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On my son's 7 th birthday I got different return gifts for different children who came for the birthday party. I packed these with wrapping paper so that each child would pick one and there would be an element of surprise . Some packets had toy cars. My son was worried because what if the girls picked the cars?
"So what?" I said.
"No mama, the cars are for the boys" that is exactly what he said to my dismay. This, in spite of the fact that it is me who is always driving him around.
Later when I thought about it, I felt that he had a point. When I purchased gifts for his friends on their birthdays, I got toy cars for the boys often but never for the girls ! Also if anyone gifted say, a kitchen set, to my son, that might look a little 'weird'. This is probably our social conditioning .
I being a strong advocate of gender neutral parenting try to bring up my son and daughter in a gender neutral manner but probably that is not always feasible.
My baby daughter has a fascination for the color pink. She is too small to understand gender preferences so this feminine choice comes from within. My son on the other hand will never choose anything pink not because he dislikes the color but society has conditioned him to believe pink is a color for girls. However this same boy, when he was a kid would love to wear lipstick, nail polish and even ornaments! Today probably he will be totally embarrassed even if he knows this. But that was an age when he did not know about gender stereotypes. He learnt the gender stereotypes from the society as he grew up and just like normal people he blended into it. It is true that if he retained his interest in lipstick and nail polish till now, I would feel 'strange' about it and that is again my social conditioning which I cannot deny.
It's not only about choices, emotions are also being constantly conditioned. My son, like many other children, cries when he is sad or upset. My father and my mother in law, both senior and respectable members of the family tell him things like "Are you a girl? " and "Don't cry like girls". I always feel that crying is a harmless way of releasing grief or frustration . Does he have no right to be emotional just because he is a boy? Is that fair? How many times have we complained about our partners not understanding our emotions? It was probably because their emotional side was killed in their childhood because being emotional is a girl thing. A person who grows up never crying obviously cannot be expected to understand tears of others. Fair enough. My question is when our boys grow up if instead of crying they release their grief and frustration by throwing things around or taking alcohol , will that be considered manly and shall we approve of it?
While choices and preferences may not matter much, it is absolutely necessary that we bring up our children in a gender neutral manner where roles are concerned. The line between male roles and female roles is vanishing everyday , everywhere . Women working or making a mark in their profession is no longer new, similarly it is important that men share the household and child care responsibilities with their wives. The good sign is many men willingly do it nowadays . All the more credit to them because they were not brought up in that way but have changed themselves after they had a family. My son finds interest in kitchen activities and I always encourage him. Somehow the society has not yet taught him that cooking is a woman's job. In future if he wants to cook a dish for his family I will be glad about it. Similarly if my daughter finds interest in fixing a household article with a screw driver or driving a car, that will give me a lot of satisfaction as a parent.
However that doesn't mean at all that the conventional roles are to be looked down and frowned upon.
" You stay at home and cook? Come on you are today's woman"...big deal. If she finds pleasure in cooking for her family, does it make her old school? Let her decide , it's her choice. Just support her if she wants to do a job as well. Nobody says , "You are today's men why do you go to office? Please stay at home and manage the household . " That's the irony of the situation .
So let us try to bring up our kids in a gender neutral way. That does not mean swapping clothes. It means not creating male and female stereotypes, be it behavior, be it roles. This will , without doubt, largely impact the future jobs, families, relationships and marriages. As for myself, I can cook meals for my family and also drive my car reasonably. My husband obviously drives his car very well but can cook a reasonable meal for the family as well. Yet we have a long way to go. Let us take it forward from there to our next generation. Men are from Mars and women from Venus, and that creates beauty and balance in relationships. But at least let us condition them to be equal and worthy partners in family and society.