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Why it's OK to call Alexis Ohanian 'Serena Williams' husband'

Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit and a new dad, is fighting for the right of every father to take paternity leave.
/ Source: TODAY

Many know Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, as Serena Williams’ husband. And he’s OK with that.

“I think it’s a very cheeky, clever editorial decision. Because obviously it’s a rebuke to the double standard,” Ohanian told TODAY Parents.

“If we want to get to the end goal, where no one considers the wife to be just the partner of a successful man, then part of that is us having the normalcy of the husband as the partner of the successful wife,” he added.

The label is part of changing gender norms, where men are being seen more and more in relation to their families and their home lives, and Ohanian completely supports it.

(He’s not the only one who took a stand against the norm recently; George Clooney recently referred to himself as Amal Clooney’s husband.)

But changing views on gender extend to far more serious subjects like parental leave — something that’s very near and dear to the tech entrepreneur, who is also the co-founder of the venture capital firm Initialized Capital.

After Williams faced life-threatening complications delivering their daughter, Alexis Olympia, she faced a painful, difficult recovery afterward.

Ohanian took Reddit’s full 16 weeks of paternity leave to be by his wife, who “could not get out of bed by herself” because of her deep wound.

“Going through the experience we went through, I am one hundred times more of an advocate for paternity leave, because we got really close to a really, really awful situation, and I will never forget what that feels like. And we had every advantage in the world for us. I could not imagine anyone else going through that with anything less,” he said.

Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian
Theo Wargo / Getty Images

The U.S. is the only industrialized country to not have federal, paid maternity leave. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, mothers and fathers are allowed up to 12 weeks of leave after childbirth or adoption — but it's unpaid.

One in four American women returns to work within two weeks of having a child, one analysis showed, a statistic he cited and called “jarring.”

“It was a terrifying, awful, horrible situation to be in, and what resonated was the fact that there are countless Americans who don’t have all those things, and who also don’t have the safety net of a leave plan,” he said.

Ohanian wants to change that. He’s teamed up with Dove Men + Care to launch an awareness campaign encouraging men to take their full paternity leave if they are offered any. Allies pledge to raise awareness about paternity leave’s benefits, and business leaders pledge to try to make changes within their own companies.

“If we are truly a country that believes in family values and has a basic morality for what we want for our parents, something has to change,” he said.

Dove also announced its Paternity Leave Fund, a $1 million commitment comprised of $5,000 individual grants to give to dads without access to paid leave so they can spend time with their children and partners.

The tech entrepreneur acknowledges that the fund isn’t a one-stop solution and that public policy needs to change, but he hopes the fund and campaign kick off a larger conversation.

“It’s about giving men the ability to step up and help their partners,” he said.