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Thoughts on Gender Stereotypes from a Dad

Lots of questions! We ask ourselves a lot of questions when we become a parent.  After the second child, slightly less questions come to mind.

When my first child was born into this world, it was pure joy. Really. After the initial questions of necessity about diapers, clothing, sleeping or lack thereof, there were burning questions without responses. How can I be a good parent? How can I give my child a solid foundation so that my child can blossom and grow up without constraints? How can I instill my values which are so important?  

Before my child’s birth, I had never asked myself these questions, and frankly I still don’t have definitive answers. But for me personally to get to the bottom of things, I decided to read and research a lot of different ideas.

It became clear to me very early on that my child’s biggest “flaw”, the one thing that may prevent my child from having a future full of vast possibilities was one single factor--my child is a girl.

Statistics remind of this fact every day. Being a girl means she will earn less in the same job as her male peers. It means that she’ll be at a much greater risk of being killed by her spouse or of being poor. It means she probably won’t pursue a career in math, science, technology or engineering like me, and that she has a small chance of becoming a CEO of a major corporation. It means she may not have the possibility to have her artwork displayed in major museums or may not be recognized for her scientific or academic discoveries. All because she is female.  

It’s sad to say as a man, I had never really understood this, but being a girl is not just different from being a boy. It’s actually a disadvantage. And for my daughter, well, I don’t want her to be disadvantaged. It’s completely selfish. It’s late in life to realize these things. It’s idiotic for me to say, but the wake-up call for me, what triggered this newfound awareness about gender stereotypes is my daughter Camille. Without knowing how to speak, she already taught me this important life lesson. 

Today she’s interested in so many different things. She’s exhausting. She’s joyous. She’s incredibly rambunctious, and she constantly keeps me on my toes. My only rule Camille is that if you aren’t going to hurt yourself or someone else, you can do it, my dear daughter. You don’t need to conform to what others think a girl is or should be, and you can choose to become whatever you want. I only ask one thing---that you try to do something before you ask me for help. There is no limit to what you can do or become. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you are a girl.

The biggest problem that I have with stereotypes is the limited possibilities and the sheer “poverty” of dreams we as a society propose to girls. The pinnacle a girl can achieve would be to become decorative object, something pretty to look at, someone who is there for one reason to smile, dress nicely for others and wave her hand elegantly like a princess.  I want my child to have more ambitious and useful dreams than this.

And still I have questions . . . How do I educate my son in this world, so he doesn’t become a misogynist? The beginning of my response is to lead by example and try my best not to be one myself. And also to instill the value in him that all people have the right to the same respect and the same opportunities, regardless of their ethnicity, their nationality, or their gender. Because that fact should be evident.

Frédéric Renet is a husband and a father of a girl and a boy. He lives in the south of France with his family. He’s also an electrical engineer, and, in his spare time, he runs his own business which helps startups move from prototype to commercial product.    

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