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Little things in everyday life matter, and our kids pick up subliminal messages about gender and their identity, not just from what is said, but more from what is done.
It’s a known saying, ‘when you raise a daughter, you raise a family’. How you raise a daughter defines how she will shape her future family.
Deliberations about how to bring up children, particularly girls, have never been out of fashion. In fact it has only gained more momentum, as in the explosive environment that we are in today, it is only natural to think, adapt and act differently from the past. There has never been a greater need to empower our girls to grow fearlessly, to sail through the winds and to combat the unknown.
The question is, how do we do that in a traditional man’s world?
First thing first, we have to raise girls and boys as ‘real’ equals. And ‘real’ equality doesn’t come with providing opportunity to work and earn like men. Equality is also not achieved by changing the attire or outer appearance.
Equality instead, comes through the most innate thoughts and actions imbibed in us in our day to day lives. Boys and girls are to be treated as equal in all respects. And this is to be acknowledged, understood, and followed from the very beginning. Unaware of the impact that it may have, our conditioned minds bucketize the children into girls and boys from the day they are born.
Even as we know well that we need to work towards raising kids as equals, we create the first level of differentiation by colour coding them. Pink for girls and blue for boys. I am myself guilty of having everything purple/pink in my daughters’ room. There has to be an absolute freedom of choice in anything they do, even choice of colours.
A dear friend asked me one day why my daughter did not have a spiderman costume, particularly when she was so fond of him. Well, it never occurred to me. A girl? Spiderman costume? Have I perhaps confused my daughters by bringing them up as ‘princesses’ and not as a ‘child’? Maybe somewhere I am responsible to germinate the very thought in their tiny minds already that the princesses always need their prince charming for rescue.
My 4 yrs old daughter was once hit by her classmate in her playgroup. Before I could respond, his mother gave him a piece of advice, “she is a girl, you have to protect her”. Within a fraction of a second, I intuitively added “friends do not hit each other.. they protect each other”…
It is important for us to ensure that the girls are not made to believe from their childhood, either in thoughts or actions, that they will be protected by the males around them – father, brother, friends etc.
They need to know that they are equal, fully appreciating the gender and neuro muscular differences they are born with.
In today’s times, the need to train kids with self-defence techniques cannot be over emphasized.
I once joked with this superbly doting and over protective father (and a dear friend of mine) on how he would deal with it when his daughter leaves for higher studies to a different city or country.
His answer was “I will go with my daughter in the form of a ‘black belt’. I want her to get rigorous training in martial arts from the beginning. I know I cannot be present everywhere to protect her, but the least I can do is to make her capable of managing herself well in my absence”.
I was amused and impressed at once. His daughter, now 7, has been learning a form of martial arts from the early age of 5. Any form of self-defence training, such as martial arts develops courage, patience, determination, will power and perseverance in a child. Any such strength will make the children feel more confident about themselves and that alone wins half the battle.
One thought that needs to be pondered over is do we need to raise our boys differently.
I have a beautiful example in my neighbourhood where the parents of two boys (10 and 4 years respectively) are setting a beautiful example of gender neutrality in their home. There is absolutely nothing in the house which the men do not do because they are not ‘supposed to’ being men. The young boys participate in the daily chores at home, equally participate in the dance classes, art classes etc. taking place in our residential complex. The boys play with dolls as much as with cars.
The upbringing is already reflective in the behavior of the kids. They stand out being always respectful towards women and young girls, never attempt to overpower them and make friends irrespective of girl or boy.
I clearly can recollect several examples in my growing up years when I was able to stand up against the tide or norms because I knew that my father would support me. He gave me an education like no other, at a time when the girls in my family were raised to get married. His backing instilled confidence in me and empowered me to question and challenge things that were not right. It helped me to ensure that my self respect was never available to anyone to play around with. He helped me keep my chin high, always.
Fathers are their daughters’ first exposure to ‘men’. The experiences that a girl has with her father sets a notion about the world in her mind.
If a girl is being raised in a family where the father is authoritative, takes all decisions, women are made to only do household chores, with or without their choice, she will always consider herself unequal to a man. On the other hand, if a girl is being raised in a family where women are respected, their views are listened and they have freedom to follow their dreams, such girl will only believe in equality, feel empowered and ready to take on storms as they come.
A version of this was first published here.
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