What Does Viral BBC Video Of Prof. Robert Kelly Say About Working Parents?


father and child


Georgene Huang
Georgene Huang
May 29, 2024 at 3:14PM UTC
By now, you’ve probably seen the viral BBC video featuring a live TV interview with Professor Robert Kelly, who's working from home. The East Asian expert is interrupted when his daughter and baby make surprise appearances, which ended up turning the family into a social media sensation, highlighting what it really means to work from home.
The kids' hilarious, age-appropriate antics -- which were followed by Professor Kelly’s wife’s attempts to discreetly extract the children from the room -- were an amusing contrast to Professor Kelly’s straight face and unwavering focus on answering questions about South Korea.
Kelly told the New York Times, “My real life punched through the fake cover I had created on television,” he said. “This is the kind of thing a lot of working parents can relate to.”
Indeed, some commentators who have analyzed why the video went viral concluded that it zeroes in on what it means to be a working parent -- particularly the kind who works from home.
Professor Kelly’s comments struck a nerve with me, as I wondered why it should be the case that a political scientist’s expertise would in any way be diminished by the fact that he was also a father to young children.
The fact of the matter is that despite all the changes to the American workplace, our professional and personal identities rarely collide in the way they did when Professor Kelly’s kids crashed his Skype interview. For the 70% of women in the U.S. labor force with children at home under the age of 18, being a mom is not a part of identity that many women feel they can be completely open about at work.
While many parents will put a few photos of our families or children at their desks, children typically don’t go to conferences, business trips, or show up at our offices except for one designated visiting day a year (if that).
Many women in the Fairygodboss community, for example, advise other women who are considering working at their company to set firm boundaries on your time and work-life balance, but to also do so in a way that doesn’t bring your family obligations into the open. As one woman said in her job review, “Don't over explain! "I need to leave because my kids are xyz...." Just do it, your work will show for your dedication and you will be recognized for it.”
It occurs to me that perhaps the video would have been much less viral had a woman been the Korean expert involved. After all, we’re much more used to the idea that women juggle multiple identities and heavier care-taking responsibilities relative to men, even while earning a living in their day jobs.
This cultural norm is also one of the reasons why mommy-tracking happens to women; most of us hold unconscious biases about what happens to women’s career ambition and work ethic after they have children (whether or not they are true for any specific woman).
Perhaps the idea that women are always juggling parenthood and work more aggressively than men is what inspired subsequent spoofs of the video depicting women in the role of Professor Kelly. In the working mom versions of the video, a South Korean expert fields questions while simultaneously cooking dinner, feeding her toddler, playing with her baby, cleaning a toilet...as well as finding a missing sock for her husband.
It's hilarious because that juggle is familiar to so many of us. On the other hand, had it been the original video rather than the spoof, it probably would never have been viral in the first place. And that says a lot about gender roles and the different roles that working moms and dads play today.
A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.


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