“Man up.” “Don’t be girlie.” “Don’t cry.” “Speak up like a man.” “Act like a man.” “Be a man.
And the worst is – “you lost to a girl”!!
Millions of young boys hear these words, these phrases, these commands, almost every day of their lives. Not only from their parents but also from their teachers and from the society in general.
They absorb the words and then spend a lifetime dealing with it’s after effects. For the young boys, the path from their boyhood to manhood is cemented in their minds with harmful words and stereotypes. No one imagines the damage these words do to a young mind. Not only it gives a wrong base to our young boys but also shows the young girls right from their childhood that they are inferior to boys.
These young boys are never expected to show that their softer side of their personality. This leads to them become tough, independent and dominant.
Parallelly, it also leads to our girls accept the fact that they are the weaker gender who are expected to be emotionally weak, fragile and submissive. Unfortunately, the gender determines what is expected and permitted in a man or woman as a decent social construct. It also defines their differences and roles in the society and/or group.
These gender stereotyping or generalization has a long run more damage society that has a further crippling effect. Some of the most common stereotyping that we hear every day are:
Men are expected to provide financially for the family, while women are to stay back at home and take care of the family.
A man is expected to propose to a woman since its very unnatural for a woman to ask a man to marry her.
Women don’t know how to drive, aren’t good at math, and definitely can’t play a sport. They’re also talkative, with a fondness for gossiping and of course, shopping.
- Men drink beer and/or vodka; while women drink wine.
- Men work as managers, engineers, construction builders while women work as nurses, care givers, teachers, secretary.
The stereotyping is so deep rooted in our mind that I myself wouldn’t be comfortable breaking it. Think about a scenario, someone in your family is admitted in a hospital – would you be able to trust a male nurse? Not sure. Similarly, would you be comfortable with a female firefighter doing a job for you?
If you wonder, how does the gender stereotyping work or why do we follow it or who teaches us these roles, below are some of the reasons I could think of:
Society – We need to comply with the societal norms.
Fear – We fear to be treated differently or be alienated.
Media – Media plays a crucial role in furthering cultural and social stereotypes. For the most part, we as the audience just consume this content as status quo and it conditions the way we think and act. That’s a damaging trend.
If we ask ourselves, what can we do to break away our children from this stereotyping – its only neutral nurturing to them that can help. On a personal front, my 4 years old niece is currently going through a “I like Pink only” phase.Her whole wardrobe is dominant in pink, her footwear is mostly pink. She loves her dolls and her kitchen set. I am bothered about her, but I know her parents are correct when I see her across the park with a football or cricket with boys.
Boys and girls, women and men, must grow free to develop their own personalities according to their individual characteristics and interests. Whether a person assumes conventional or non-conventional gender roles should be a free and informed choice. Let’s take the example of a man and woman that are gender-aware and actively involved in promoting gender equality.
Whether this man likes to fix cars (an activity stereotypically associated with men) or like to cook (an activity stereotypically associated to women), he should be free to carry out these activities without feeling he’s continuing gender stereotypes or damaging gender equality. The same goes for a woman, whether she likes children or riding motorcycles.
Gender equality refers to the equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys.
Gender equality implies that the interests, needs, and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration and that each individual is free to choose how to develop as human being. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female.
So, how can we break away from this gender stereotyping and provide a neutral environment to the boys and girls to develop their own personalities according to their individual characteristics and interests?
The neutral environment must breed from home – one’s own family and people, someone the child looks up to. Here is what we can do, show them:
- Parents can exchange their gender defined roles. Father may decide to do dishes or cook and mother may fix the bulb. The kid sees and understands that both the jobs are not gender defined and its perfectly fine to do any job without being judgmental.
- Let your child know that incase a mother is a homemaker, it doesn’t mean she isn’t working at all. A stay a home mother also works at home just as the father works at office. The child shouldn’t undermine any role.
- If you ever overhear your son saying discriminatory like ‘crying like a girl’; stop him there and have a discussion why his thoughts are wrong.
- Praising your daughter for her looks and appearance and praising your son for his strength or sports – might also send an incorrect message. Such non-deliberate acts also need to be checked.
- Never assign the child’s things (toys, books, room furniture) based on gender or color. If possible, let the child choose his/her preference.
- Give freedom to your daughter as much as you would give to your son. Never tell your daughter that her parents’ home isn’t her own and that she’ll go to her marital home one day. Imbibe equal confidence in both so that they may speak up against any injustice or discrimination.
- Have a positive and nurturing environment at home. This will enable your child to express him/her freely and develop his/her true personality without having any prejudice.
Hope you all find this gender conversation critical and of some value. It is our responsibility to make the world a better place for the next generation and therefore its vital that we break the patterned thinking towards gender roles.