Oh No, Your Daughter Plays With Boys!

Posted by Anubhuti krishna in Society
July 5, 2017

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?

Recently, I witnessed a lady in my neighbourhood publicly admonishing her teenage daughter for hanging out with a boy, and not with other girls. The mother was livid and the girl seemed apologetic. I see the same happening to younger children too. Although not as blatant, gender dynamics are played out even on the playground – boys usually play with other boys and girls with other girls. And it’s not deliberate. They have been divided for as long as they have known in school, at home, on the playground. It’s blue for boys, pink for girls; cars for boys, dolls for girls; cricket for boys, badminton for girls and on it goes.

Luckily there are people who refuse to conform to the stereotypes. Parents who understand that confining their children hampers their development and that laying down restrictions for their teenagers leads to rebellion. There are women who know that a man talking to another woman does not imply him having an affair with her, and men who realise that just because a man cares for a woman, it doesn’t mean he is romantically or sexually attracted to her.

So, there continues to be hope.

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