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Battling gender stereotypes outside the home

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?)


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Ramya G. is an Editor at ParentEdge. Her interactions with her two children reaffirm her belief that growing children have infinite potential. Her interest in nurturing young intellects is rivalled only by her love for writing.

3 thoughts on “Battling gender stereotypes outside the home

  1. Kritika Srinivasan

    Ramya – good post. I think stereotypes do exist with girls as well, but they come into play when they are older. “You’re a girl – you can’t stay out late at night”, “You’re a girl – family should come first”, “You’re a woman – being a mother is more important.” And don’t even get me started on all the stereotypes out there on the ideal mother – even in a changing world where women are more independent and successful, the mother is still worhsipped (read typecast) as self-sacrificing, whose whole world revolves around, and rightly so, her child. And what about all the stereotypes around working mothers, and stay-at-home mothers, and part-time mothers, and….?

    Anyway, I dont mean to make this my personal rant – just wanted to point out that stereotypes do exist. I guess as parents its upto us to tell our children that these exist, they will face stereotyping and its up to them to decide how they will deal with it – “I don’t care what other think, they don’t think my way” or “I live in society, I must conform”. And I think both routes are okay to take – whatever makes our kids and us happy!

  2. Meera

    nice post. It will take a lot to break the stereo types but we must begin somewhere — very impressed with yours son’s reply :-)


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