“Stop crying like a girl.”
“Do you have to hang upside down on the bars like a rough boy?”
Is your reaction to the above statements: “But urban, modern parents are no longer typecasting?!” Hold on. How would you react if a little boy declares he wants to learn Bharatanatyam or a little girl declares that her favourite sport is football?
Little Martians and Little Venusians? Not really
Yes, we do have some preconceived onnotions on interests, attitudes, behaviour and even aptitudes of boys and girls. And it is when these perceptions become generalisations and labels that stereotypes set in.
The ‘Men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ theory has been doing the rounds for so long that we think differences between men and women (and consequently, boys and girls) are facts of life. In reality, this has been debunked by research – it cannot be concluded that all men are aggressive and bad at social skills. Nor can it be said that all women are docile and bad at driving!
Similarly, experts opine that distinctions between girls and boys that we take for granted are not really rooted in nature. According to Dr. T.S. Saraswathi, retired professor in Human Development from M.S. University of Baroda and child development expert, “Other than the basic physical structure and hormones, most of the observed differences are due to nurture / environment/socialisation practices.“
The influence of gender stereotypes
Roopa Nagaraj’s experience with her son Ryan reinforces Dr. Saraswathi’s words. “Before he went to school, he interacted with all children, not just boys. He played with dolls and kitchen sets. He also used to help me in the kitchen and was eager to cook.” Things changed rather dramatically when Ryan started formal schooling. “Now, he refuses to use the pink crayon and tells me that it is girlish. He will not draw flowers for the same reason!” Adds Nagaraj Nayak, Ryan’s father, “He claims that he doesn’t like to play with girls…. but is it really so or is he merely parroting his peers’ views? …we are not sure.”
Manish Agarwal, father of an eight-yearold boy and four-year-old girl, considers his son’s inclination towards playing with cars and guns and his daughter’s interest in dressing up and imitating her mother, a result of their natural instincts as a boy and a girl. That said, he says he would be absolutely comfortable if either of his children wanted to try something typically not associated with his/her gender. Such an open attitude is very important because stereotypes can be especially harmful if applied in the context of learning.