Flickr / Chatham House
In it, Gates says she has many reasons to be delighted by the man her second child and only son is becoming. But what makes her the most proud? That Rory identifies as feminist.
“Across 18 years of conversations, sharp observations and everyday actions, he’s demonstrated his belief that gender equality is something worth standing up for,” she wrote. “When we talk about these issues at the dinner table, he (and his friends!) have a lot to say.”
Gates reminisced about her own upbringing in comparison, adding that she wasn’t sure “feminist is a word I would have chosen to describe myself when I was 18.”
“It frankly wasn’t on my radar,” the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-founder and mom of three said. “My parents taught me that my sister and I could do anything our brothers could, but gender equality wasn’t exactly the kind of thing we talked about around the dinner table… I knew that women faced challenges that men didn’t, but I hadn’t spent much time reflecting on the less overt ways that cultural norms and gendered expectations shape our lives.”
By the time she and husband Bill had their first child, Jennifer, in 1996, Gates had developed a “much deeper awareness of just how detrimental these gender norms can be,” and the barriers women face became a frequent subject of family discussion. Still, she candidly admitted that, despite trying her best to, she hasn’t always perfectly kept these norms out of her own household.
“Anyone who’s tried parenting won’t be surprised to hear that the realities in our household didn’t always live up to our ideals,” Gates wrote, adding she’d been shocked to realize her kids’ household chores at times reflected traditionally gendered tasks (i.e. her son would take out the trash while his sisters cleaned their rooms). “To me, the fact that we haven’t always managed to keep these biases out of even our own household underscores how important it is to teach kids to recognize them and call them out when they see them.”
For his part, however, Rory is able to recognize and call out sexist biases on his own, a quality Gates feels is spreading among her son’s generation.
“I feel lucky that Rory was born at a moment in history when young men are being encouraged to be so thoughtful about society and their role in it — and also to adopt new, more expansive definitions of what it means to be a man,” she wrote. “I’m optimistic about what the next 18 years will bring all of us as these young men grow up to become equal partners in their households, champions for women in workplace and architects of a better, more equitable future for their own sons and daughters.”
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