By Sinjini Sengupta:
Don’t buy them blue or pink.
The other day, my four year old asked, yet again:
– Mum, are you sure?
– Sure of what?
– That pink is not the colour for girls, and blue for boys?
– Yes, dear.
I took her to the balcony as we talked:
– Look at the sky. What colour do you see?
– Blue. Light blue.
– Now tell me, is the sky there only for boys? Does it shine or rain only for them and not us?
– Good! Now look down there. What colour?
– Green – she looks intently into the grass.
– What colour was the Sea, when we went to Goa?
– So, do you see?
– Yes – she nods at me thoughtfully. All these things in all kinds of colours, both girls and boys can see and touch them.
– Right. So what would you say when anyone…?
– I’ll show them the sky and the park.
Cook up whatever story you like, but, I insist, don’t lure them into believing they are any more different than what they really are. Instead, why not buy them green, yellow, red, blue and pink – any colour, actually?
Give them everything to play with.
Barbie for the girl, or that kitchen set. And why cars and guns for boys?
So the little fairy grows up with her doll-house, playing a mother as she sees them to be, dressing up and plating hairs of her doll children, making them breakfast in her plastic kitchen and putting them off to sleep right next to herself. Cut to twenty-five years later: She is one of the two parents who, always worries more for her kids than the other one, and always knows what the child loves to eat. She calls home, in between her office meetings, to check if her baby has had its food and gone to sleep. She coos to them over the phone, lulling them, so that stop crying. She takes the day off when the baby is unwell, always. Her colleague snides! Her manager, eternally unhappy; worst, her mind guilty to its brim. She rushes back home after the clock strikes its time, never putting up her hand for that extra project, giving away her promotion to what you call, priority changes.
Maternal instincts, you say? Well, perhaps there is more to it.
So, for once, why not start right at the beginning?
Teach boys to nurture, teach girls to play with fast cars and tell other parents, the same, who lend an ear. Let them try everything irrespective of their gender. Dolls, kitchen sets, cars, beading sets, legos, jigsaw puzzles, doctor sets, cricket bats and balls.
Why not start with buying a doll when it’s a boy’s birthday and a car when it’s a girl’s. In all probability, s/he never had that before and s/he’d love it all the more.
And, next time the shopkeeper asks if it’s a girl or a boy, say – Just. A. Kid. Make a point to say it.Oh, and buy a gun for none. Never!
Read them stories. But think, first.
…and then the prince came and took Cinderella away. Or, Snow-white. Or, Rapunzel. Or Belle.
And then? Of course!
…they live happily ever after!
Wait. Hold. We cannot be oblivious anymore, can we? Please open your eyes to the traps before it is late. Help your daughter – this once. Don’t read to them stories, of what they should not become.
Instead, why not help her believe that it is alright to find charming prince, but she doesn’t always need a prince to save her from danger, and that she can be brave and save herself too? Help her believe, to have a good life partner is indeed a pretty nice thing, but that is not the only way to be happy in life?
Tell her the right stories. Select and choose. Filter. Tell them stories but not these. I beg of you!
Parents might wonder, “But didn’t we read them as kids? Have we grown up any wrongly? Oh, nostalgia!! Ah, those days…”
I know. I share that feeling, too. But then, dare to stop and think for once, won’t you?
So what shall we read them? they might ask.
Ah, now we are talking!
On a personal note, my four year old doesn’t eat food or go to sleep without a story ever. And I haven’t repeated any of them till date. So, trust me when I say this I assure you. There are plenty gender neutral story books available.
If you look around you, there are more gender neutral stories than you may guess. What you can do is, pick up animal stories as you find them, or make them. I’ll name a few – The Ugly duckling, The Three pigs, The Country mouse and the Town Mouse! Billy Goats Gruff. And so on.
There are few fairytale stories too. Why, remember Goldilocks, the little girl who ate the baby-bear’s pudding and went off to sleep in its bed? Remember Gretel, that younger sister, who saved her brother Hansel from the witch and then they came back to the father? Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood? I am sure you can think of some more, too.
And then there’s the whole bunch of Dr. Seuss, of course!
Put them into Co-Ed schools. Please!
Let them grow up knowing that men are not from Mars and women from Venus; that both belong to our good old earth. And, that they are equal, and that they always will be.
At least, let us try our best so that they become so!
And finally –
Let the boys cry.
Enough said, I believe?