Rewriting the girl child's fairytale
Only when we reorient our mindset and “classic” storytelling, will kids grow-up to be responsible adults, opines† Sudha Subramanian.
It's not about the kind of clothes she wears, or whether or not she stays at home after sunset, or whether or not she carries pepper sprays. The very fact that the society seems to transfer the onus of preserving her honour and respect entirely onto the woman is blasphemous! Why is it that despite our "modern education", our "modern lifestyle", and "modern thinking", we still declare, "men will be men; women better watch out for themselves"? It is perhaps the extent to which the evil tentacles of patriarchy have rooted themselves firmly in our society, under the guise of “tradition” and “culture”.
When the entire country is aiming at a revolution with regards to women's safety, there is something intrinsically important for parents to do as well. While, we are struggling to bring the men who wrong to justice, it is equally necessary to reflect on what we are doing to empower our girl child. It is high time we educate ourselves so that we change the way we raise our kids. It is the most basic step in heralding a change in the way our girls think about themselves and what the boys think about girls.
Most parents probably believe they are raising their girl child and boy child as equals. They don't think there is any gender bias at home. But, as a matter of fact, there is. Unconsciously, we are constantly making our girl child feel different from the boy child. Although it is difficult to get rid of a tradition that we have lived through many years, we have to make a start. Let both kids have equal privileges – to either watch TV or read books. Let both of them do chores around the house. How many times have parents encouraged the boy to serve food/drink to a guest? Hardly. It is important to teach our boys to cook and clean too just as how we teach our girls to do the same. After all, they are life skills that will add on to the boys’ qualifications for a great marriage!
What we do or say normally reflects our belief system. There are several parents who believe that a boy has more responsibility to have a career than a girl, while the ultimate responsibility of a girl is to look pretty, get married, have kids, and run the household chores. In fact, to this day, parents worry about buying and stocking jewellery for girls from the day they are born.
Our beliefs resonate in our actions. It is important for both genders to have a career of their own. Both genders need to have a financially secure and career-strong future. Parents really need to imbibe this into their belief systems.
Change the way we talk and address our kids – How many times have we not accused a boy of crying like a girl? Discouraged a boy from playing with dolls like girls do? Not to mention, we always call the girl who is athletic a tom boy? Why can't we just let kids be and not bracket them into categories? It is about time, we stop grooming biased ideas in the minds of the tender ones.
More than beauty
Parents often instill in a girl that she must always look good. We don't tell them in absolute words but we do use statements like - “Don't eat fatty food or else you will put on weight” or “Be careful when you ride the bike. If you break your nose, you will look ugly”. These words drive home the point that the girl has to look good – ALWAYS. There is more to a little girl than soft curls and beautiful eyes. Let us move on by complimenting the girl about her other abilities – if the girl is good at spellings or drawing then, let us applaud her. Grab every opportunity and let the little girl know that she is a lot more than just how she looks.
Often, kids imitate parents in their behaviour. Therefore, parents play a huge role in setting an example for the child. When it comes to boys, they tend to treat women the way their dads treat their wives. When the father displays true respect and considers the mother as equal in the family, the little boy notes that he is supposed to behave the same way. When the family atmosphere can set this tone, the boy grows up to understand that girls are not objects of pleasure but human beings with feelings. He will grow up to respect the girl’s individuality. Therefore, it goes without saying that dads should help their wives with the household work and not be the person with TV privileges, who orders her to serve him food as he reclines in a sofa. The child should see that dads and moms are equals in the house.
Giving “the talk”
It is important for parents to talk to kids about the “forbidden word” more often than we think. The media is full of sexual content and children often see women portrayed as objects of gratification. It is therefore, important to teach children, especially girls that, they are lot more than 'pretty little things'. There is a dire need to educate our kids about sexual and emotional abuse. Teach your children to voice their concerns and make sure you listen to them very clearly when they talk. Do not belittle their talk.
Fairytales have, since ages, been a very integral part of a girl’s childhood. It is so influential, in fact, that often, after she grows up, she finds conflict within herself regarding the “prince charming” who is supposed to rescue her and make her dreams come true, and the warrior princess within her urging her to fling herself into the world and take charge of her life! Therefore, it goes without saying, that parents should be very picky when it comes to choosing fairytales for their daughters. Thankfully, there are a lot of “modern retellings” of these classic tales; opt for these instead of the older “damsel-in-distress-awaiting-prince-charming” versions.†
Needless to say, even as we try to play the blame game for crimes against women, parents play a very vital role in influencing what their children grow up to be as adults. It is time men subvert patriarchy and give in to a new age society where men and women can truly be equal with mutual respect and understanding of each others individualities.