Nothing wrong with the statement! Or something terribly wrong lies there?
Men and women are from the same planet, yet are constantly striving to be equal. One of the sexes is trying hard to catch up with the other. In every part of the globe, girls and women are abused, sexually harassed, assaulted and brutalized. A routine scene, a normal incident, daily news! But what is it about today that people are coming out in the open readily, talking fearlessly, engaging others actively to join the force, parading proudly and campaigning confidently? What are they actually talking about? It is the Gender Equality, the buzz word now! What is that raw nerve that it has touched? Is it the increased level of awareness, multiple and advanced choices of media exposure or the abnormally rise of violence against women? I strongly believe and vouch it is because of the enormous engagement and active involvement of men across the globe who have heard the clarion call and have taken upon themselves to shoulder the responsibility of creating a gender safe and gender neutral space. It is that particular realization that men and women are needed in tandem to have that equal-equal space. The development has to be inclusive; across the sexes, castes, communities, religions!
I was raised like a boy. Again, what is like to be raised like a boy? It is like tutoring him since toddler not to cry even when in severe pain ( Mard ko Dard nahin hota!), never questioning his coming home late, parents showing absolutely no worries of getting their `dark’ complexioned son married. After all being `fair and lovely’ is expected off girls only in our society. Despite endless efforts of educating myself on the gender equality and gender discrimination, patriarchal mindset has an insidious way of percolating in. If not all of the above, I was taught since childhood to be strong like a boy. But when it came to enjoying the freedom, the liberty they are enjoying, I could not find myself there. Was told categorically that I was not entitled to have those rights. Those are enjoyed by the A –lister of our society; the males. Since then, I had promised to myself that if I had a son would try my level best to raise him in a gender neutral space and teach him about equality and not entitlement. The change lies within you, starts with you and from your home! Start taking the first step if you still haven’t.
It happened few months ago. My husband, my daughter and I went to a Sports equipment shop in a posh locality in South Delhi. My daughter excitedly went to the shopkeeper, a man in his forty who seemed to be educated as he was attentively scanning the India Today magazine. She asked for a pair of cricket pads. The shopkeeper looked over his glasses and gave her a smile signalling yes. My daughter was happy and so was I. Confidently, the man asked my daughter, ` Achha, for your brother? He didn’t come with you, beta? ’ I stood still. She looked at me with a clueless expression on her face. Before I could answer recovering from a mild shock, there was a voice over our shoulders. ` It is for our daughter’, spurted my husband. The shopkeeper looked thoroughly baffled. Huge apologies girls, you can either be a huge fan and shout for your favourite cricketer from the stands or be one of the cheerleaders! Making cricket your profession is still too tough for you!
Another incident happened recently which forced me question about the space I am in and where the next generation will be. I was at my friend’s place and talks were on about her sister’s marriage. Aunty hurriedly came out of the kitchen. I could see a thin film of perspiration on her forehead. She blasted her younger daughter asking to pull off some of her photos (where she is in close proximity) with her male friends. Her voice was raised by few decibels when she suddenly remembered her daughter had also posted few of her `drinking ‘photos on the social media. A mother’s concern was evident. Those photos are bound to cause havoc to her marriage. The lined up prospective grooms are looking for a decent girl. Girls who drink are far from being decent. Growing up in a society bound to biased gender norms and conservative views is never a walk in the garden! Where men are free to talk about sex, women are still forced to hide themselves behind the stereotypic image of `I am a good girl as I do not drink.’ What is wrong in owning up, ` Yes, I drink.’? Is it a sin? Is it a crime? I know drinking might damage health but not talking about it, not accepting it (the way we have accepted a boy’s drinking with open arms) damages more! It’s time we stop reiterating the cliché phrases, ` Oh, she drinks!’
Then it happened again. Went to a dress shop and told the staff that I am looking for Pink tees. I was ushered to the `Girls’ section where I was shown all the possible shades of pink- baby pink, Persian pink, strawberry pink, fuchsia pink, hot pink, solid pink, pale pink, flamingo pink , dawn pink and few more!! One asked me very politely, ` How old is your daughter Mam? Is she fair, then any shade of pink would suit her?’
Till then I knew our roles are gendered only. The patriarchal mindsets do not spare the colours even. On all the occasions, the society is telling us what role we should play, what profession to choose, how our lifestyle should be and which colour to wear. Is there any space for bringing in the neutrality? Is there any change in the upbringing style of the next generation which will be devoid of pre-set gender norms?
Thank God! My daughter never says, ` Oh, I cannot be a cricketer’, ` Mummy, only boys can fly plane.’ The formative years as any parenting manual would say, is the foundation stone. The faster you notice these minute gender biased norms and patterns, the easier it is to lay the foundation for a gender neutral space.
Let’s take a sharp diversion from `Driving like Papa’ or `Helping Mummy in the Kitchen, where the little boy would grow up looking down upon the `women drivers’ and the little girl would start cementing the fact in her head that no matter how professionally successfully she is, preparing food is still her responsibility! It’s time to react and over-react. Bringing up a child with a sense of equality can make you face with stubbornness and conservativeness. I am definitely going to be more stubborn, go deaf to all these gender norms and try to raise my daughter enjoy her space as much as a boy enjoys!