Case 1 –Recently, I had gone to a toy store to buy a birthday gift for my five year old niece. As soon as I entered, a salesman rushed towards me and asked if I needed any assistance? I said I am looking for a gift for a five year old. His next question, “For a boy or a girl,” irritated me immensely. Still, I decided to play along. “Girl”, I replied. He immediately ushered me towards a pink aisle with soft toys, Barbies, and kitchen sets. I browsed for a while and then asked, “Anything else?” He replied, “Girls play with this only.” I wandered towards the blue aisle and picked up a car. He said shaking his head, “That is for boys!” I was pretty infuriated by this point and decided to go for some art and craft sets. My misery elevated when I saw the same t-shirt painting set had different moulds for boys and girls – while boys get dinosaurs and cars, girls get flowers and butterflies.
Case 2 –I was playing in the park with my two year old daughter (LittluS) who was dressed in a pair of denims and a jacket. She just had her mundan done, so she was sporting a smart crew cut of sorts. A lady came up to me and said, “Such a cute boy! What is his name?” I smiled and corrected her, “Her name is Saanvi.” She looked up at me, confused, “It’s a girl?!” I didn’t even try to hide by irritation at the use of ‘IT’ for my darling daughter. “Yes,” I replied curtly and started to move away from the ‘lady’. “Why do you dress her like a boy then?” I was getting bugged now, “What do you mean?” “I mean why don’t you make her wear frocks and skirts? Girls look so pretty in that. As it is she has short hair, she looks like a boy.” She crinkled her nose, in sympathy. I pointedly looked at her attire of pajamas and a tee, “Wearing jeans doesn’t make anyone a boy, aunty,” I said and walked off, fuming.
Case 3 –One evening in the park, a grandmother was trying to coax her four year old grandson to get on the swing set. He seemed a little shy and wouldn’t budge from his comfortable bench. LittluS, on seeing him, went up to him and started pulling his arm saying, “chalo, chalo.” When he still didn’t move, she went to the swing set by herself and started playing with other children. The grandmother whispered to me, “Today’s generation is all jumbled up,” she pointed to her grandson, “the boys don’t want to play and the girls don’t want to sit.” She sighed audibly. I wanted to ask what did she mean by this statement for hers but LittluS needed my attention so I left it at.
There are innumerable such instances where I have seen parents, grandparents, and even strangers, discriminating about how a boy and girl should react. Agreed that most of this bias happens unknowingly, but it is still prevalent. However, after listening to all these people telling me what a girl should or should not do, I decided that I will not limit my LittluS’ creativity and imagination. I will not trap her into these age old gender stereotypes.
I will get her cars and Lego’s and robots to play with along with dolls and Teddy’s... and let her choose her favorite. If she still prefers a Barbie over an Iron Man figurine or a dollhouse over a chemistry set, so be it. At least I would have given her a choice.
I had decided early on that I will not fill her wardrobe with pink frilly dresses. I never have stuck to the prescribed colors for children. Her crib was blue (not to make any statement but it was the only color available in the set that I liked.), the curtains in her room are yellow, and her potty seat is orange! Yes, I love colors... and so does she.
I would urge the mothers of all young boys to not put your notions of what a boy should be in his head. Don't tell him playing with kitchen set is 'girly'. Maybe he will turn into the next Sanjeev Kapoor or Vikas Khanna. Won’t you be proud then! Let him wear pink. Let him play with soft toys. Don't tell him 'boys don't cry'. Instead of filling his head with violence and 'dhishum-dhishum' and all things 'manly', teach him kindness and compassion. I once knew a man who was adamant that his son, at the age of 3 years, watch wrestling with him instead of cartoons! He didn’t want his son to turn out soft, you see.
Don't, unknowingly, turn 'being a girl' into a derogatory term — 'Why are you crying, are you a girl?'; 'Why do you want to be a teacher, are you a girl?'; 'You want to paint instead of playing cricket? What are you? A girl?'; 'Let your sister clear the table, girls do that.' — All these seemingly innocent, said-in-jest statements make him believe that being a girl is a bad thing... that unleashing his feminine side is not acceptable.
If you see a grandmother urging her grandson to play outdoors while pushing the girl towards the kitchen, stop her. If you only call your daughter to help you in your daily chores while the son watches television... you are promoting discrimination.
Kids do as kids see. If we are polite in our interactions, they will be too. If we yell and scream, they will think that is the way to behave. It is rightly said, kids’ brains are a blank slate, it is up to us what message we imprint on them. So, fathers help your wives in the household chores - that will be an important lesson for your sons and will earn you brownie points from your wife… and your future daughter-in-law! Mothers, in addition to your daughter, teach your son to cook as well – it is an essential skill that everyone should know. How many times have we seen a mother proudly boasting about her daughter making tea at the age of ten and at the same time smiling indulgently at her teenage son while mentioning that he doesn't even know how to boil water! How many times we have seen a father send his son to play, when guests are expected, while holding the daughter back to help the mother in the kitchen.
These are just some examples, what I am trying to say is that just let your kids be. Let them choose their paths. We, as parents, should be there to gently guide them. Instead of forcing them to walk on a path that we think is right for them, let them trudge their own way… And if, God forbid, they fall, we are always there to pick them up and dust them off, aren’t we? Don't limit their possibilities by cramping them into a pink or a blue box... The world is so much more than that. Let them experience everything... let them explore their surroundings and choose for themselves. Let them toe the line.