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Want to raise feminist children? Feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the various challenges one faces in a society rooted in gender stereotypes.
A few months back, I was helping in the preparations for my seven-year-old nephew’s birthday. His father, my brother-in-law, asked me to prepare the return gift bags for the children who were invited to the party. As I was about to start upon the task, he instructed, ‘Keep the bags with the Hotwheels cars in a separate heap and the ones with the pink pencil cases in another heap. Give the boys the cars and the girls the pencil bags.’
Of course, me being me, I protested. ‘But why can’t we let them choose what they want? Why do the girls need to accept only the pink stuff and the boys get to play only with the cars?’
My brother-in-law shrugged. ‘Well, try giving them a choice. See what they prefer!’
To my astonishment, every single girl chose the pink pencil bags and every boy chose the cars. Everyone that is, except a tiny tot. This little girl was four years old and much younger than the rest of the crowd. When I asked her to choose, she chose the cars.
And then I realized that some of those older children must have made their picks simply out of peer pressure because they didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb when society has been constantly conditioning to make choices ‘appropriate’ to their genders. The 4 year old was still untouched by these gender norms but I wonder how long she’d remain that way?
I remember another instance where a friend had written a Facebook post where the children in her daughter’s school were given instructions to come dressed as air hostesses and pilots for the next day. It was implicit in the instructions that the girls were to come dressed as air hostesses and the boys as pilots. Except for her daughter who was dressed as a pilot, every other girl came dressed as an air hostess while every boy was dressed as a pilot.
I also remember a time during my childhood when my brother and his friend were flying kites and when I wanted to give it a try, my brother’s friend taunted me, ‘Have you ever seen women flying kites?’ Even at that tender age, I got so upset by that statement that I remember hitting him with a stone on his back to prove that girls can also be strong and win fights! (Yeah, I had to face punishment later on, but I still don’t regret protesting such a sexist statement.)
Of course, how can we forget our media which constantly perpetrates such gender stereotypes. Take this Kwality Walls advertisement for example. Or this advertisement by the Haryana Government which said: ‘Kaise khaoge unke haath ke rotiya, jab paida hi nahi hone doge betiya.’ (‘How will you eat the rotis made by your daughters if you don’t allow them to be born?’)
When I recently watched the interview of the celebrated feminist writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, all these memories came rushing back. Here, while talking to comedian Trevor Noah, she expresses the difficulty of raising feminist children in a world that is constantly telling them otherwise.
‘…it sort of feels like the Universe has a conspiracy against you…you tell a (girl) child that ‘you don’t have to play with dolls’ but then you go to the store and the girls sections are just dolls.’ However, while stating the limitations she also says that raising a feminist child is still a doable task about which she is very optimistic.
Her latest book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions offers practical, witty and compelling suggestions on the ways to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman.
In the interview, Chimamanda also discusses the misconceptions that people have about the term ‘feminist’. Trevor says that he admires the way Chimamanda talks about feminism which is neither in the abstract nor in the extreme. Like in her book, she states how one can encourage their daughters to be anything they want to be, to like blue, to play with boys’ toys, but that doesn’t really mean that she needs to shun her femininity.
When asked about how one can sort out the conundrum of what feminism comprises of in the simplest possible way, Chimamanda says, ‘Think of yourself as an individual. Feminism and femininity aren’t mutually exclusive. Early feminists in the West shunned femininity because it had been used as a way to put them down. Women were property, you were supposed to look pretty and stay at home….But I think now we’ve come to a point when people can be many things. You can be feminine and feminist. You can be what you want to be. The problem is when someone is pushing you to be what you don’t want to be…think of your individual self. What do you like? And is that thing causing you harm? Is it reducing your spirit? Is it making you resentful? When there is real equality, resentment will not exist.’
See the full interview below and do read her book to get deeper insights in how to raise feminist children.
Image Source: Youtube
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Kasturi’s debut novel, forthcoming in early 2021, had won the novel pitch competition by
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