Girls Can Do

“Only boys can do it” is a pet phrase of my twin daughters’ playmates. And I get red hot angry whenever I hear this. A background: B +ve and O +ve are six-year-old twins. Their playmates are two nine-year-old boys. They are grounded due to COVID-19 lockdown, have nowhere else to go and end up at our home.

What earth-shattering tasks would lead to boys saying “only boys can do it”? Scaling walls, climbing gates, driving a bicycle without support wheels, running down to the dead-end of the road etc. Even a try at playing cricket or an internal gossip between the two boys that they don’t want the girls to over-hear can lead to the girls being told: “only boys can do it”.

Suffice it to say that whatever the boys feel that only their tribe can do, the twin girls are equally adept at doing, if not more. But, even then, the common retort continues. The boys find newer avenues to mouth their conviction. This has led to so many unanswered questions for me and my wife about the upbringing of our daughters and the society surrounding us.

No idea how, where and why does “only boys can do it” comes from

We have tried to reason out with the boys on what makes them say their slogan. They keep repeating their adage in reply. There is no logic/explanation given for their notion. There is no corrective action either in their opinion when the girls do exactly what they proclaimed that they cannot. They evade the discussion, best come up with some fancy proposition to further their claim.

My wife and I understand that nine-year-old boys can only be a symptom. The genesis of this theory has to be elsewhere, that only their parents might know. It might be a coincidence that both the boys have no sisters, they come from sons-only families. That, of course, does not give them any right to have their “only boys can do it” concept. Or, does it even matter?

I am not a sociologist to hazard a guess about the current societal norms, theory and practice. We do not have a TV/OTT connection at home, so we are protected from the barrage of pre-historic era soaps and the mud-slinging media. As a working professional, I never bothered what was going on apart from the rat-race I was in. I have no memory of my life before the job.

I am clueless about what could lead to the nine-year-old boys having and holding on to their boys-only machismo?

No idea how to say “Girls Can Do”

Being a hands-on father has led me to develop some basic level understanding of gender stereotypes prevalent in our social structure. But, I am not an activist of any type. I am not into gender-neutral parenting or any of the feminist ideas. Yes, my daughters do not wear pink. Apart from that and my being a stay-at-home father, I have no further role in advocating women’s rights.

I want to speak to the parents of the two boys about the pre-conceived notions of their sons. But, I am afraid to do that. I do not know how to broach the topic with them. I am anxious that they might take it as an offence to their child/pointing a finger at them and it might lead to a squabble. I do not have the courage to do that.

More so, it is not just about the two sets of parents. They are not an island of exception, rather they are the norm. I know that they are just a part of the society that we are – unequal, biased and having blatant differential world-view for women and men. But for being a father to two daughters, I would not have even had a second thought on hearing “only boys can do it”, which today is making me lose my night’s sleep. I too wore the male-dominant shoe and it is hurting me, now.

I want to shout at the top of my voice – “Girls Can Do”, but I am clueless on whom to address, how to speak, what should be the articulation etc.

I want my girls to fly

I do not want any comparison with boys for my girls. I do not want to say that girls can do better than boys, I do not want to say that girls can do everything. Rather, I just want to say that let the girls do whatever they want to do. When they grow up tomorrow, I do not want them to hear “only man can do it”. I do not want my daughters to feel inadequate/inferior in any manner. That’s just about it.

I know I might be told that the situation is changing slowly, that there is gradual improvement. Nowadays, girls are getting equal opportunities. Yes, there are winds of positive change. But when one considers the generations of women sacrificed at the altar of manhood, the transformation is too slow to have any meaningful impact on the future of each of India’s daughters.

I know that this is only a rant of an ineffective parent. India is not going to change, India does not change. I and my daughters will have to fall in line with “only boys can do it”. After all, India is no country to raise daughters.

What is your belief on “Girls Can Do”?

Why A Girl Is Never A Hero? Why Only A Boy Is A Hero?

“Why a girl is never a hero? Why only a boy is a hero?” These are the perpetual questions raised by both of our twin daughters. Be it fiction, non-fiction, storybooks, mythology, cartoons, newspapers – whatever and wherever, both the girls keep raising the above questions.

To be honest, if it would not have been for my daughters’ raising these questions persistently, I would not have even realized it. It has become so obvious in popular culture and so ingrained into my mind that I was oblivious to have myself become synonymous with it. What is it?

Every child would raise these questions

My twin daughters are no wonder kids. If they can raise these questions “Why a girl is never a hero? Why only a boy is a hero”, I am certain that most of the other girls of their age would also ask similar questions. Why limit only to girls? I am sure that boys would also raise the same questions.

Why limit to girls and boys of the current generation? I suppose, my wife and our mothers too, when they were kids, would have raised these questions, as well. I do not remember if I asked these questions. Do you remember asking these questions in your childhood?

That is precisely the point. Only the children ask these questions. When they go on to become adults, somehow somewhere these questions stop existing to them. Along with their childhood, they leave it behind. What is it?

Every adult would not raise these questions

When the adults read the storybooks to their kids, why would they not be alarmed by the pronoun “He” staring at them all around? When the adults see the cartoons and movies with their kids, why would they not be perturbed by a boy/man saving the day and the world, all the time? At the time of narrating a mythological tale, why would adults not be concerned that it is always adventures and heroics of a God – invariably a man.

An adult takes it for granted that is how things have been, things are and things ought to be (Why a girl is never a hero? Why only a boy is a hero?) It becomes a norm, it gets accepted as a fait accompli, it becomes a part of life. What is it?

Is it the market or the psychology or something else or everything put together

There is a big market for kids’ story-telling material. It is all about imagination, they say, and is limitless / knows no boundaries. Majority of these kids’ stuff, if not all, is dominated by male heroes. Why is this, so-called, imagination only getting limited about the little specific around the gender and nothing else? ¬†Why cannot writers and artists centre their imagination around a girl? Is there no market for a female hero? Would parents not buy such stuff?

Or is it something that is even more deeply ingrained into our psyche? We do not think that women are worth it and can do good stuff on their own. They always have to play second fiddle – a Sita to a Ram and a Chutki to a Chhota Bheem. Imagination, an extension of our thought process, cannot exist in isolation and is a reflection of the story-teller / the society. These story-tellers, irrespective of gender, do not seem to think highly about the female gender, apart from being a side-kick.

I do not seem to get it. Is it the market that won’t accept the girls in the spotlight as the central characters? Is it our (man’s) interpretation of the women and their role in society and life, at large, and women being a party to man’s version of themselves? Or is it something else? Or everything of it? What is it?

Exceptions are not the norm

I know that the situation is not as bleak as I have made it out to be. We have exceptions. There is a Jhansi Ki Rani and there is a Kalpana Chawla. There is an Ela Bhatt and there is a Hima Das. But, that is all. These are the exceptions and not the norm. List down 20 notable women in public life in India, (no, the Bollywood examples do not count), and you will yourself know the status of affairs.

If you choose to live in denial and say that a situation is improving gradually, looking at things optimistically, I have nothing much to say. Just that, coronavirus came and turned our version of normal and acceptable life upside down. It is a forced change, though. Why cannot there be a similar and swift change in our outlook towards girl/women? What is stopping us?

A hero is now considered to be a gender-neutral word and is also increasingly used to refer to a woman (source: https://www.dictionary.com/). A lip-service. In real life, we are far from the notion, nowhere closer, not even started.

I continue to have no answer to my daughters’ questions – Why a girl is never a hero? Why only a boy is a hero? I don’t want them to forget the question as they grow older, unlike their mother and grand-mothers.

What would be your answer? What is it?

PS: Please do not bring the sham of International Women’s Day into the discussion to say that the situation is changing for good. I find it for the worse. I am referring to a change for my daughters’ generation, and not for the nth generation, down the line.

My daughters do not wear pink

My wife and I were trying to recollect the memorable incidents involving B +ve and O +ve. One event that certainly happens whenever we are out is a query about the girls – Are they twins? It would be followed by another question – Are they both boys? When answered in negative and even before we clarify further, one of the girls would be pointed at and asked – he is surely a boy. To the dismay of the person, we have to answer that both are girls.

We were recalling numerous instances when this situation would have repeated itself, anywhere and everywhere, with most of the people. It does not happen anymore. After the girls turned three years, they have started having long hair. Hence, their gender gets identified with the prevalent societal norms of girls having long hair.

I was trying to come up with reasoning as to why, earlier, the majority of the people got the gender of our twin daughters wrong. I do not suppose anybody would intentionally state the incorrect gender of a child. Why would this keep happening so frequently?

The simple answer, I suppose, is that the girls did not wear PINK.

Seemingly, for whatever reason, the colour pink has got associated with the girls; similar to colour blue for the boys. There is no ingenuity about this colour-coding, but it seems to be universal.

The way the products get marketed and show-cased clearly demarcate in our minds as to which gender should be wearing what colour.

There is of course nothing wrong with the colour pink. Our daughters look adorable in the pink coloured clothing. But, they look equally adorable in any other coloured clothes. Why should their gender identification be limited to seeing the colour pink around them?

It is as if the society, at a sub-conscious level, has got it ingrained in our minds about how to dress a girl and how to dress a boy. The gender stereotypes are so deep-rooted in our culture and it gets entrenched further with the marketing ploys of the companies wanting to sell their products to the children. They want the girls to be defined as girls in the manner in which it suits their sales.

We get restless when we come across a child not adhering to the norms of the colour of a dress. And the child mercifully is not even aware of it.

Why cannot a girl wear blue and a boy wear pink? They obviously can. But we as a society would not want it to happen for it fails our ability to straitjacket a child.

I understand that B +ve and O +ve might as well take a liking for the colour pink when they grow-up as they get influenced by their peers. From my side, I am going to do whatever I can to ensure that the girls know that there is no right way or wrong way to dress as a girl.

Our girls have a right to all the colours of the rainbow. If it means getting clothes tailored and customised for them, then so be it. They are not going to be dependent on any colour for the identity of their gender. They can choose their own way, what they are happy with and identify themselves with.

It is not to make them a tom-boy or a girly girl, but a girl, nothing more, nothing less.

What is your view of labelling of a child as a girl / a boy basis the colour of their clothes?

Schools continue to be far for girls in India

We visited my home-town Rajkot in Diwali. The girls get the luxury of the play area in the apartment, where my parents stay, and they make full use of it. During the time that we were in Rajkot, apart from O +ve and B +ve, they were only a couple of children in the play area meant for residents of 50 flats. I had a passing discussion with one of the children about his schooling, and I realized that the schools continue to be far for girls in India.

The child I spoke to studies in the 5th standard of DPS, Rajkot. As per the school’s website, Delhi Public School Rajkot founded in 2002, is one of the schools run under the aegis of Delhi Public School Society, recognized throughout the academic world for its progressive approach to education, path breaking educational practices and commitment to excellence.

I was speaking to the child about his school, classes, course and so on. I asked him about the number of girls in his class and he told me that the number of girls is limited in the school itself, and not just his class. He actually gave me his own version of the reason for this scenario. He told me that the school is far from the city, so the girls are less in the school. I asked him that he goes in the school bus, then how could it be far for the girls? He again repeated that the girls in the school are less as the school is far and what has it got to do with the school transport provided by the school itself? We moved on to other topic but his answer that the school is far for girls stayed with me.

Gender stereotypes built at an early age

I realized from the child’s answer that he has been already programmed. From someone, from somewhere, he has already learnt and accepted that the girls should not be going to the schools far from home. Availability of school transport does not make him budge from his position. The idea of equality of opportunities does not appeal to him. The notion that he, as a boy, is privileged is drilled into his mind.

Differential gender behaviour

My mother informed me a bit about the child and his family. His elder sister works as an interior designer in Dubai and did a course in France – everything all alone. Now, it does not occur to him that it is fine for his sister to venture out of the country but not all right for a girl to go to a school on the outskirts of the city. The double standard of the expected gender behaviour from the mother, sister, wife, daughter and others is getting added to the thought pattern.

The role of the school

The school, of course, would know that the number of boys outnumber the girls. What would have they done to reverse this trend/discrimination? Apart from perpetuating the situation by being a passive bystander, the organization does not do any justice to the vision and mission of its existence. This is a guess, though. I am sure that if the school is working towards this issue, the 5th grader would not have answered the way, he did.

The origin of gender stereotyping

I believe that this gender attitude gets inculcated in a child from the family, including the double standard. Yet, it is considered inappropriate to involve the family in this discussion. I am sure that if I would have gone to discuss this with the child’s father, I would have been asked to leave. It is something like we know that someone is corrupt, is taking dowry, is a bigot yet we continue the relationship with a pretension that everything is fine and we should not intrude in one’s personal space, even though it is detrimental to the society. They, after all, walk among us.

Conclusion

I know that India is progressing. The women are making the country proud in various spheres – they are heading corporates, winning medals, leading changes in the society. I also know that we continue to have one of the worst male:female ratio and a gender discrimination that starts from birth and continues for the entire life-cycle of the woman.

I understand that the readers of this article might feel that I am being needlessly pessimistic when the positive change is happening all-around and the girls are outshining the boys.

Speaking to the 5th grader of one of the elite schools of the country led me to believe that the wheels of change in India is going to grind way too slowly and schools continue to be far for girls in India.

Maybe, I am reading too much from one example.

What is your say?

How gender stereotypes get built in children by our daily statements

I have realized that there is a discussion going on about why the kitchen set gets gifted to the girls and the cricket set to the boys. Why Pink and Barbie are for the girls and Blue and Cars are for the boys? Why not the other way round or a different way altogether?

The objective of the discussion gets centred on keeping the child away from the gender stereotypes. A well-intentioned objective, I suppose. However, is the gender stereotypes limited to such obvious examples only?

I have heard the below statements quite a number of times in my own house-hold spoken by me / my wife:

I / Papa have / has come tired from office. Please do not bother me / him.

I / Papa have / has got a surprise gift for you. Say thank you to Papa.

I / Papa have / has a holiday today. Let me / him take some rest.

I / Papa am / is doing office work at home. Please do not disturb me / him.

I / Papa am / is taking an office call at home. Please do not disturb me / him.

I / Papa am / is working hard for your future. Remember this.

I / Papa will not eat your left-overs. Please give it to me.

I / Papa will play with you once you are fed and bathed.

I / Papa will decide what / where to shop and how much to spend.

I / Papa will not clean your poop. Please come over to me.

I suppose the above statements were regular fodder to the girls till the time I was working, one and a half-year back. Some of these statements were overtly said, some were understood by our twin daughters, even if not said explicitly. Once I left my job to become a full-time stay-at-home father to our twin daughters and my wife joined her organization www.facebook.com/Travelwithdirtyfeet, it was also an end to the above statements.

The girls, no longer, hear the above statements from their mother / me. I do not use any of the above statements for my wife even though I am fully aware that she slogs it out for the whole day running an experiential travel firm. I know that she used all the above statements for me even though I would have spent the whole day sitting on a chair, whiling away my time in meetings and breaks.

Even though my wife works and I do not any more, I cannot get myself to make above statements for her. Which, a mother is expected to keep making for her child’s father. To make matters worse, as a working mother (my wife), she cannot make any of the above statements herself, it does not occur to her. Rather, she keeps feeling guilty for leaving her children, which was an alien feeling to me, when I was working myself.

If I would have been still working, the girls would have continued hearing the above-mentioned statements. Their initiation in the Indian gender stereotypes between a man and a woman would have been over, by now.

What has got a kitchen set and cricket set / Blue and Pink / Barbie and Cars got to do with introducing gender stereotypes to the children?

I feel we do it all the time with each and every conversation, about our own perceived roles and responsibilities as parents. We need to get over our own gender stereotypes to start with, easier said than done.

What’s your say?