Sunday, February 11, 2018

Raise Kids Without Gender Bias

In one of his recent speeches in Rajya Sabha, honourable Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi raised the serious issue of increasing crimes against women and children. He questioned that why do parents and teachers ask only the girls to come home early for their safety and not ask the boys to do the same. Why should such hypocrisy continue? Why should a girl’s safety be her own responsibility while boys are set free to do whatever they want till late in the night?
When I looked at the news headlines the next day, to my dismay, there was no mention of this issue of great importance. They rather took interest in taking a dig and jibe at what all was said about the opposition and the comments and counter comments related to that. Well, as I have often stated that we as a society have time and again failed to discuss the relevant issues and their consequences; I thereby take this opportunity to elaborate on this sensitive issue and focus on how we can make an effort to overcome the ever deteriorating situations faced by our mothers, sisters and daughters.
We live in the times of dilemma and hypocrisy. On the one hand women and girls are being motivated to work and be at par with men and boys and on the other hand the crimes against women are increasing, putting a question mark on their well-being and security. In this state of confusion some girls think that equality refers to everything the boys do even if it’s absolutely wrong for the boys too. We are failing in giving equality a fruitful and meaningful direction.
The issues related to this topic are innumerable but I would try my best to put forth my perspective. The world is changing and we are “modernizing”. We boast about the way women have improved their social situation all over the world. They have fought for and won the right to vote, they have “been given” the right to drive, they have been “allowed to work” as far as they can fit in the periphery of patriarchy. They are in space, in politics, in performing arts, in sports and so on. It has been a long and eventful struggle but women have earned for themselves a significant standing in the society. And yet the gravity of these achievements turns into snowflakes when while walking through the corridor you find a boy laughing at another calling him a “girl” and at the same time calling our little girls “mera beta” isn’t a matter of laughter but a reference of pride and honour.
Aren’t we sowing the seeds of difference from the very beginning? The way a girl is raised is quite different from how we raise a boy. And we justify this with “biology”. The rules of social behaviour are different for little boys and girls. This doesn’t allow the girls and boys to grow as their own self. Therefore, boys who express emotions and cry are laughed at even when we know that crying is an emotion which is not restricted to a specific gender. Just because of our society’s hypocrisy boys and men have had a hard time in being confident as dancers, chefs, makeup artists and being in other professions which are considered “appropriate” only for women. As parents and teachers, we need to raise our kids as individuals and not as two separate genders. A boy can be feminine and a girl can be masculine. And this should not make the parents uncomfortable. Things go awry when the individuality, the uniqueness of the child is denied in the service of meeting the needs of the parents and society.
The problem is deep rooted. An act of courage by a girl will be complimented as “very manly” but will it be treated with honour when an act of kindness or sacrifice by a man or boy is complimented “very womanly”? Look at the problem with this example; we subconsciously relate courage with men and kindness with women. While growing up, boys aren’t taught tenderness. We don’t try to inculcate it in them. Similarly girls are not taught negotiation and spirit to fight for their rights. Why does it matter? Well it does. The crimes against women might not even exist if boys are raised with tenderness. Justice Leila Seth said and I quote, “Bring up your sons like you bring up your daughters, so that they learn the tenderness.” Well this says a lot about how we are raising our kids. If boys are taught the values of empathy and respecting consent, the scenario might change in the coming years.
People should ask boys “what’s wrong?” when boys are upset. Boys should be encouraged to show emotions and should know that their emotions are valid and they are nothing to be ashamed of. And definitely boys cannot be allowed to be rowdy just because they are boys. “The boys will be boys” attitude will have to change if we have to stop crimes against women and girls. Fathers will have to respect the opinions, decisions and views of mothers so that the girl child is raised with confidence and the boys are taught equality in the real sense.
We need to encourage girls to follow their dreams instead of telling them that “it’s a boy thing”. Boys and girls should have same rules and regulations to be followed at home. If boys are expected to earn and support themselves even girls should be encouraged to do so. The breaking of the stereotypes should start at home and school level, only then it can happen at the societal level. We need to strive to be gender-neutral and to treat your sons and daughters equally.
Though there are very real safety issues that will dictate some decisions, try as often as possible to make the same decisions for both your sons and your daughters. Thus far, note what researchers say:
Sons are permitted to work outside the home at an earlier age than daughters, thus providing them with earlier independence.
Girls do more housework than boys, sending the message that the home is a woman's domain, and teaching boys a “learned helplessness.”
Fathers are more encouraging to their sons about participation in competitive sports than they are to their daughters.
Teens perceive that boys get to use the family vehicle more often than girls, thus granting them greater independence.
In her book, The Courage to Raise Good Men, psychologist Dr. Olga Silverstein puts forth a theory that more and more experts are espousing: boys are pushed away from the family too soon, and the greatest gift parents can give their boys is the ability to acknowledge their feelings. In her book, Dr. Silverstein relates a touching story about a teenage boy who wanted to live at home for an extra year after high school; he didn't feel he was ready to move away yet. As a therapist, her chore was to help the father understand that his son's choice didn't mean the boy was a failure.
Thus looking at both the sides of the coin we realize that it isn’t a war between the sexes, it’s not boys v/s girls. Nature has not differentiated them. It has just given then certain roles to play which they can play according to their capacities and aptitudes. Both the genders play a significant role in the working of the world. It isn’t about superiority and inferiority.
In the Indian culture women are worshipped as Goddesses. I honour this reverence but before we could put them on the pedestal and fight our political and religious battles in the name of their honour; we should first treat them as individuals with their own ideas, perspectives and opinions. If we fail to do so and the crimes against women and girls keep on piling up then in no time this culture will become nothing less than a farcical representation of a farfetched situation.
At the same time we should not try to interfere in certain things which naturally occur and distinguish between boys and girls. There are certain things for which God gave the privilege to females and some for male hence we should not try to change that. Also the females should not try to get involved in those wrong/negative things which are done by the other sex just because to show self-equal to men. So this is the responsibility of parents to ensure that both the sons and the daughters be given equal status and the traditional view of letting the boys have privilege to do anything and the girls only made to learn and imbibe values should be stopped. Otherwise we are almost forcing the girls to be vulnerable.

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