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Serena Williams’ Husband Sparks Heated Debate About Fathers Who Call Themselves ‘Girl Dads’

@alexisohanian / Twitter

2020 has been quite the year, to say the least, and September has already had repeated gender mishaps.

From a gender reveal party that resulted in a massive fire in California to launching a massive debate about how we talk about gender, this month is getting off to a fast start.

Earlier this week, Serena Williams’ husband, Alexis Ohanian, accidentally caused a gender debate when he wore a face mask to the US Open with the words “Girl Dad” printed on it.

Ohanian was in attendance with his and Williams’ daughter, Olympia, when the hotly debated question emerged: Is it problematic for male celebrities to refer to themselves as “Girl Dad”s instead of just “Dad”s or “Father”s?

Some have suggested that Ohanian wore the mask as a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant, who referred to himself as a “Girl Dad.” Ohanian, at least at this point, has not made a comment about his wearing of the mask or what his intentions were.

Bryant and Ohanian are far from the only celebrities to have used the term, however, and its use has the internet divided.Β 

On the one hand, some see the value in fathers offering up a distinction, arguing that it shows support for female empowerment and raising strong, independent young women.Β 

On the other, some question the “need” for a gendered distinction. Does a mother or father need to specify the gender of the children they are raising? Is there any real difference between a “Girl Dad,” a “Boy Dad,” or just a “Dad”?Β 

Though we can’t say for certain what prompted Ohanian’s wearing of the mask, we can at least say that the mask was probably worn with the best intentions.

However, it remains important to note that a father should not be valued differently because of raising sons or daughters.

It’s also important to point out that making a grand gesture, like wearing a “Girl Dad” face mask, is not the same as empowering your daughter yourself. The wearing of such a mask may be a step in the right direction, but it also reminds us of how far we have to go before our young women will be empowered without the involvement of strong, male counterparts.

McKenzie Lynn Tozan

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan lives in North Chicago, where she works as a poet, freelance writer, and editor. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University, and her BA in English from Indiana University South Bend. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, the James Franco Review, Thank You for Swallowing, and elsewhere; and her essays and book reviews have appeared with Memoir Mixtapes, The Rumpus, BookPage, and Motherly, among others. When she's not reading and writing, she's in her garden or spending time with her family. For more, visit