Gender Neutrality: Are you parenting beyond pink & blue kids?
I’ve been so used to the hackneyed pink & blue ideogram to convey girl & boy, all my life. And by the way, I mentioned girl first. Because, psst…here, it is #mychoice. Even my daughter yelled at me last week for tossing the Spiderman pictured toothpaste into our cart instead of the Barbie one from the same brand. Well, honestly, she hasn’t watched any of their stuff yet on TV. Neither does she own a Barbie collection at home. This was very much the ‘gender-bias’ alarm to me!
Is gender equality a point in your parenting goals?
Spoiler Alert: I’m a feminist (Read ‘not a feminazi’).
Are we talking of gender clichés?
I’ve always been that little girl in childhood when reading some of Enid Blyton’s books on the classic fairy tales used to perplex me. As a result, I never went on to watch their respective cartoons, have their memorabilia or gear up with my art kit to color their pictures on themed activity books. Because these thoughts never ceased to haunt me then:
- In the Sleeping Beauty, how a prince could get away with kissing a princess in slumber without her ‘permission’ (while she ain’t even his ‘wife’ yet!)
- In The Princess & the Pea, why a ‘good wife’ to a prince had to be a ‘princess’ only. Can’t marriage alliances stem from people belonging to the lower social strata? Is your father’s wealth your eligibility to have a happy married life?
- In Cinderella, why the leading lady had to prove herself as the perfect ‘wife material’ to a prince only by being able to push her feet into a tiny glass slipper? Body stats here too?
- In Snow White & the seven dwarfs, I was miffed by the number of times the iconic “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…” was uttered. Hmm, so beauty is all it takes to rise in life. Sigh.
Nevertheless, now too, I have sworn not to endorse these archaic ideas to my child. NEVER. The toothpaste scene itself said volumes about how many gender clichés she’s already absorbed. The stories that I tell to her are mostly those from the Panchatantra fables, the likes of Akbar-Birbal & inspirational life stories of a few famous personalities. I also refrain from letting her watch cartoons which reflect outdated views about women. That’s because I want to raise her as a rational, free-thinking & most certainly, a gender neutral person.
Gender inequality, rather chauvinism, has seen the most bizarre form in the previous century when the ads for home appliances depicted women as mere housemaids. When beauty was abnormally overrated that there actually were cosmetics & toothpastes made with radium for the certain ‘glow’. So, since generations, women have been taken for granted as a race that’s got only visual & ‘household’ appeal.
So how do we raise a gender-neutral child?
Selection of toys
PLEASE, for God’s sake, let’s finally realize that your kids’ toys are not just there for them to pass time with. Neither to keep them busy while you’re off on your laptop or attending to errands. They’re the second learning source for them after YOU!
While I strongly suggest you to choose their toys carefully right from the first toy, although it may be their first teether/mibbler (Well, I’ve come across ‘gun-shaped’ teethers too!). Buy things which are pleasant to look at when they’re babies. We often underestimate the imaginative power of infants & toddlers, which is massively vigorous & nascent. Believe it or not, their early toys become the base to their behavioral development.
Stop clinging on to gender-stereotyping of toys. Guns, bazookas, cars & bikes for boys. And, of course, girls are meant to hone their ‘housekeeping’ skills starting early, right? So, do you think that kitchen sets & mini-laundry machines make the perfect deal for them? Think again.
It’s 2018 ALREADY!
If it’s you who finally decides which toy to buy at a store/online without trying to know what your child liked the best, you might just be imposing a gender cliché, unknowingly. Can’t blame ourselves really; most of us took to toys’ taste like this!
Personally speaking, I never bought kitchen toys for my daughter in the beginning. Before she got better with speech, we used to observe her reactions to specific toys at shops & buy them without ‘assuming’ what could be best for her. However, she’s naturally interested in cooking very much like both of her grannies. So, we got her a set as she insisted on us buying it.
When I casually asked her why she wanted to play with it, she smiled & replied, “Because I like cooking tasty stuff.“And if you find this question of mine very crafty, I’d want to remain a little unapologetic, because my intentions were clean. I asked her again whether she liked cooking because she thought it’s the girls who’re supposed to cook always. She then asserted, “No. Papa also makes his own omelette when he really, really wants it.” I found this tiny banter so reassuring that her choices weren’t inspired from the sexes.
We’ve NEVER bought her a toy gun or even a water gun.
I strongly believe that guns somehow get kids into a negatively authoritarian mode. Be it a water gun. They sense how their mates run helter-skelter to save themselves from a liquid squirt or even an ‘imaginary’ bullet. And when you hand such guns to your ‘societally privileged’ son, you might very well assess his developing mindset. Here, I neither necessitate girl children playing with guns in order to hold up gender neutrality. NO!
DEEP STUFF. Isn’t it?
NO! Crying ain’t Weakness
For strange reasons, many of us associate crying with weakness, failure or shame. Crying during situations of fear, physical hurt, tension, loneliness or missing somebody helps release the negative cloud. Especially one around his/her parents, grandparents, siblings or friends.
I’ve known of children (especially, the tween & teen boys) locking themselves up in the washroom only to cry their heart out amidst the noise of the shower or water taps filling buckets.
Because, they’ve been told since childhood, “BOYS DON’T CRY!” or “YOU ONLY CRY WHEN YOU’RE WEAK/LOSE.” “ONLY GIRLS ARE CRY-BABIES.” or something similar. And we all try to postulate that boys who cry will not be ‘man enough’ as adults. Don’t we?
Please do not stop your son’s crying by saying any of the above statements. That way, he will learn to live with any frustration he may come across later in life, thinking that it’s only the girls’ part. As a result, he will soon associate females with weakness.
Moreover, holding tears back makes space for frustration, which is bound to vent over a dear one. Your child, boy or girl, should have at least 4 people (including YOU) in front of whom he could freely let his tears out.
“Winning is not because of your sex, my boy”
Never say things like, “You lost against a girl” or “How could you lose to the girls’ team? Boys don’t lose.” to your son.
Winning a match or game is not because of the genitals you were born with. It’s only about who did a little better than the rest. And come on, winning & losing is part & parcel of life.
Be Independent as a Couple
Gender education, either in the form of gender bias or gender neutrality are what children usually pick from us. As parents, & as a COUPLE. That’s right. The way Mommy behaves around Daddy, or towards him, & the other way round, becomes their example. This day-to-day picture gets cemented in their minds forever, or at least until there comes a life-changing person/situation later in their life (like mine! I’ll tell you a little later here :-))
Try not to exhibit your dependence on your spouse in front of your kids. It may send a wrong signal to him/her. Picture all of these instances:
- You’re a dad & you’re freaking out that your wife did not/could not/forgot to iron your clothes.
- You’re a mom & you’re ranting about your husband not getting time to drive you all to your favorite mall/beach/restaurant for the weekend.
- Your wife isn’t at home & you don’t know which cabin has the kids’ snacks. So, you just shrug when your child asks you to give them, or just say, “Let Mama get home. She’ll have you sorted.” In worst cases, feed them any damn crap to shut them up.
- You refuse to budge on your mind to get the LPG cylinder inside over the trolley. Even though it requires just lifting it for a couple of seconds. Just because, you think it’s the men’s job to lift, huh?
- Your baby is crying over a soiled diaper & you wait for your wife to hurry in ASAP (even if she’s having a shower), while your older kid is watching all of this. Because, changing diapers is only mom’s job. Really?
- It’s the weekend, & it’s always your wife to wake up first & way early to start cooking, tending the laundry & cleaning the house. All this when you both work for a living.
- Bad-mouthing each other in front of your children. Worst scenes involve hitting, too (although this is less usual than before).
- Passing the buck in front of them.
- Asking your wife who chose to be a Stay-At-Home-Mum (SAHM), “What do you do all day at home? Why are you so passive?” in front of kids. She’s being Hercules, I say. You need to be sued if you say such a hurtfully demeaning thing!
- Complaining about your spouse to your children, or to somebody else in front of them.
ALL THE ABOVE, my buddy, are a SIN.
Sorry if you find that an overstatement. But, yeah, it is detrimental to your children’s social development. Instances similar to the above involving you & your spouse teach your kids that it’s OK to be prejudiced against the opposite sex. Maybe, the other gender is always aggressive, masochistic, submissive, demanding, dumb, lazy, weak or whatsoever.
We, as parents, are a major reflection of what kids think is an ‘ideal’ or ‘normal’ society.
Nobody can deny that we love our spouses infinitely & emotional attachment can never pull us apart. But let this not creep into your independence zone. Show your children that you can handle quite many things without the other’s help. Tell them that there’s almost no task which is designated to only one sex (unless it’s breastfeeding! HAHA). That’s when gender neutrality begins at home.
Be empathetic & helping towards your spouse
If you’ve followed the above scenarios which instill gender inequality in children, I don’t wish to elaborate further. Place yourself in the shoes of your spouse through every situation. Help each other in chores, be it cooking, cleaning, doing the dishes or any normal daily activity.
I’ve been fortunate enough to find a partner who has been the most gender-neutral guy I’ve met. While my parents kept me from taking up ‘physically demanding’ work, such as raising a tough shutter, driving all alone, etc, my husband was the first to shatter all the gender stereotypes before me. He held his argument up that cooking weren’t just the pride or work of women. He made me realize that visiting offices to pay the bills or buying grocery on the way from office to home were what even women could do. And it’s perfectly LEGIT! And I shall remain indebted to him all my life for this wonderful lesson.
Do not mince words
I totally understand the difficulty of raising a gender-neutral child around relatives, grandparents or acquaintances who cannot easily let go the typecasting business. This is, all the more, a very common sight in India.
Explain to them politely that this is how you’d be raising your son or daughter. That you have problems with people objecting to or ridiculing you for buying your son a pink shirt/kitchen set, or enrolling you daughter into a martial arts class.
One fine day, you’ll be happy when your kids will learn that gender neutrality is a lot about sharing, shouldering & respecting each other’s choices & responsibilities.
Because, pink & blue are nothing more than just colors. Are they?
If you could relate to this, please share your experience with gender inequality in your childhood or with your children in the comments.