Here is the full truth. I had a lot of set ideas before I gave birth to my first child. I knew whether boy or girl we would not resort to any gender stereotyping, toys would be bought based on the interest of my child and not just what a big box store told us we should. But what I hadn’t taken into consideration was all the people around me did not share my ideas.
When my first son came along, I tried to implement things as much as I could, but we had friends and family giving us gifts that were either all blue or printed with images of football players. Friends organised a Welcome Home party for my son which was completely decorated with blue balloons! The number of dump trucks and diggers we have got as gifts over the years can easily fill up a bag! Wherever we went, people would say, “Papa ke tarah engineer banega!” If that wasn’t sending a loud gender-specific message I don’t know what was!
The other day at the playground I was part of a group of mothers who were all talking about how they were raising their daughters to believe that nothing is impossible. Want to play football? Sure! Choosing shorts over a skirt? Why not? This was their way of empowering their daughters and teaching them they can achieve anything, their gender shouldn’t stand in the way. “If my daughter wants to become an aerospace engineer, I will not bog her down with forcing her to get married”.
My question as a parent is this — when we are working so hard to not stereotype our girls as princesses and housewives why are we silent when boys are made fun of for wearing a pink shirt or laughed at when they say they are choosing Humanities instead of Science or Commerce.
Why do we say that the only thing my boy can do in the kitchen is boil water but my daughter can make eight different kinds of parathas? Why do we not change the notion that a man is the breadwinner of the family and he needs to do that by being a doctor or an engineer? Sounds a bit strange right? The New York Times recently published an article titled, “How to Raise a Feminist Son” in which they talk about gathering inputs from neuroscientists, economists, and psychologists about how to raise a feminist son and finding that their advice could be applied broadly to anyone who wants to raise their sons to believe in gender equality and to “raise children who are kind, confident and free to pursue their dreams.”
A lot of their points applies to the Indian context too and I have chosen these because,
Let him cry:
I have heard this one so often. Every time my son falls and starts to cry, my mother in law will immediately swoop in and say, “Don’t cry, you are a boy no? Boys don’t cry!” Sounds familiar? In India, we believe boys should be tough and shouldn’t shed tears. That is for the girls. It is time we change that.
Let your boy crying know it is alright to cry, to talk about what he is feeling and that it is ok to feel hurt.
Let him be himself:
You know how we let our daughters rummage through our cupboards and play dress up? Why don’t we let our boys do that too? Are we scared he might wear a skirt or wear your pearls? Pretend play and role play helps kids with imagination, language development and so much more, so why do we deny our boys that? Why are boys games always build something and destroy something else? Why do they always have to take apart and put things together? Why can’t they imagine?
Teach Him To Take Care Of Others:
My older son has a list of chores he needs to do and in that list is to make sure he plays and takes care of his baby brother for ten minutes every day. This could involve them playing together, eating together or anything else they would like to do. This has ensured that my older son sees himself in the role of a responsible caretaker who is capable of looking after another human being — a role commonly left to the girls.
Never Use ‘Girl’ As An Insult:
Along with, “Don’t cry, you are not a girl” I also avoid saying anything that will say or signify that a boy could do it better — whether it is throwing a ball or excelling at school. So none of that, “Don’t throw like a girl”, “Girls are so much smarter than boys in English”, “What a girly girl thing to do” etc. Simply do not compare.
This was the point that resonated more with me than anything else. Male mammals are genetically disposed to do and like certain things. So don’t beat yourself up if your boy chooses toy trains over teddy bears. Simply tell him he should make his choice and find it in yourself to support his choice.
“Teach boys to show strength — the strength to acknowledge their emotions. Teach them to provide for their families — by caring for them. Show them how to be tough — tough enough to stand up to intolerance. Give them confidence — to pursue whatever they’re passionate about.”