Raising Girl Child in Gender Neutral Spaces
It is still in my memory that there was a time when we, as little girls, were derided and chided upon by people around us for holding around toy guns. Yes, TOY GUNS. Why would toy guns be a subject of objection when little girls hold them? Weren’t they made to play around with? Yes, they were, but certainly not for girls. We were too young to confront and understand the whole gamut of concept that delineated a clear boundary between what is considered usual and unusual or rather acceptable and unacceptable when it comes to the conduct of little girls. Instead, we were simply made to know that toy guns were meant for boys. And, surely, we were malleable enough to be bent, curved, twirled, and shaped in the likes of our adult members. It was only in the later stages of our university life did we begin to realize that what we used to know as ‘simple rules’ (for boys and girls) weren’t actually simple. These were, in fact, the tip of the iceberg, and underneath it is a humongous structure that underpins a complex pattern of socially and culturally constructed gendered roles and statuses of individual members. This simple yet complex example explains why a girl child is treated differently from a boy child. As a new mother, I am constantly bothered with so many questions about raising my own daughter free from gender biases; that she may be self-confident and be independent when she grows up. I am of the view that our very social (including family and other public spaces) environment under which we were brought up has a lot to do in shaping the overall personality of a girl child. From the day a child was born, parents and adults in the family, whether consciously or unconsciously, took on the task of assigning different roles for boys and girls. And the children were expected to acknowledge these socially constructed roles that later they will find it difficult to change track as adults.
When a girl child makes a smart and brave move, we often heard parents praising them using rather awkward comments that “She’s like a boy/male.” In the same vein, when a boy child cries, his sensitivity and emotional vulnerability are often compared with that of girls. Sadly but truly, by such remarks, we, as parents, are further reinforcing the dichotomization of the notion of ‘girl-child’ and ‘boy child’ based on a gendered division of personality, so to say. We are unconsciously but constantly instilling in the minds of our innocent children what should be treated as unhelpful, if not obsolete, the idea of feminity and masculinity that will have a lifelong impact on their personality.
I think, as parents, we should give them freedom, freedom of both action and expression, and let them be themselves, and restrain from trying to fit them in categories already conditioned by society. In my two years of close interaction with my daughter, I have learned that children are a passionate and efficient observer of others. They do what adults do and speak what adults speak. We have a huge opportunity of fulfilling our own envies, of how we ourselves would have liked to be shaped and molded by our own parents/adults, in the person of our daughter or son. For this, we could start with the basics: the basics of household chores equally shouldered by both the spouses. Gone are the days when cooking was synonymous with the wife. Men are as smooth as women in handling kitchen utensils and as efficient, in fact, more efficient, as women in washing clothes. Our domestic kitchen is the first and primary learning room for our newborn child. It is exceedingly important that the affairs of our kitchen are first and foremost gender-neutral to capture the imagination of our children. A new normal can only begin by restructuring the power relation between husband and wife in our daily living, such as whose work is valued more, who makes the decision in the family can be deeply affected.