This is the last edition in the “gender stereotypes” series of posts.
I’d raised some points in both of my earlier posts (Part 1 and Part 2) on how, as parents, we could possibly do our bit to reduce or minimize gender stereotypes from setting in when it comes to children. This post continues on the same lines but looks at the broader implications of gender stereotyping and how much of an effect it has on children, even after they are well into the adult phase of their lives.
Let’s start with a belief that still remains a core component of gender stereotyping amongst males the world over – ‘Boys don’t cry’. Just give this a think – When do boys first realize that crying reduces their ‘maleness’ in the eyes of society ? As babies, boys howl just as much as girls do, if not more. Somewhere along the way, this stereotype that boys are rough, tough and that they do not cry, wiggles its way into their minds.
How many times has one heard phrases like “Be a man” or “Come on … man up” or “Crying? What are you? A sissy? A girl?” This could well happen at school or in the park or even at home. There are plenty of TV shows and movies that back this sort of stereotype, way too many times. This is another one of those stereotypes that really needs to be shown the door.
Books are a wonderful medium to encourage emotions – As Macadamia and Pecan grew up, one thing that was a ‘done’ every single day was the bedtime storytelling and reading books to them. This proved to be a very good opportunity to discuss feelings and emotions with them and to cement the fact that everybody has feelings, everybody has emotions and that it is perfectly OK to express one’s emotions – whatever the said emotion may be. In books – picture books during their younger days and chapter books later on, to the young adult fiction that they read now, there are plenty of opportunities for discussion. We do talk about books a lot, even now. How does a particular character feel at a given point of time in a book? Why?
On the face of it, these seem insignificant but it makes inroads into their conscious minds in a very subtle, unconscious way. It makes them think, it helps them relate and it makes them emote and empathise and those, I personally believe, are very important aspects of growing up. Books also turned out to be an effective medium in conveying the fact that it actually takes a lot of strength to be able to let people see you crying and that there is nothing wrong in expressing emotions – be it a boy or a girl, be it a man or a woman. Pecan has just started reading ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ and I’m pretty sure this book is going to bring about some fairly sensitive moments and throw open some emotional questions, leading to some very candid discussions.
Body images – Look at any form of media there is. Media that kids nowadays are exposed to at virtually every given turn. One finds flawless female bodies with emphasis on bust, cleavage, thigh gaps and what have you. On the other hand, there are pictures of buffed up men with 6 packs, 8 packs or how many ever there are nowadays, muscles bulging out of their arms, thighs and God knows where else. These are touted to be the epitome of femininity and masculinity, respectively. As a result of such repeated exposure, kids tend to grow up with rather unrealistic expectations of their own bodies. When they hit their adolescent growth spurts, this takes on a much more ominous connotation because they have grown up with images of ‘princesses’ and ‘macho men’ and those have been imprinted on their gullible minds as ‘the perfect bodies and appearance’ to have.
For us, it has helped a great deal, talking to Macadamia and Pecan about what their vision is, of femininity and masculinity. What are the aspects which, in their minds, define these concepts ? Once parents have a clear idea of what’s going on inside those teen minds, it gets that much easier to direct conversation accordingly rather than shooting in the dark and hoping one or more statements hit the mark. Most eating disorders at this age often stem from this quest for the ‘ideal’ body or figure, which have been effectively stereotyped by the media.
Objectifying women – The world we live in, the society we raise our children in, is unfortunately becoming more and more violent by the day. We are raising the younger generation in times when information is there for the taking. Newspapers, the internet, magazines or social media websites – are all open fields, waiting for information to be sought and gleaned. News reports on assaults, molestations, rape are getting very common. In this context, it is rather disconcerting when books, movies and many TV serials still portray girls or women as a conquest.
Every single time a child picks up a newspaper or a magazine that asks “What was the women doing out so late at night ?” “Was she drunk ?” “Was she improperly clothed ?” “Did she have a lot of boyfriends ?” “Was she already sexually active ?” – thought processes are unconsciously being implanted in those susceptible minds. Their minds are automatically being driven towards associating these notions with the idea that if these conditions were present then it was the woman that was asking for it, that it was the woman that was to blame.
We, as adults, are comprehensive enough to realize that no woman ever asks to be sexually assaulted or raped. No woman ever asks to be violated. How about the younger generation? Who’s going to teach them to read between the lines here? That’s where parents step in – in making that distinction, because drawing that line becomes the first step in diluting and erasing the stereotypes that the media so easily creates in objectifying girls and women.
The bottom line in parenting has pretty much come down to believing and carrying forward on the premise that we need to actively do our bit in raising our children to be more responsible citizens and more importantly, more caring and empathetic human beings. The world of today is in dire need of those.
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.