I admit that I was 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 it at the moment, it is not right to stay compliant and swallow the 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 we do are 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 cooking and appa is 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 avoid these, I am pretty sure that there are many more where these came from.
It is not news that kids are easily suggestible, impressionable, and more importantly, super observant. Fighting against open oppression seems easy than weeding out the ideologies that are intertwined into our lives. But the reality is that neither is easy. Each demands a different method, voice, and effort. 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 something.
Some things that I do, in an attempt to create a gender-neutral growing environment for my daughter:
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. This is not easy because the market out there does not have enough choices unless you are willing to do the stereotype ride.
I talk about my husband cooking in the kitchen, even if it is a small attempt. I openly appreciate my husband for making dosas for me. 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.
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 how he is able to handle things independently. I think this helps her focus on the skill and not who does it.
And this is 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 🙂