“Mom I want to learn swimming!” I overheard a little girl tell her mom.
“No you can’t” replied her mom.
“But bhaiya goes na, then why can’t I? the girl asked.
“Bhaiya is a boy. If his skin becomes tan it’s OK. But you are a girl and if you become tan, you won’t look good,” her mom replied.
I saw the little girl cry as she picked up her bag and sat in the corner of the swimming pool. She kept watching her brother swim, teary eyed. I wondered what she might be thinking. What would be some of the questions bothering her?
As I continued to observe her, I overheard another conversation. A boy around 10 years was scared of water and he was not ready to enter the pool. His mom kept forcing him to enter the water and he started crying.
“Stop crying like a girl. You are a BOY and boys need to learn swimming.” his mom shouted loudly enough for all of us to hear.
But her son wouldn’t budge, he kept pushing her away and then the instructor took him aside.
I was too astonished to see and hear all this drama happening around me. These are the so called well-educated parents who talk about gender equality, but unconsciously they were instilling gender stereotypes in the minds of their young children.
What exactly are gender stereotypes?
Few weeks ago my daughter received an engineering mechanic kit as a birthday gift. She was delighted to see it and when her girlfriends came to play with her the next day, she proudly opened this kit.
“This is not a girl’s game” said one girl.
“Don’t you have Barbie and soft toys?” exclaimed another.
“You always play with Barbie dolls, isn’t it? So let’s give Barbie a break and build this car.” I said.
The girls agreed immediately and the next one hour they were busy fixing the nuts and bolts. Gender stereotypes are beliefs about certain activities that a girl or boy can do. Earlier my daughter refused to believe that women too play cricket. I had to show her the picture of the Women’s cricket team and that’s when she believed me. Similarly when we enrolled her for Kathak classes she was surprised to learn that Pt. Birju Maharaj (a man) is an expert Kathak guru.
How can this affect our child?
For years we have bought soft toys for girls and cars for boys, pink for girls and blue for boys. It’s not our fault; we have just modeled our behaviour on what we saw and heard, but what about our future? The values that we instill in our children influence their career decisions. A boy, who might be interested in writing, may feel that writing is not the right profession for boys and instead take up engineering or become a doctor.
When I was in college, my friends studying engineering would say that there are only 5-10 girls in their class. I wondered if girls only wanted to become teachers or CA’s. Recently I met a doctor who told me that out of 100 students in medical school, only 30% are genuinely interested in becoming a doctor. Now this scares me.
In the example above, think about that girl whose brother is allowed to swim but she is not, how will her personality shape up in the future? The sports that children take up are decided mostly by their gender. I’ve heard moms say to daughters, “Don’t play in sun much, your skin will get tanned.”
All this makes me wonder, what we are teaching our children?
What a parent can do?
If you ask me, it is OK if an eight year old girl wishes to learn karate and not classical dance and it’s perfectly OK if a ten year old boy wishes to learn Kathak. As long as the child enjoys the activities he or she does, nothing else matters. It’s time that parents stop judging their children and other’s children too, by the choices they make. Speak to your child about male dancers and authors. Share stories about female mathematicians and freedom fighters. Let your child know that no matter what their gender, they can choose to become what they want. Yes there might be pressures from the society; however your encouragement and acceptance will inspire them to take the road less traveled.
Have you ever thought how gender stereotypes are affecting your child? What are some of the ways you think we can minimize the effect of gender stereotypes? Let the discussions start in the comments.
Gayatri Aptekar is a freelance storyteller, writer, blogger and a mother to her eight year old daughter. She believes in the power of Dreams. She quit her nine year corporate career to follow her passion. A Master Practitioner of NLP, she works with children to accelerate their learning, getting them into peak performance states and coaching them to deal with the everyday challenges. When she is not counseling students, individuals or couples, she can be found at her blog, “Outside the Kitchen Window” wielding her magical wand to pen her thoughts, poems, fictitious stories, mouth-tingling recipes and book reviews. Apart from these creative adventures, she enjoys reading, dancing, cooking and photography.
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