When I was pregnant with my elder son, I used to often sit and wonder what values I would want to teach my children and ponder over the kind of human beings I would want them to grow up to be. Of course, every mother wants her child to be gentle, kind, caring, compassionate, strong and so on. But if I had to dig deep down and really think about not only the values they need to integrate into their character, but also the values they display in their everyday behaviour, I know I want my children to be honest, forgiving, respectful, charitable, believe in themselves, committed and courageous. Frankly, I could go on and on! Not only do I hope they imbibe all these values but that they also use these values to make a difference in the world. But above all, I want them to exhibit equality in every aspect of their lives.
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Whether you have boys or girls, the world we live in today demands that they are treated the same and taught the same things. Let me explain. Living in India, the question of equality is always a question mark. When I talk about equality here, I am referring to the equality between men and women or should I say the inequality. This issue of gender equality is long-standing and one where the progress is extremely slow, bordering on non-existent. The almost ‘inferior’ status of women even today is one of the many reasons for the rise in crimes against women. But is that the only reason why there is an upward trend in crimes against women, especially rapes, dowry deaths and honour killings? My answer is no. The safety of women in India has been at stake for a long time now and no law put down by the people running the country will ever make a difference. One of the main reasons that men even in the year 2017 feel like they have the power and the right to hold women back and mistreat them, is because growing up, they have not been taught otherwise. Now is the time to teach our sons to act respectfully instead of telling our daughters to be careful.
Let’s talk about what we as mothers as part of our parenting philosophy should be teaching our sons. Lessons in gender equality should begin early and be repeated often. It is never too early to start. But there is something else we as mothers need to focus on even before addressing equality with our sons. Boys are always taught to be assertive and aggressive. Rarely do you hear anyone telling their sons to be gentle, kind and sensitive. There is a popular ad by VogueEmpower with Madhuri Dixit which deals with domestic violence and how boys don’t cry. This ad rubbed many people the wrong way, but I think it clearly portrayed a big part of what is wrong with the world today and the changes that we as parents need to make to our parenting philosophy.
As a mother to two boys, I try every day to refrain from saying ‘don’t cry’. Ever. Of course, it does come out at times, but it is a work in progress. As I mentioned earlier, it is never too late to start. If my son shuts the door on his hand by mistake and cries, I say “let it out”. If he falls in the playground, I don’t say “be a big boy, stop crying”. There is no rule against boys crying and there never has been. It is a social norm that has been put into place by us. My elder son loves walking around in other people’s shoes (men’s and women’s). He also loves parading around with my handbag slung over his shoulder. I take pictures when he does that. He loves Pink. So, if he likes a toy or a shirt in pink, I buy it for him. He is also obsessed with cars and repairing them. He loves Tennis and Golf. Who took charge and said Blue is for boys and Pink is for girls? Holding back our sons from exploring their more gentle and sensitive side is what gives them the idea that girls are supposed to be gentle and sensitive, while boys should be anything but. There starts the gender inequality. I have heard of mothers saying “’boys will be boys” when the topic of their sons bullying others in class comes up. When gender is often used to excuse a certain type of behaviour, a dangerous message is sent. It is time to stop attributing behaviour to gender and help our children understand that everyone is the same. If we can spend some time at home educating our sons on this, we can help the world be a safer and better place.
We need to step back and think about the messages we send our children every day. The bottom line is that we cannot control what our children see and learn in the world out there but we can control what they are taught at home. We can encourage them to be their own unique selves despite what society tells them is appropriate according to their gender. We can empower them to knock down barriers created by gender differences, leading to an overall safer world around them.