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They're both the same, you know

Dorothy Victor, Apr 22 2017, 0:18 IST

KID ADVICE

The D-Day was fast approaching and I started out early in the morning to an exclusive baby store to shop for my little one who was to arrive soon.

Browsing through the store, I was picking up things, from nappies to rattles, when the salesman accosted me, “Ma’am, are you shopping for a girl or a boy?” The question rattled me as I hit back, “Does it matter?” Pat come his response: “Yes ma’am, if it’s a girl, we have the pinks and the pastel shades that will work well for her, and we have the blues and the louder shades for boys.”

Whoa! There is segregation in babies too, I remember thinking, and it instantly frazzled me. Through that first introduction to what I would later understand more comprehensively as gender-discrimination, I learnt that the syndrome was not merely prevalent in parts, but a growing phenomenon.

I vouched then, that if I had children of both the sexes, I would create a gender-neutral environment at home and raise them without any discrimination. In doing justice to this resolve, I did my reading and culled out these nuggets of wisdom listed below, that have assisted me over the years in raising my daughter and son without any bias towards their genders.

Create a harmonious family culture


It is said that a family is not an important thing; it is everything! When there is
harmony and homogenous belief within the family that sons and daughters are of equal standing, a culture of equality in raising them becomes a priority with all the members of the family. Creating a family culture of treating daughters and sons equally is the primary step in building gender equality.
Children learn and remember to respect genders from the culture they see at home. “My mom has made it possible for me to be who I am. Our family is everything. Her greatest skill was encouraging me to find my own person and own independence,” said Hollywood star Charlize Theron, who was raised without any bias to her gender.
Move away from stereotyping

It is common among parents to treat girls and boys differently from the moment they are born. Yet, reality, confirmed by studies and research, reveals that girls and boys are far more alike than they are different. It is, therefore, baseless for parents to spend longer time with female children while letting boys play farther away from them, on the streets.

Besides, it is also a fact that male and female babies are equally lively, debunking the myth that sons ought to be spurred towards sports and girls towards less
vigorous and patient activities. Adopting a broader outlook and not stereotyping daughters and sons into specific and predetermined moulds will go a long way in raising them in a gender-neutral manner.

Make all things available to both

Dressing girls in pretty shoes and dresses, and complimenting them on their looks teaches them to place excessive value on their appearance. Embarrassing boys out of playing with dolls could be discouraging their nurturing instincts. Likewise, encouraging girls to play with dolls and ‘kitchen sets’ and restricting boys to meddle with train sets and Legos is discriminatory, and must be consciously curtailed. Making all things available to both genders forces boys and girls to go beyond their intuitive natures and preset norms.

“The stereotypes we see in toy marketing connect with the inequalities we see in adult life,” says Jess Day, a mother of two and a member of Let Toys Be Toys, a group that campaigns against toys being labelled for boys or girls.

Pay equal attention

There is a wide discrepancy in the way boys and girls are given attention.
Traditionally, boys get more attention in outdoor activities such as sports, while girls get less attention in these areas. Again, the language, facial expression and general tone in addressing girls when they are upset differs largely compared with the way in which boys are handled. This differential treatment oftentimes signals to the girls that they are more emotional and boys are by nature more brave. Conversely, when there is no discrimination, boys and girls grow with the same expectations and thus attribute towards gender tolerance and empathy in their adulthood.

Refrain from referring to gender

If discriminating between the genders has to be stopped, referring to the genders should be consciously avoided. In fact, in some countries, pronouns like ‘he’ and 'she' are banished. From nurseries in Sweden to America’s most prestigious universities, the very labels of “boy” and “girl” and pronouns like “he” and “she” are threatened with banishment. The Swedish unisex personal pronoun, hen, which is used to replace han (he) or hon (she) has entered the country’s national encyclopaedia and is hailed by gender-neutral parenting advocates.

Encourage switching roles


Most families try to assign roles and household work to children at home, based on gender. Thus, clearing the table after a meal would always go the girl and helping in car-wash might always be assigned to the boy. On the other hand, switching jobs at home and not sticking to standard descriptions bring down discrimination and contribute towards a more gender-neutral approach in raising children.

It must be discerned that the gender-neutral approach to raising children will make future generations more equal, empathetic and tolerant. If discrimination in societies has to be stopped, families must adopt a well-balanced, progressive and equal approach in dealing with their children of different genders.

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