Unknowingly… very very unknowingly we utter whole sentences with all the best intentions, only for it to backfire. Words are a very crucial part of communicating and while we would go insane trying to be aware of every single word we utter, we still need to be mindful when we are talking about the big stuff. The big stuff here is gender equality.
Peanut was about to take one swing at his little sister, when I sternly said “No. Don’t hit your sister”. (All was well till this part) But then I had to go and utter the next phrase. “You should not hit a girl“.
And then he asked why?
Why? Hmmm. Because girls are weaker. Nope. They are physically strong.
Because girls need protection. Nope. Girls can protect themselves.
What I should have said was “Don’t hit another person.” (I had really meant to say, ‘don’t hit your sibling because she’s much younger than you and cannot defend herself just yet’.)
Unfortunately I realized the impact of that statement a couple of years later when the little bully of a girl – Buttercup, would make life miserable for Peanut by scratching him, biting him, hitting him, all totally unprovoked and because she knew he wouldn’t retaliate. And the poor baby didn’t. He would cry and complain and get really mad but wouldn’t touch her. This was no gender equality, if anything it had gone to a whole new extreme, where girls were beating up boys (I was mighty amused at the thought of how that would play out in the outside world but quickly snapped back to my home reality).
Then I changed my stance and told Peanut to ‘man up’. Nooooo. I didn’t say that. But see the impact of words.
Wiser by a few years of parenting, I told Peanut that injustice should not be tolerated. It took him a while to understand that it was ok to stop the unnecessary onslaught and then one fine day he hit his sibling. She was totally taken aback but over a couple of fights realized that her brother was not going to take things lying down. Now, it’s a level playing field.
I was happy to have dodged that bullet but was clearly worried about all the many things one says and does and how it impacts and shapes both boys and girls.
The saddest statement is possibly –‘Boys don’t cry’. Why not? Are they devoid of emotions or feeling emotions? Crying is important for umpteen reasons and yet boys must not cry. They should be stronger than that. So the natural assumption would be that crying makes one weaker. How would we feel if we saw a man cry? And how would we feel if we saw a woman cry? The difference in perceptions, if any, towards those instances will ensure a tough battle for gender equality.
‘She’s your sister, protect her’. She’s your wife, protect her. Males are constantly told to protect the females. Another subtle hint for men that women are weaker. We may seem dainty but let not the form fool one to think we can’t stand up for ourselves. And if we are not strong enough then let’s get cracking on setting that straight. Learn self-defense ourselves. Teach our children self-defense techniques too but let’s not talk about protection in gender terms. The ‘strong’ protect the weak and females need not be the weak ones.
‘You are as strong as a boy’. That presumably innocuous statement is actually quite a loaded gender inequality statement. Those few words first assume that boys are strong. Then they develop to mean boys are stronger than girls. And then the story finally unfolds to tell that little girl that she can be as strong as a boy. Here was a girl who thought she was strong. Here was a girl who didn’t see any difference in her and the boy. But in that one statement she learnt 2 universal truths (sarcasm be noted here, but nevertheless ‘the truth’ for the girl). Hereon, she will fight the battle of becoming ‘as strong as a boy’. The ‘boy’ becomes her nemesis and gender equality is pushed back a little.
Comparisons are not necessary and neither are gender benchmarks. Boys need to be the strongest they can be as should the girls, but not by competing with one another. A girl should protect a boy if he is weak and nothing much should be made out of that situation. A boy should not be considered a ‘softy’ because he cries or needs help. A girl should not be labeled a ‘tom-boy’ ( even if it’s only in jest) because she climbs trees and rolls in the mud with other boys. This and more are what children do, day in and day out. None of these behaviors were designed for a girl or a boy. These behaviors are indicative of, and dedicated to childhood.
By letting each child experience life to their fullest and restraining our gender labels, we lay the foundation for what can be gender equality. After all gender equality shouldn’t be when girls are equal to boys or when women have surpassed the men.
Instead how great would it be, if it was of no consequence whether you were a male or a female, just a human being. A good one, hopefully.