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Destroying stereotypes to bring up a more gender equal generation is a slow process, but it can be achieved if every parent decides to do it in their homes.
The other day, on a reading group, there was a post which spoke about how a 10-year old girl scoffed at a boy for getting a Cinderella book issued through the school library saying “It is a ‘girls’ book”.
There was an immediate flurry of comments and within no time all the mothers of little boys and girls were speaking up about similar issues they faced about their children. One mother posted a story about how her son was bullied and called a girl for liking the colour pink. Another posted about how her 3-yr old girl was subjected to “Isko badi hokar khana hi toh banana hai! (She has to grow up someday and cook anyway!)” just because the little one showed interest in cooking.
What makes this so troublesome? Is it the fact that it involves children being bullied or the fact that this points towards a more overwhelming underlying issue – a dangerous one – gender stereotyping/gender bias/gender discrimination? Here is my personal take on this.
Gender, to start with, must not distinguish ANY of the child’s interests. Not just reading. This belief that there are these two genders – male and female – and that they have to follow the societal norms of what they should and should not do, because they are a specific gender, is itself a destructive thought. And to say our society has been living with this line of thinking since thousands of years.
Globally, patriarchy is being challenged through various forums and movements. Why is it such a big thing suddenly since the past couple of years? Because it has become a menace, and people are beoming more aware and vocal about these things. We need to break these norms and create a world where people can choose to be who they like and not be defined by the fact that they have a penis or a vagina. ‘Choices’ and ‘Acceptance’ are two key-words here.
But before we come to ‘acceptance’ we need to start questioning the ‘choices’. Are they because one is pressured into them (or even conditioned to think that they are better off choosing something), or because they have really chosen them?
This is exactly why I keep saying that there are no boys’ books and girls’ books – or boys’ colors and girls’ colors – or boys’ domain or girls’ domain. This is precisely why I keep commenting here and there when I see a comment which goes “Hey it is such a girly cover” or “Why would a man read such a book?”
In my humble opinion, more than girls, we have designed a palette for our boys. Since ages, we have crammed them into spaces – emotional, financial, physical, cultural, philosophical – so many spaces. A guy cannot cry “like a girl”. A guy MUST be strong “unlike a girl”. This is frustrating. Moreover, this is inbred. We grow up ‘believing’ these things that are ‘told’ to us as gospel truth. It might take quite an extensive amount of time for us to penetrate this tightly shut door for both the genders.
On the reading group post I mentioned earlier, some people argued – why couldn’t we let children be? They can fight it out themselves! Someone voiced out that we must not influence a child’s thought process as it essentially ends up into it questioning its own beliefs and gets confused. That it is ‘helicopter parenting’ when we try to influence our children about principles.
I vehemently disagree. Children of ages 0-13 and in some cases even beyond that age need their parents’ guidance. These are tender minds with a developing moral compass that NEEDS to be influenced with open thoughts. No one said “fight”. It has to be an open talk.
Some argued that “feminism has made life miserable because it assumes women to be ‘superwomen’ and requires ‘validation’ of patriarchal culture.”
This is a completely misguided notion. Feminism refutes the idea of ‘superwomen‘. It denies the idea of women can “do it all”. It denies the idea of “men will be men”. It maintains that every human being must be treated a human being with all their flaws and choices. Everyone, all the genders, should support each other in every aspect and make way for a healthy world – a world where ‘validation’ is abolished completely.
We can obviously start it at our homes with our little ones. But it is also essential that we remove these unconscious prejudices from our heads first. Binding people into two different definitions is wrong. Binding them into any definition is wrong because if you want to define then you might have just too many of them, because every individual is born different, has a different upbringing, makes different choices and decisions, has different propensities, is aquainted with a different set of people, made of different colours and different DNA. This ‘difference’ screams for “equality” and “respect”.
Anyway, coming to the point, like I said the conditioning is going to take a long time to go away. But we have to start somewhere. I can see that happening around me already. Little things matter. We can try incorporating little things like buying them stuff which doesn’t fit in the stereotype or asking them questions which challenge their idea of a stereotype.
Like we can start gifting a girl toys with machines in them instead of dolls and buying more of other colours including blacks and blues for clothes, and stop putting on them those little PINK hair-bands. And we can give our boys those little kitchen sets and clay things to play and make stuff, cook, teach etc.
This has to be a conscious effort because as I said we ourselves are a work in progress here, what with years of social conditioning. (“sit like this”, “please people with a smile”, “cook round rotis else who will marry you?” and to boys, “you cannot love dolls and stuff”, “you cannot cry – that makes you look weak”, “Eww! A girl beat you?”)
When we make them watch some TV programs, take them to movies, make them join hobby classes – we must find their inclination rather than asking them to do something because they are a ‘specific gender’. I had a guy in our batch in a lantern making class and was he was bullied by all the female population! Yes, completely. Bullied into shying away. And it saddened me when I realized that he may never again attempt to get into a hobby class of a predominantly female population no matter how much he loves it.
So this is where it starts – from US. It is we who need to stop differentiating in our heads first.
When we talk about gender neutrality, there is this slightly slippery slope where a girl might be genuinely a fan of pink color and it hasn’t got anything to do with stereotypes, or a guy would really like a machine gun without being consciously wanting to do a man’s thing. At such times we need to leave them with their choices but not until we have exposed them to all the other alternatives that they have. This is a slow, evolving, ever-changing and I repeat, conscious, process. That is why it is important to keep talking. Keep reading. Keep listening – to what children say and more specifically, to what they DON’T say. For what they ‘don’t’ say shows you your area of improvement. Keep observing. Let there be light. Let there be life. Keep going.
I also spoke to some men who expressed their wish to speak up but have been scared into not speaking because they might end up being misconstrued and find themselves in the wrong place. Their fears are not irrational. We have a habit of pouncing on each other for every word they say or write. With the increasing momentum of the movement, we find some female misogynist behaviour also surfacing.
This goes on to show how not all women are feminists and not all men are misogynist, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie points out. It shows how deeply rooted patriarchy doesn’t spare us even at this moment. So because of a few men with misogynist views, some man has to keep his views to him with the fear of being trashed. But I see some improvement there too. Men are no longer shy of speaking up. A few of them have proclaimed feminism as their movement too – which is true in the essence of feminism itself. It isn’t a movement of one gender for one gender. It is a movement of all people for the ‘equal’ rights for ALL.
There is risk in everything and we have got to take it. We NEED to take it. We cannot let things just HAPPEN because we fear. That is what everyone does – fear. It is to overcome that, that we read. That is why we speak. That is why we write. Is it going to be gradual? Yes. Is it going to be impossible? No. Challenging, daunting – yes. So should it be stopped or avoided? No.
To all those afraid of speaking out I just want to say that we are brought up in a particular way and if we err sometimes, we are hardly to blame. We must be proud here that we are trying to break the chains which we were born with and which have been invading the world that we live in, especially the country since the time man was born. We must be really proud.
Image source: shutterstock