Pink Or Blue...
Gender Equality & Toddlerhood
By SRUTHI RAVINDRAN
Living in a country dominated by patriarchy, I can’t help but notice how creating gender neutral or a respectful home or workplace remains a challenge.
I remember being invited to a house a few years ago for a family dinner. The house we visited had four members – a middle aged father and mother with two children – the elder son who was a teenager and the younger daughter who was probably 6 or 7 years old.
“The elder teenage boy was given the privilege of finishing his homework, watch TV or socialize with the guests. Whereas the six year old daughter was not allowed to play or have fun ( which is what she should be doing for her age ) but help her mother in the kitchen and serve dinner to the guests, including her older brother who could put his feet up and relax!”
I was beyond shocked and felt so uncomfortable!
What I witnessed in the next few hours in their home truly shocked me.
It made me realize that we can’t expect employees at workplaces to appreciate diversity and inclusion or being more respectful, if we don’t foster that culture at home.
This needs to begin as early 2 or 3 years old or when your child learns to talk or socialize. I always vowed that if I ever became a mother that I would treat my children fairly irrespective of their gender. Today I’m a mother of a 4 year old boy and I take conscious efforts to steer clear any hint of gender bias at home. However, young children are also exposed to their friend circle, school, literature and media that may work against your goals. So, it does catch me by surprise when my child tells me things I never taught him or encouraged such as:
- Blue is for boys, pink is for girls
- Lions are for dads, fishes are for moms
- Boys have fun, girls mostly just cook
- Boys are strong, girls are cute
- That T-shirt is so colorful and girly
- And more….
I cringe when I hear these words and immediately take efforts to ensure that he does not nurture these notions for life.
So here are are a few strategies from a parent to a parent.
Encourage Play Dates with Boys and Girls – If you start early this is going to work smoothly. I’ve seen my son enjoying himself thoroughly with both boys and girls. He has a good time with kitchen sets, make-up with dolls, car racing, animal play and somersault. So why should we limit their choices? This way they learn to respect one another early on.
Expose Children to Diverse Play- Break stereotypes by encouraging them to listen to stories and use toys that are age appropriate rather than gender specific. Honestly nobody is born with these preferences and I’ve observed that children thoroughly enjoy all kinds of play. Eg: Encouraging play with dolls is a great way to teach them traits and values such as care giving and empathy. Whereas somersault or kids football or soccer can aid in motor development. Now don’t all human being need both these values? So why worry about gender?
Patience is Key – A boy might say, “I’m a boy, so don’t make me cut vegetables” or a girl might say, “Soccer is for boys only.” These are learnt behaviours that they pick up by watching the world around them. Stay calm and explain how anyone could do anything. You could share examples from their friend circles such as, “Hey your best friend Tina loves to play soccer and your friend John wants to be a chef.” Just a word of caution to not go overboard and cross the gender boundaries excessively.
Walk The Talk – Well this goes without saying that kids learn the most by copying what adults do. They will be quick to notice any discrepancy. Let them see that people contribute to the house irrespective of their gender. This includes career choices, lifestyle, household management, the way you communicate and more. Change begins at home with parents. Eg: When I go shopping with my son, I would say, “I wonder why do all the vibrant colors go to the girls section. Why don’t they have more colors available for boys?”
Encourage Kids To Contribute – Teach your children life skills that are essential for survival. Simple things that they can do. Eg: Folding laundry, participate in kitchen time, contribute to cleaning and more.
Prepare Them To Stay Safe – Bringing up a gender neutral child is not easy in the real world, where your kid could run into bullies at the park or their school. Kids may make fun of a boy who has a pink shirt or a girl who is tough and likes rough play. So equip your child to diffuse such situations if they ever run into something that can harm their safety. Eg: “You know sometimes they may not like the toy you have and may make fun of you. What can you tell them so that they don’t make fun of you? It could even be a joke.”
Soon they will learn that there’s no job in the world that is solely a man’s or a woman’s. We are all simply human beings.