“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody. – Jane Austen”
I’m not sure about what Ms. Austen meant about ‘introducing her properly’, but we can make our own interpretations from it. I suppose in today’s world, it means that we equip them with all the knowledge and confidence that they’ll need to survive in a (predominantly) man’s world.
Our mothers had a tough life. There weren’t too many trail blazing, strong female role models, and there were too many stuck up, patronizing, chauvinistic men. Most of them put their lives on the back burner and struggled to raise us so that their daughters would get a better deal than they did.
And to a large extent, it worked. We’ve had much better opportunities, both in education and work. The breaking down of the joint family system and the associated strong hold of patriarchy has led to smaller, cosier families and more lenient fathers. Most of us have grown up smart, educated and confident. I say ‘most of us’ since we are aware that a large number of women are yet to climb that step. Still, at least the wheel has started turning.
But there’s a problem here, while our mothers struggled to make us smart, they neglected their sons, giving way to a whole generation of confused men, who are kind of in the doldrums about how to treat their women.
Now, that we successful women are mothers ourselves, we want our girls to grow up healthy, confident and educated. We don’t want them to fall into standard ‘female’ traps – domestic abuse, lack of education or employment opportunities, financial dependence and at the crux of it all, putting their lives at the end of their list of priorities. Sounds like a tough job!!
But mothers of boys have an additional responsibility – we need to teach our boys that the girls they’re going to meet are smarter than they are, whizzes at multitasking and can support themselves quite well, thank you very much. That is a wheel that is yet to start turning and what better teachers than mothers themselves!!
Teaching our little boys gender sensitivity might not sound very important, but we have to consider the fact that it is essential for a proper sense of balance in their relationships. It isn’t news that boys model a lot of their behavior on their fathers, their very first male role model. So if you and your husband have a free, easy and comfortable relationship with open communication, your son will get the message that he needs to treat his wife like his equal. If your husband helps around the house, he knows that his wife isn’t to be treated like a servant, regardless of where she works.
Of course, we can’t change our husbands, and if they’re not really the helping-around-the-house kinds, it doesn’t mean that we yell and bring the house down on them. There are several other ways to teach our youngsters the importance of mutual respect:
1. Don’t encourage traditional gender specific roles like giving boys only guns (they’re tough and important) while giving girls teapots and dolls (sissies!!).
2. Have your meals together as a family. It sends out a wrong message when everyone else is seated, while you wait upon them.
3. Household chores don’t have ‘Woman’ written on them. Teach your little guy to put away his plate/cup after eating, put his dirty clothes in the laundry hamper and put away his toys, to begin with. There are so many homes even today, where boys just throw their stuff about, and moms pick up after them, but girls are yelled at for doing the same.
4. Show no leniency to your son with regards to household rules, when your daughter is expected to follow them strictly. Same rules should be applied to both, and punishments should also be meted out fairly.
5. Many families think their sons ‘need’ more pocket money or more expensive mobile phones. When he is used to getting special privileges at home purely on basis of gender, he’ll expect the same from his wife. And c’mon, do you really want to be blamed for everything by your smart, independent daughter in law?? Horror!!
6. When they’re old enough, make use of opportunities like news of violence against women to talk to them about how wrong it is and that even something like whistling at a girl is against the law.
7. Monitor what they watch on TV. I’m pretty sure that everyone out there knows how regressive some Indian soaps can be. Try to show both boys and girls news reports or documentaries or movies about strong, responsible women who have equally strong and supportive men in their lives.
This sounds like a tall order, but being women ourselves, we know how important the matter of gender sensitivity is. And we want our children, boys and girls to respect each other, so they can lead happy, productive lives and have balanced, happy families of their own. To round it off, here’s an excerpt from ‘Peter Pan’ which sums up the fact that girls are smart(er)!!
“But where do you live mostly now?”
With the lost boys.”
Who are they?”
They are the children who fall out of their perambulators when the nurse is looking the other way. If they are not claimed in seven days they are sent far away to the Neverland to defray expanses. I’m captain.”
What fun it must be!”
Yes,” said cunning Peter, “but we are rather lonely. You see we have no female companionship.”
Are none of the others girls?”
Oh no; girls, you know, are much too clever to fall out of their prams.”
Fabida Abdulla is a former software engineer turned stay at home Mother Lion to her four year old son, whom she calls ‘The Cub’. She blogs about her crazy life at Shocks and Shoes.