When my son wanted to apply nail polish on his toe-nails, the objection came from unexpected quarters – his older sister! And the reasons were rather unexpected too. She did not say “But only girls apply nail polish.” Instead she said, “Everyone in your school will say Girlie Girlie”. My son looked at her disbelievingly and wanted the nail polish anyway.
Off he went to school on Monday morning. At bed time, a little voice in the dark, ” I hate ….and ….They are so mean.” Turned out my daughter’s predictions were right and during assembly, four and five year olds had laughed at my son’s toe nails. I offered to remove the nail polish the next morning. But my son steadfastly refused. “Let them laugh, I don’t care.”
As parents who refuse to stereotype our children, my husband and I have came across many such situations. The world outside the home is so deeply into the boy-girl divide that the child needs to be prepared or in some situations, given a different point of view later. Or just given the space and time to question and think.
My son goes to a Montessori, and as part of the ‘daily life’ activities, children can sweep, knead atta, pound and so on. Last year, one day, both my son and a girl-peer wanted the broom at the same time, and the adult reportedly said, “Give the broom to her. Why do you want it, anyway, you are a boy.” When I heard this, I kept quiet for a few seconds, trying to frame a reply that would not bring the adult down in my child’s opinion, and yet set right the ‘damage’ that was done. I need not have bothered. My son said, “Amma, my teacher has not gone to …..uncle’s house. Remember, there, it is Ravi who cleans the house.” I thanked, in my mind, our friends, who had employed a man as domestic help (Rare, yes, but practical in their case as they live in a farmhouse)
When I look back, I feel that my daughter encountered far fewer situations – is it because it is now politically incorrect to be sexist with women and girls? What do you think?
(Do read ParentEdge’s current issue – the Building Blocks section deals with gender stereotypes in young children. And answers the question: But are n’t men and women, and hence boys and girls different anyway?)