I admit that I have been that rebel kid who constantly questioned unfair treatment just because I am a girl. To the question whether rebellion got me anywhere, the answer is, it’s complicated. It solved my issues at times but it made things worse at other times. But my stand has always been and is still that, just because you cannot change anything about at the moment, it is not right to stay compliant and swallow it as a pill forced down your throat.
If I trace back, gender bias is so seeped into our lifestyle that I am shocked to discover the many, many, normal things that I do also have been colored by unwanted stereotypes. Like when we unconsciously pick out a barbie doll or a cooking set for a girl’s birthday party while cars and trucks are piling up for a boy’s birthday. Like when we unconsciously tell a story or pretend play, where amma is always cooking and appa is always watching TV. Like when you find only pink colored shoes for girls and not for boys. These are the most famous stereotypes and given the struggle I have to go through to come out of these, I am pretty sure that there’s a plethora, where these came from.
It is not news that kids are easily suggestible, impressionable, and most importantly of all, super observant. Fighting against open oppression seems easy than weeding out these threads that are intertwined into our lives. But the reality is that neither is easy and each demands a different method, voice, and effort to get over. That’s a topic for another post. So with kids, it is super important to question yourself on every word (you can use the 5 whys method) before you tell them even a simple story.
Some things that I do, in an attempt to create a gender-neutral growing environment:
I go out of my way to pick neutral colors for my daughter’s toys, clothes etc. Sometimes I encourage her to pick a blue toy, when given the choice. This does not mean I don’t pick pink at all. I just ensure that she does not associate any labels with the colors.
I talk about my husband cooking in the kitchen to my daughter, even if it is a small dish. I openly appreciate my husband making dosas for me, in front of her. Some people may think this is overkill but I think that this is necessary to balance the scale to neutral.
In any story that I tell her, I twist the narrative from time to time to create a gender neutral scene. For example, if I tell a story about a family, I present the scene in such a way that the dad is seen doing a household chore (or something else that is often unconsciously perceived as a woman’s chore) and the mom helping him out. The next time, I do it in the reverse so that my daughter does not associate gender with a chore. And every time, I need to get something done by my husband or vice versa, we call it as asking for help. I think this encourages children to think of a family as a group of people helping and supporting each other, rather than taking things for granted.
When we go to my parent’s place, I addressed it as “grandmother’s place”. It is such a simple thing but you wouldn’t believe the unease that registered because everyone else was calling it as her “grandfather’s place”. No matter what others addressed it as, I stuck to my narrative. And my daughter found the balance.
I teach her household chores as life skills to her. It is not because she is a girl but because she needs to learn to be independent. Since she is our only kid, I often refer to my nephew and his activities when I teach her household chores, pointing out that my nephew, her cousin, learnt it and now he is able to handle the chore himself. I think this helps her focus on the skill and not who does it.
And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Every time I do a new activity with my daughter, I analyze it for any bias, not just gender bias, and try to see if there is a way out of it. You could even say that I am obsessed about doing things the right way. Some people say that this is not sustainable but I don’t see any other way out of it. We, as adults, created this biased, judgmental environment, based on our context, our opinions, and our thoughts which are purely subjective. And when you experience the innocence of a kid, as a parent, your core is shaken. Kids are the epitome of pure, non contextual, non judgmental love. Why teach them something bad and then crib that the society is filled with ungrateful youngsters?
Do you know any other ways to break out of this destructive shell? How do you engage your kids in gender neutral activities? Think now, act today.
Until later 🙂