When School Boys Happily Wore Bangles Without Going Hawwww…!

A small incident in my daughter's preschool made me realize how we force our children to fit into gender stereotypes through little things.

I was invited by my 5-year-old daughter’s school to give a small talk on Indian culture, as an event for Racial Harmony Day. Such events are quite common in Singapore, especially in schools, where diversity is given much importance.

Kids from ages 3-7 sat around on the school’s lawn. It was a humid and hot day, typical as it is usually here.

I wanted to give a small gift and took bangles

After the talk, I went on to distribute bangles to the kids as a souvenir. In the entire crowd of around 75+ kids, there were only 2 Indian girls. So, the kids were quite excited that they could take home something novel and new to them.

As I went around passing the tray of bangles with my daughter accompanying me, the girls eagerly picked a bangle each and put it on quickly. I could see a few boys eye the tray with interest, but they didn’t come forward to take any.

“Boys, it’s ok, go ahead, you can take the bangles home for Mama or your sister”, said a teacher.

“I should’ve foreseen this and bought along something for the boys too”, I thought to myself.

Teacher B responded in her endearing Singlish (Singaporean English), “It’s ok lah! Boys can also wear them what! Who say boy cannot wear bangle? (sic)”

An adult’s approval made all the difference

That immediately eased the little boys who grabbed bangles from the tray eagerly, like they were just waiting for an adult’s approval! Sliding one in their hands, they happily walked away.

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I even saw an older boy, who walked to me and said that none of the bangles fit him. I asked the teacher to give him one from the set that I’d bought for the staff. 

Apart from the 2 Indian girls in the crowd, the rest had no context of what a bangle was and who could wear them. They saw something fancy, and colorful. Appropriate to their age, they immediately wanted it.

We constantly feed our children with gender stereotypes

This made me realize how we feed little boys and girls with way too much of what they should and should not do. I imagined how the scene would’ve played out had there been Indian boys in the crowd. They might have been fed with “Bangles are not for boys” from parents and other caregivers in their families. This might have made them stop other boys from taking bangles. 

Gender is a social construct and most of us want to stay in a “protected” social space, where we are “accepted” easily. That means following certain norms as dictated by several things. But can we take a minute here to see how we would have crushed the innocence and enthusiasm of these little boys?

When we focus too much on adherence to gender stereotypes, we fail to see children for their natural, real selves. Shall we try not to box them into neatly labeled trays, to avoid facing our own discomfort of witnessing something that we aren’t used to? 

A ‘tomboy’ is still cool, but a ‘feminine’ boy is shamed

Children are bound to do it to themselves anyway, sooner or later. They know social cues, they understand our body language, and they want our approval. This sadly makes them change their likes, dislikes, and preferences accordingly, subconsciously, or otherwise.

Look into their eager eyes, and that will stop you from saying, “This is not for a boy/girl!”

My daughter was always called a “tomboy” with a smile, when she showed a preference for cars or if she mentioned that her favorite color was blue. This doesn’t happen everywhere – society finds a way to ‘tame’ girls so that they turn out to be “proper” women.

But what happens when a boy associates himself with anything considered effeminate? He is blatantly shamed and discouraged from doing it ever again. Where does this element of ‘shame‘ come from?

Start small, and work actively to shun gender stereotypes

Indians still tightly hold on to rigid gender roles and stereotypes. Any change can only come through new generation parents, who actively take efforts to shun such labels and let our children be.

If you are a parent and find that your deep-rooted conditioning is preventing you from making big changes, try something small. Let your boy pick out pink stuff. Don’t call it girly. Take baby steps, and stride forward towards a childhood where your child is free from suffocating gendered boxes.

As I walked back home, the memory of one particular boy stuck with me. He first picked a red bangle but came running back to me moments later.

“I want golden”, he said and ran away with a giggle after clutching both in his hands.

That day, I vowed never to be the kind of person who dims the twinkle in his eye.

First published here.

Image provided by the author.

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About the Author

Jayashree Ravi

An engineer turned SAHM of two who wants to be known beyond that. Passionate about words, parenting, making eco-friendly choices, feminism and lifelong learning. read more...

20 Posts | 6,604 Views

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