Recently, my daughter’s school sent a circular, that all the mothers were supposed to send in a write up for a contest being held for the Mother’s Day. They had given a couple of themes, and the best entry would be getting a prize. I felt that both the given topics were not something I would write about, but I chose the one I could mould in a way which could convey my message. The topic was:
Best Tip On Parenting
Each child is blessed with the best parents. They are in sync and are a perfect team. But the world is changing, and I feel, there is always a scope for learning. I do not find my self capable of providing any tip to other parents, but I would like to share the approach I follow while raising my daughter.
It is common knowledge that there are strict gender stereotypes in our society. These stereotypes dictate all our choices for our children, knowingly or unknowingly, be it the colour for room or clothes, the kind of toys or games, or later on, the choice of career or hobbies. These gender stereotype based choices may gravely restrict the psychological and intellectual growth of our children. We let these stereotypes dictate how we let them sit, walk, stand and talk too! And believe me, it hampers their mindset a lot.
We do not let our boys explore ‘feminine’ fields, hobbies, and colours from day one. We fear our girls being ‘masculine’, and try our best to kepp them as ‘feminine’ and ‘girly’. This has been commercialised too. I would say, it has exaggerated with commercialisation. Every apparel store will have pinks, peaches, reds, and mauves for girls, even basic things like tiffin-boxes, bottles, bags and accessories. The boys’ section will be bold with blues, greens, blacks and yellows. We teach our girls to be muted, subdued, subtle and soft, and train our boys to be bold, daring, brave and strong by all this conditioning. Is it fair to our children? I don’t think so.
This is why I adopt the gender neutral parenting approach. And ask me how? She is just three, but gender stereotypes set in even earlier than this age. My child of three years of age shocked me by telling me how a girl should sit and how a boy should. I was horrified! A girl two years older to her had explained it to her at her day care. Small children look around them, observe us, and the gender stereotypes set in early and dictate their lives throughout. Talk to a three year old about gender roles and you will be surprised.
I have started with small things. If she gets a pink kitchen set for her birthday, I make sure she gets a train set too. As everyone gifts pink stuff to a girl, I never buy pink for her, to make sure her wardrobe, accessories, toys etc is balanced with subtle and bold both. I never tell her how not to sit or stand. I make it a point not to read out severely biased princess fairy tales, because they convey a very twisted message to the children. They tell them that the sole purpose of a girl’s life is to wait for a prince charming to make it better and beautiful. Instead, I read out true stories of women who have achieved success in their lives in the real world. A girl has to make her own fairy tale, and I want my girl to know it. (A very good suggestion for such a book is “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls”, and books by The Irrelevant Project)
Yes, my daughter does understand that girls and boys are anatomically different, but that is where the difference has to end. There should be no difference in the respect, love and opportunities that both the genders get. A girl and a boy have the equal right to choose any field of interest ranging from physics to baking. We must let the child find her/his potential, and interest. We must not let our gender biases and stereotypes make defined pathways for our children to follow.
Gender Neutrality is not about the pinks and blues and unicorns. It is about letting the whole wide world of opportunities and choices open to your child to choose from.
Let us raise empowered girls, and compassionate boys. That is how this unbecomingly cruel and biased world will become beautiful.