Why we are failing our daughters, and sons

makeup, parenting tips, gender and kids

Urban moms are buying into stereotypes and not even realising it. (Source: Dreamstime / File photo)

By Tanu Shree Singh

“Come on! You are overreacting! It doesn’t happen here!” a friend remarked as she sipped on her cafe latte with an extra shot. I just let out a deep breath as she quickly followed it up with “Baby, pick something girly no?” She was addressing her three-year-old who had just picked up a toy dumper truck. 

A few seconds before that I had been telling her that gender-based stereotypes are not just a rural concept. They exist everywhere. She said what she said and then she did what she did. That is how it is for us city folks, we drink our lattes, we pretend to be liberated and then we judiciously choose the pink colour scheme for our ‘little angel’s’ room. We, the urban moms, are happily buying in to the stereotypes and not even realising it.

Just the other day, at the parlour where I go to when my feet go on a strike demanding a pedicure, I saw a little girl of four have her hair curled and patiently get makeup done. It was her birthday and the party was the theme around getting a ‘makeover’, I was told. So she was getting decked up, while a beautician had been hired to give other girls a ‘makeover’. And then we wonder why the girls are so bothered about looks and why they equate self-esteem with the amount of facial hair! Her mum was happy with the way the curls and the makeup turned out. It took the strength of every cell in my body to prevent myself from going up to her, seating her down and giving her a lowdown on the significance of makeup at the age of four. One more girl just bought into the fantasy of beauty. One more girl would be looking at herself through kohl-lined eyes, fluttering mascara-laden eyelashes.

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As parents, we need to pause and take a long hard look at everything we are endorsing, saying, thinking and nodding our heads to. When a boy opts for cookery club at school and gets ridiculed, or the girl who has a love for soldering odd circuits together, or for that matter who wants to be a part of the boys’ volleyball team gets laughed at, our entire argument of discrimination being a rural concept falls apart. Gender discrimination is at the very core of the society fabric, heavily embroidered with privileges. 

We are failing our daughters. And sons. We are subtly laying expectations on them in the name of equality. I can never forget the bookstore employee who tried to belittle my son for choosing a book with a pink, sparkly cover. Neither can I forget the numerous requests for book lists specifically for girls. Despite me repeating again and again, that books have no gender, people keep asking for ‘suitable’ books for girls or boys. They are oblivious to the impact a simple insistence on buying a specific colour for a specific gender can have. 

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Hence it is time that we recognised certain facts:

Pink, blue, purple and all other shades on the Pantone are just colours

They do not have a gender. The younger one has a bedpost with curtains of seven colours and he is buttering me up to buy him a light strip of psychedelic colours. He is a boy. His gender has nothing to do with his colour choices. 

It is never a harmless makeup session

It is a stereotype we are endorsing. Rather than buying makeup, talk to your child about how cosmetics should be a choice and not a compulsion. 

Repeat after me, everyone can play every sport

Even today, I know of mums who do not want to send their daughters in for horse-riding because it might break their hymen. I was left speechless then, and I pretty much have no words now. Introspect. Are you seriously rating perceived virginity over the girl’s choices? 

Dolls versus cars

This is an old one. Probably dates back to the time when the wheel was invented. Toys do not determine gender-appropriate behaviour which in itself is debatable. After all, I walk like a man I am told. Whatever that means. So, who determines gender-appropriate behaviour? Am I more of a girl if I play with dolls? Does playing loud football with boys make me less of a woman? 

Boys will be boys

If I were paid a penny for the number of times I have refrained from slapping the face that proudly declares that ‘boys are like this only,’ I would have been a millionaire. Boys are boys and girls and girls. Together they are the people who will build tomorrow. Anyone stepping out of line requires being talked to despite gender! Being boys doesn’t give an automatic licence to be nasty. Nor does being a girl mean cotton candy fluff and all things that sparkle! As parents, we need to hold kids accountable for their actions despite their gender and also encourage them to experience all emotions independent of their gender. A boy’s rage is not justified. Neither are a girl’s tears. A girl with a temper is equally accountable as a boy with one. Gender justifies nothing

Anyone who says gender discrimination does not happen in urban areas, needs to sit in a classroom for a day. The difference is stark and it is leaching into the young minds while we gloat and bask in the false glory of an equal world. Girls still have a kho-kho team while the boys run around in the football field. Time to change the narrative at its core, no?

(The writer has a PhD in Positive Psychology and is a lecturer in psychology. She is also the author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On. Listen to Season 1 and 2 of Tanu Shree Singh’s podcast podcast Difficult Conversations With Your Kids.)