My daughter used to go to a fairly-decent school. The parents of the students were all well-read, and some of them had opinions on education. Most of them had money, certainly. It was not one of those fancy ‘international schools’ – but still, it provided a decent competition to them.
I had been happy with the school, apart from a few episodes here and there. Anyway, I don’t expect much as a parent. Teaching discipline to my child, treating her well and giving her space are all that I want. In any case, my husband and I are non-fussy parents, perhaps even negligent – but definitely not the ‘helicopter’ ones.
A few months ago, we got a circular from the school to dress my child as a pilot or air hostess. I didn’t like this – I would have preferred ‘cabin crew’ or some such term. For me, this was almost like equating girls with air hostesses and boys with pilots. I may not be a ‘helicopter parent’, but I am most definitely involved with the affairs of my child. More importantly, I pay attention to the kind of messages my daughter gets – both at home and outside.
Personally speaking, I was a meek girl. I was always given ‘mixed messages’ (not necessarily ‘wrong’ ones) which I read incorrectly. I limited my reach and let my ambitions, emotions and behaviour be limited by my gender.
I digress. Given my life-story, I am particular that my girl understands gender equality, and never feels constrained just because she is a girl.
The moment I read the circular, I thought of dressing her up as a pilot. I would definitely not dress her up in a way which they thought was ‘right’ for a particular gender.
I have absolutely nothing against her becoming an air hostess. But, I have everything against beautiful, slim, fair women with heavy make-up being used for serving purposes, just because they look good. A prime example of a woman’s body being assessed instead of her potential! I agree that there can be other measures for this. However, in this case, I definitely didn’t want to stick to stereotypes.
In spite of this, if she becomes an air hostess (when she grows up), that will be her choice. But, this time, I wanted to give her wings – which I did.
Having slept the night before the big day in anticipation, she went to school dressed as an air pilot. In fact, she was thrilled beyond measure to be a pilot – I didn’t even force her. My day was made when she vowed to take me around in her air plane.
In the evening, when I picked her up, I asked her what the others had dressed up as. She told me that all the girls had dressed up as air hostesses, while all the boys were pilots.
So, my reading hadn’t been wrong. The school had managed to give the message of dressing up boys as pilots and girls as air hostesses. And the parents had complied!
What did they do during the day?
According to my daughter, the pilots got to fly mock air planes, while the air hostesses served the passengers and took care of them. She was the only girl who flew a plane, and she was thrilled.
So, on the way back home, I told her about men who work as cabin crew and how both men and women can do everything. This was my first serious discussion with her on why girls and boys should do whatever they want to do. I told her again why baba (father) can cook and I can go out on office tours – and how she can be all that she wants, provided she works hard for it.
Which decent-standard school with a defined curriculum does this? What can one expect the world (in general) to do? Am I being unfair in my assumptions? After all, why should my daughter always play with kitchen sets? Is it so that she grows up to only put food on the table, work and take care of the baby? What kind of world are we living in?
And if you happen to be a woman who has an ‘opinion’, that’s even worse! After all, she should be docile, not create a ruckus, and so on and so forth.
As a mother, priorities matter to me. I raise my daughter as a polite and simple person, who will know when she should take a stand. Personally, I live my life on some basic terms which I won’t compromise. And I will teach my daughter the same. I will raise her to believe that everything is possible – being a boy or a girl doesn’t matter.
She can be all that wants to be and more, but she will not stick to stereotypes – just because patriarchy and the stupid society defines it so.
I hope more parents, schools and society (in general) become sensitive to the kind of messages we are giving to the younger generation. Gender equality needs to step out of textbooks into our daily lives. Each small step matters, as each one makes a difference. Raise your kids as equals. Give them wings to fly, instead of curbing their flight.
A few days after my daughter was born, I was told that I should be thankful that nobody said a thing, in spite of her being a girl and not a ‘chirag‘ (bringer of hope – a boy, in this case). I think that was the day I decided to raise a girl who will fly!
Images used for representative purposes only.