“Real men don’t cry”
“You are a girl. Don’t sit like that!”
“Don’t stay out too late. Ishan is a boy, he can. You need to be back home by 7”
And the most common one – “Go out of the kitchen, this is no place for a boy”
These stereotypical reactions are so ingrained in us Indians that even though we ‘know’ we ought not to bracket our kids into traditional male/female roles, it still takes some effort from us to unlearn. However, the effort must be made in helping kids break gender stereotypes.
What happens when you practice gender bias at home?
- It restricts creativity
Suppose your son is interested in learning how to sew, it could be the beginning of a lifelong career in designing and tailoring. It is no way demeaning to him or to your family. By saying no to him you kill his creativity. By encouraging him to try something else to “distract” him, you are forcing your own narrow mindedness on him.
- It sows feelings of shame and inadequacy
When you tell a young child that she is not strong enough to hit a six in cricket or young boy that dolls are for girls, it won’t kill their desire to go ahead. In fact their desire increases. The only problem is, they will make sure you won’t know. What do they do? The little girl may play with her brother’s bat when he is out of the house or the little boy will sneak of and play with his sister’s dolls. This sneaky behavior reinforces a feeling of shame which then develops into inadequacy, a feeling that they are ‘different’ from their friends and siblings and ultimately feeling ‘less’ than others.
What can you do instead when your child wants to indulge in an activity that may not be the norm for his or her gender?
- Encourage them wholeheartedly – always remembering that it is their life, and they have a right to do what makes them happy. Little children bloom and flourish when they are encouraged’ whether an activity is suitable to their gender not should never be a question that crosses your mind unless of course it is a genuine health concern.
- Ask yourself just one question, and answer it!
The key question to ask yourself when your son wants to cook is, “if this was my daughter how would I react?”
When your daughter wants to play cricket with the boys, rephrase the same question and ask, “If this was my son, how would I react?”
Absolutely no reason to worry, you are not going to raise a homosexual!
Just like we encourage kids to try out different after school activities, sometimes girls and boys do like to try out non-gender specific activities. Most parents I know worry that when their kids do not behave typically they might grow up to be homosexual. I will not go into my views on that here, but suffice it to know that childhood activities in no way define sexual orientation in the future.
So relax, and sit back.
Let your kid enjoy childhood. Celebrate his or her uniqueness.
Give them the freedom to be who they are. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give them!
Sharon Colaco D’Souza is a mother of two kids, a girl and a boy. She is a business management post graduate, and works as a content strategist for a living. She is passionate about home decor and design, and blogs at The Keybunch. Parenting is ‘that continuously-unravelling mystery’ for her and she views Parentous as a great place for parenting information, as well as a place to share her own parenting discoveries. She is currently working on a book idea on indigenous architecture and hopes to see it to fruition!