“Ma’am, Lavanya only plays with the boys on the bus. Never with the girls,” complained the visibly distressed attendant.
“What is the problem with that?” I asked her.
Lavanya is my six-year-old. According to her bus attendant, she is not only unruly but also prefers the company of boys over girls.
My first reaction to her comment was of anger and disbelief. Not because she was thought of as unruly, I know she is far too independent and free-willed to be tamed, and I have made peace with that. What bothered me was the lady’s objection to my daughter talking to and playing with boys.
As a young girl, my first (and only) best friend was a boy. Protective, sensitive and intelligent, he was neither political nor bossy, and I enjoyed being with him. All was well until we entered our teens, and things suddenly changed. It was no longer alright to hang out together, talk long hours or meet alone. I was confused and when I asked him what had changed, he said, “You don’t know how the world is.” We started to talk less and eventually drifted apart. Many years later when we reconnected, he was more bothered about my husband than about me, wondering whether he would be comfortable with our reunion. Most of our conversations revolved around this concern. Needless to say, we soon went our separate ways.
As a society, we are adept at segregating, we take pleasure in it. For instance, we insist on separating the rich from the poor, Hindus from Muslims, men from women. We find it hard to allow them to mingle, communicate and form their own opinions and perceptions. So girls stay away from boys, and women from men, unless they are related by family or work. Anything other than that is questioned and discouraged. It gets even more complicated if spouses or partners are involved: explanations are sought, clarifications need to be provided, and friendship is often sacrificed at the altar of marriage.
If it is acceptable for two women or two men to be close friends, spend time alone, talk at odd hours, even live together, why is it that a man and a woman doing the same are subjected to labelling and judgment? Because they belong to different sexes, must their relationship necessarily be sexual or romantic?
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