Rape has been in the news, yet again. It never really stopped being in the news, did it ? Well, it always has been because this is an endemic, prevalent problem that has shown no signs of decreasing.
However, much we may try and convince ourselves that we are evolving and growing as a society, however much we may try and persuade ourselves into believing that ours is less of a patriarchal society now than it was many years ago and that women are being treated better now than they were before, fact remains that rape and sexual abuse of women remains a raging epidemic .
I think societal and parental focus needs to expand here. Rather than focus on just calling for punishments and death penalties, we have got to ask ourselves where the roots of the problem really lie. As parents, I think we need to take a good, long look at whether we are doing enough to raise our children as more sensitive, more empathetic members of the society. Children are the future and if the future generations are not educated about empathy and responsibility, there will not be much of a foundation to build on. There would not be a strong enough base for us to expect to live in a world, that is safer for our children to grow in.
A child’s education starts very early in life when parents teach them about Good Touch and Bad Touch, the sense of empowerment in terms of saying NO to a Bad Touch has to go hand in hand so that it becomes a relative perception. Action and reaction are taught together and they form an immediate association in the child’s mind.
Similarly, as children grow, they need to be educated and spoken to about the changes that they can expect in their bodies, as they mature. Girls need to be told in as many words that growing breasts is natural, having a period is a usual growing up process. Similarly with boys too, having wet dreams is a normal part of growing up and they need to be told why. Along with this, what we also need to educate them about is the fact that “growing up” comes with its set of responsibilities too – in terms of being more sensitive towards the feelings and sentiments of the opposite sex too. Just because girls are growing breasts do not automatically make them a target for catcalls and sneak comments from the boys. The need for that sort of sensitivity needs to be explained to children.
It is still commonplace in many a household, for parents to treat boys as “special” and girls as a “burden”. Right from childhood, in many households parents are quite vocal about this. In other households, even if not expressed vocally, children pick up on vibes easily enough for boys to develop a superiority complex vis-à-vis the girls in the house. This misplaced feeling of superiority of males over females lays the foundation for patriarchy, very early in life.
The society in which our children are growing now, the pace at which things are evolving and changing, is quite a scary prospect, truth be told. There are times when I cringe inwardly when faced with armloads of information that is lying in wait, for the asking. We might be able to comprehend more easily about what information is required and what is not but children, with minds much more gullible than ours, have access to a vast variety of information that could be both constructive and destructive, depending on how it is used.
There are scores of movies, TV serials and books available freely. As things stand today, in media, things like falling in love or being sexually active still has a ‘machismo’ feel to it. These are viewed more as a victory for the boy over the girl, the girl becomes a conquest of sorts and the message of mutual desire and more importantly, consent, gets lost in the process.
In the world of today, when rape is reported almost every day, every time a child reads a newspaper or magazine or the internet and is privy to questions like “Was the woman appropriately clothed ?” “Was she drunk ?” “Was she already sexually active ?” “What was she doing out so late at night ?”, thoughts are unconsciously but constantly being implanted in those gullible minds. We, as adults, know well enough that in the event of a rape, the woman is not to blame. Women do not ever ask to be sexually assaulted, raped or violated. No woman does. But, while we may know this as a result of having more of an experience with life as a whole, children are apt to believe what is printed. They have to be primed to read between the lines in instances such as these.
Boys are given more freedom in terms of expectations with regard to sensitive, empathetic behavior. Girls, in the Indian society, are expected to behave with a lot more sensitivity and empathy towards situations and people, while boys do have more concessions in this regard. This is all the more a reason why boys especially, need to be spoken to about respecting others’ feelings and sentiments, about consent and the importance of the same.
Another thing that parents need to bring up with their children and talk to them about is the evils of peer pressure. As my own son grows up, I know this is easier said than done because at that age, their peers’ opinions matter much more than their parents’. When those teen hormones rage, the parents’ voices are often among the first to be drowned out by the voices of their peers who would be riding high on those testosterones themselves. But just because it is difficult does not provide a valid enough excuse for not trying to get the point across. It is just as much a parental responsibility to talk to children about being responsible, empathetic members of society.
I honestly do feel that we as parents need to work on systematically removing this shroud of secrecy that still exists, to a great extent, when we talk to our children about sex . The more straightforward we are about the whole thing, the more likely it is to be construed as yet another facet of life. This also, to a great extent, would minimize the likelihood of children learning and seeking to learn about these things from sites on the internet and/or porn sites. In the process, communication too, improves and those channels of communication remain open. Parents would probably be viewed as more approachable by the children, in terms of asking questions and seeking answers. In the light of endeavoring to raise more responsible members of society, I do honestly feel that we parents, as a collective, need to make serious changes in the way we approach and talk to children about sex, consent, empathy and respect and that all of these are bound together and intertwined.
Gauri Venkitaraman dons many hats – a wife, a mom, a teacher and many more. Working as a full-time English teacher in HongKong, Gauri also raises and nurtures two terrors, affectionately known as The Nutty Siblings a.k.a Macadamia, a teen and Pecan, the ten-year old who behaves like he is fifteen. Gauri’s family means the world to her. Life is a lively roller coaster ride and we, as a family, aim to enjoy the ride together. http://tiny-tidbits.blogspot.hk/ is where Gauri pens down her thoughts and musings, in an attempt to preserve memories for posterity.