When I was writing my last post about planning a baby, one person made a comment which drew attention towards a serious issue. It stood out grave and bold with enough relevance to treat it separately under a fresh column altogether. Entrepreneur Deepak Thakurel said, “(While planning a baby) I think it’s important to educate the members of matrimonial family with regards to the arrival of the new born. And of course, it is important to make sure that wrong expectations don’t ruin the joy of new parents. In spite of all tall claims, our society is still biased and often looks forward to a male child. It’s important to bring up this subject if such ideas are still there somewhere lurking in the back of the mind, so that there’s no bad experience later!”
His comment made me stop and think. There were more small and big instances that cropped up in my memory. My ex-colleague, a professor and entrepreneur, Dr. Sunil Lakdawala had once told me, “In my village if you have a son then they’ll congratulate you; but if you have a daughter they’ll say, it’s all God’s wish..what can anyone do!”
An auto-driver who once drove me back from my son’s school said, “You are so lucky that you have a son. Think of those who have daughters!”
This is a mind-set that has travelled across ages. It is embedded so deep inside that it is next to impossible to uproot this from the minds of people who still think this way. But if we don’t force a change today with our respective initiatives, then this would travel forever and we would be responsible for ignoring it. We may not change the people who have grown up with this thought, but we can stop it from getting carried over to the next generation.
The issue here is discrimination, and the school of thought that advocates in words or expressions that boys are superior to girls.
A friend, whose daughter attends a well-known international school in the Mumbai suburbs told me some time back that in the school-bus a male classmate had invited the girl to play something innovative. He took her at the rearmost seat and touched her butt by lifting her skirt. The girl in upper KG did not quite register what happened, but she knew something was wrong. She confided to her mother crying, and did not want to go to school on the next day. Astonished, I asked the mother why she wasn’t going to the school and talking to the boy’s mother and the school authorities! The boy must have seen something he shouldn’t have and her parents need to be told without making an issue out of it. The mother said, “They won’t appreciate it. The boy’s mom won’t believe me and she would blame me for bringing upon wrong acquisitions against the child. The principal would then take it out on my daughter. It has happened with others in the past!”
I was aghast. This is quite a reputed school in Mumbai. What had been haunting me since I heard this is, what can we, the mothers of boys, do to bring up our child with compassion and help them grow with a fair, non-discriminating attitude right from the beginning? Given that crimes against women are rising in India, should we not take up this added onus? Having been brought up as a self-respectful woman, I have always taken a lot of pride in my being. But what would be my status as a boy’s mother? Should I too start feeling “lucky and blessed” because I have borne a son? Should I too start blaming the dressing sense and attitude of girls for any physical harm that done to them by insensitive criminals? The answer is a strong NO. So there must be an added responsibility that I should take up as a boy’s mother. The point is, how do I figure out the nuances of that responsibility and how do I address that?
First was to understand the basic difference between a boy and a girl. A boy is physically strong, in the way nature has made him to be; the girl scores less on that count. But the emotional strength of a girl is always far more than a boy. So, may be I have to channelize the physical strength of my boy positively and the emotional strength of his mother can help him achieve that. It is important to give him the right values, explain things to him rationally and mentor him carefully at each moment. Even a simple slip of tongue, which makes him interpret it in the wrong way is unpardonable. Stop saying to the boys anything like, “Why are you in the kitchen? Are you a girl?” Stop everyone else from saying such things, howsoever offense they might take. Our system in India is such, that children pick up these clues from a very tender age even when no one really means them. But unavoidable and accidental catalysts are always there.
Few days ago, images of textbooks used in rural schools were taking rounds in social media. They were meant to teach sentence construction to kids with statements like, “Ram, do your homework. Gita, wash your clothes. Ravi, eat your food. Rita, have you cooked food?”
These are the clues that build a foundation in the tender brains even before you have noticed it. It is important hence to keep a check on what all our kids are watching, reading, listening and learning.
There are people around me who argue that girls are no less responsible for rapes because they wear revealing clothes or go out late in the night to provoke guys. I have aggressively opposed such thoughts. Often such opinions come from the elderly people in your own family and you certainly can’t discard those relationships. But you have to block those ideas from reaching your child. A boy, who is said to be physically stronger, should learn that he has the capacity to protect, and protest, when something wrong happens around him, especially if it involves a woman. However, by no means we can make him feel that girls are weak. Rather, this particular point can come in when we teach them good manners.
The attempt has to begin at home. At our place, we try to teach our child to love and value everyone he is exposed to. We don’t allow him to address our house-help as “maid” or “bai” as is common in this part of the world. He calls them “didi”. We try to get him to call “Sir” and “Ma’m” to elders who are not relatives or close friends, instead of the traditional “uncles” and “aunties”. With relatives, we try to show him the good aspects of their being and encourage him to pick up talents that his parents may not possess. In the park we make him wait and pass the chance to a girl who also wants to use the slip. There are also moments when I don’t prioritise him over myself. Not that it makes me feel great, but I communicate with him that way. If there is something he loves to eat and wants more after he has had his share, I ask him to check if there’s a surplus after others have taken their share. This is a very difficult job, but still I do it. I don’t give my share to him to exhibit my affection. My child needs to respect that everyone loves that food and they too deserve their share. I might give my share to him much later, but not at that moment.
I remember in my college two of my classmates were dating each other. One evening we were dining together and the boy picked up the chicken from the girl’s plate and put it in his mouth. The girl wasn’t happy and they had a fight. Till the last moment the boy refused to understand how his behaviour could irk her, when he expected her to feel nice about it. He called her “greedy” and “ill-behaved!”
This was probably because that’s what he had seen in his family. Such “sacrifices” are rampant in our yester-generation, but they do no good. It never occurred to him that the girl too may have wanted that piece of chicken and by demanding it she doesn’t become greedy. Just that he had grown up with a feeling of superiority and that had to drop.
There are still many houses where men are fed before the women. Try to change that, if you can. Food has a strong emotional connect and it is also a basic need. Everyone sitting together for meals does make a huge psychological statement without anyone realising it.
Let’s understand that crimes against women often happen because one, those boys wouldn’t accept a “no” or that they are wrong and they go on an ego trip to “punish” the girl. May be this is a potential area the parents can address. In many families they ignore mistakes and wrong-doings of their child. Or their heart aches to decline demands even if they are unfair and irrelevant. Please give your child a taste of “no” when required. And let’s not overlook their mistakes because of our affection. We aren’t doing them any good with that.
Another conscious step we have taken is to get our child to share his stuff. Be it pieces of chocolates or his toys, we encourage him to share them with everyone around and experience the joy of collective enjoyment. I also have requested his school to change their seating arrangement everyday so that the children are forced to mingle with everyone. Of course they choose their special friends and get closer to a few, but a cordial exchange with everyone helps promotes flexibility.
I don’t know whether these are enough. But I have started making a conscious attempt with my three-and-a-half years old. I wish to make sure that in the days to come my male child doesn’t start judging or treating people differently on the basis of their gender, because that I believe is the worst insult that can ever come back to me.
Hope I have the support of more parents in this journey.
Summarising a few points below for all of us to consider as we pledge our support for a non-discriminatory environment, a cause for which I call upon the parents of sons to take the initiative.
• Keep a check on what the child is reading, listening, watching, absorbing
• Talk enough; dig out information to understand what’s cooking in his mind
• Talk to the people with whom he spends a lot of his time; don’t allow their prejudices reach him
• Teach him to address everyone around him with respect, be it the maid or a security guard or his play-mates or simply a beggar on the road
• Help him to share and mingle with one and all
• Hone his manners, especially those to be maintained with women
• Don’t discriminate between male and female members of the family
Here’s wishing everyone a better future, and wishing girls better security. Join my voice and feel free to offer more advices and ideas on this.