ByÂ Ankita Nawalakha:
Last year, one day I asked my 12-year-old brother to wipe the utensils as I was busy with my studies. He spontaneously reacted- ‘Ye main kyon karun. Ye toh aapka kaam hai naa’ (Why should I do this, it’s your work). I was shocked and outraged beyond my wits; I couldn’t understand where he had picked up that sexist remark and attitude from. Upon introspection, I realized that even in very ‘progressive families’, sexism and gender biased roles somewhere creep in, thanks to the we raise our boys- whether consciously or unconsciously.
Why does it happen?
We live in a patriarchal society, even when women are going up to the moon; matrimonials are constantly flooded with appeals of- ‘A fair, homely bride needed’. My dad is a doctor and my mother is a home maker (I hate the word house wife). I am very, very proud to say that my dad helps my mom out with household chores. Despite this, he is somewhere apprehensive of what ‘others will think if they see me doing household work’. More than my dad, it’s my mom who is worried.
Okay, let me make this clear with the help of an example by asking you a simple question- What personality characteristic would you most like for your son/brother to be known for? I am sure most of you will say- “I want him to be smart, funny, handsome, topper, brave, strong, athletic blah blah”. I would have said the same. Not anymore. If there is one thing I want my brother to be- it is kind.
Whenever I hear about any rape incident, and people talk about what monsters those guys were, or how their mothers had raised them, it sends shivers down my spine. It scares me. It raises alarm bells of a kind that I never knew could. The first thought that comes to mind is what if Vasu (my brother) does something like this? I know that till date, he hasn’t done anything abusive or aggressive, but I also know that in the Nirbhaya case, someone’s daughter was violated in the most violent way possible, by someone’s son. By many sons. The blame for that night falls squarely on the shoulders of the young men who made terrible choices, but it also falls in the laps of their parents. What is wrong with the upbringing of little boys in our society? Is there anything wrong with the way I raise my younger brother? Is there any way I can stop this? As it turns out, yes.
This is for girls, this is for boys!
What do you gift young boys? Cars, gadgets, balls? ‘Cars for boy, dolls for girls are not biological’. Do the humanity a favour? Next time when you go to a gift shop, let your brother/son decide what he wants rather than saying ‘bhaiyan koi achi si car dikha do’. There are very high chances that he might choose a Barbie doll! Encourage him if he does, it’s something really, really healthy.
Oh god, Tell them about sex!
As uncomfortable as it is, you have got to talk about it. Even I am preparing since weeks for having ‘The talk’ with my brother. The conversation needs to evolve as he gets older-Sex feels good. Sex is overwhelming. Sex is confusing. Sex tricks you into thinking that you are receiving what you need (physical satisfaction, comfort, companionship, love, respect). We have to understand that sex education is more than just giving your child condoms and reminding them about STDs. As parents and siblings we need to worry about our boys being respectful of their sexual partners, not just about them getting someone pregnant. My brother needs to know that he will find himself at crossroads one night, or on multiple nights. His body will be telling him one thing, and his partner may be telling him another. It is a young man’s responsibility to listen to his partner. Explain to your boy what consent looks like (and doesn’t look like). They need to know what sex looks like. Not the Playboy magazine/online-porn version, but the logistics of how it actually works. Teach them to ask their partners. Teach them to check in as they take the next step with someone. Teach them to stop if they don’t think they’re getting a clear answer.
Be a man!
My brother has some beautiful feminine qualities- he is caring, sensitive to his emotions and he expresses them. Despite the fact that I call myself a feminist, I have found myself telling him on a couple of occasion ‘don’t cry like a girl’. It’s only now I realize how wrong I have been and feel guilty for the same. Ask any grown up boy, how many times he has been taunted and ridiculed by these three words: Be a man. How many times, these words have held him back from expressing. If you are reading this, please, please let the boy express whatever he wants, let him cry, encourage him to cry. Tell him it’s okay to fall week, to seek support.
You sit I’ll do all your work, after all you are my little brother!
For god’s sake, stop this. You have got to make little boys feel responsible for all their work from an early age. Despite being in a very progressive family, my parents specially my mother has a soft corner for my brother evident from her constant rattles of ‘mere bete ko kuch mat bolo’. Over the last one year, I have worked on it with both my mom and my brother. Through a series of talks, actions and lectures, my brother has travelled from a point where he said- ‘why should I clean utensils’ to today, when he is much better at household work than I am. (Proud!). Encourage little boys to help out with household work and when they do it, tell them how proud and happy you are.
Of course you want a brother/ son who is a ‘macho man’ and who is craved for!
Accept it; It’s we who have created the ‘rape culture’. We fill our young men with the heavy power of triumph, their heroism illuminated by the bright lights of a brisk Friday night football game. Young cheerleaders spend hours painting signs for them. Young men are known by their ability to get any girl they choose. Young women fill the stands with hopeful smiles, dying to be noticed. Ask yourself- would you want your brother/son to be like this? If no, stop this right now. Despite his constant rattles, I have not allowed my brother to play Vice City or any similar game for the simple reason that I don’t want him to internalize the myth that killing/beating people and raping women elevates his status in any way.
Every day, thousands of women are raped, abused, molested. Can we pass the buck by simply saying its government’s/ society’s fault? No. We- you and me, have created this. We have allowed this. We give them adult power, without instilling in them an adult sense of responsibility and ethics. You commit a rape every time you let a little boy get away with his mistakes. You commit a rape when you suppress his emotions by telling him to ‘be a man’. You commit a rape when you tell him he can get any girl he wants; after all he is a man. It is time. Now is the time to make this stop. If you are the mother, father, brother or sister of a boy, you can prevent the next December 16. Your job in preventing sexual assault is even bigger than you could have possibly thought. It doesn’t matter if your boy is 4 or 14 or 24. Start now.