives? Did the cameras seek out Dalia Itzik's spouse?

Peres represents for many of us a vision. Despite a prolonged career in the complex world of politics, despite the difficult struggles, both personal and ideological, and with his manifold activities, Peres has succeeded in maintaining the image of a dreamer. In his inaugural speech, too, he spoke of his past, present and future dreams. I don't know (and it's a shame, really) what Peres' point of view is about the status of women. Appointing women to all the senior positions in the President's Residence is an interesting move, and even if it does not represent an approach of principle, it no doubt has both practical and symbolic significance.

The separation of the personal and the public in the Peres household, between the life of Mr. Peres and the life of Mrs. Peres, has been ongoing for decades. Mrs. Peres' motives are not known to me or to the general public, but why would she have to make me, or us, party to her decisions?

Shimon Peres opted for a public life and has held many public positions over the years. But to the best of my knowledge, Mrs. Peres was never a candidate for this type of work. She did not choose the responsibility of public appearances. Does the election of her spouse automatically oblige her to wear fancy clothing (which will be widely discussed in the media), to powder her nose and have her hair done, so that she can stand by his side, put on a smile and wave to the crowds?

Does this kind of behavior on the part of wives of presidents and prime ministers affect the way things work in the world? Is their voluntary work as the "wife-of" a natural choice, or perhaps a public duty that has been foisted onto them?

The public's elected representatives are just that - they were elected by the public to fulfill a position, with all responsibility that comes with it. Their spouses chose (and were chosen by them) to spend their family lives with them, no matter what kind of contractual agreement there may be between them. An expectation that these spouses will give up their lives, their preferences and their fields of interest, their career, their social life, the public activities they are involved in as part of their own worldview, or any other activity or hobby that may interest them, merely to "decorate" their spouse's career, is basically unacceptable.

The wife of an ambassador cannot be expected to attend the boring cocktail parties that are part of her spouse's duties; the wife of a member of Knesset, a minister or a prime minister has the right to have an independent career, or even views of her own; the wife of a president also has the right to choose how to run her life, where to live and which events to attend, or not to attend.

The election of Shimon Peres as president should not oblige Sonia Peres to have to change her habits and lifestyle and it is not the public's business why she chooses to do so or how she wants to spend her time. Over many decades, Sonia Peres chose, and continues to choose, to be a private person. All the attempts of the media and the public pressure have not gotten her to change her approach. She does not have to apologize for her independent position. On the contrary, she can serve as a model for many women who do not want to be the type of "wife-of" a public figure - women who do not want their daily routine or what they have to say to be dictated by the job of their spouse. They have their own lives and they want to live them to the full.

Dr. Dorit Eldar-Avidan is a lecturer at the School of Social Work and Social Welfare of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem