-Akchayaa, II Year B.A. English
Childhood is the period of time where choosing between Rocky Road and Mint Oreo or deciding between Oswald and Noddy were the only difficult decisions to make. They are the formative years of one’s life, as what a child witnesses or listens to affects the person he/she turns out to be. Young children come into contact with gender stereotypes and it is not long before they start acting according to them.
Right from the time a baby’s sex is determined, parents start ‘preparing’ the baby to take up gender roles. As they grow, these little children believe that boys and girls cannot have similar interests or hobbies and must be confined to the boundaries set by society. Families are the greatest agents of these stereotypes and children learn by example. Children observe what they see in and around their homes and try to emulate them in the form of role plays and games, where the girl cooks and cleans up while the boy who does not help with the chores is lovingly waved off to work by his ‘pretend wife’. Isn’t that the current scenario in most homes?
Children’s books given by schools, as well as other picture books, are also culprits in this propaganda. In the books given by schools, various pictures of daily activities show the woman in the kitchen while the man reads a newspaper or works on the computer. Pictures showcasing professions are another can of worms. Professions like teachers and doctors are occupied by women while engineers, pilots and police officers or dominated by men, according to those text books. Other picture books and fairy tales are no better. Every fairy tale ever written follows the same motif: Prince Charming saving the Damsel in Distress and they live happily ever after. Isn’t it high time that we teach our children more realistic tales about courageous women who ran secret underground stations during the independence movement?
As the world moves towards breaking gender binaries, parents have a huge responsibility of teaching their children how men and women are equal and might have similar interests, dreams and hobbies. Apart from teaching them, parents must realise that children learn by observation and ensure that both parents do their share of household chores. Bedtime stories of inspirational men and women can be read out instead of sexist fairy tales. Advertisements that break gender stereotypes must be encouraged because children learn faster from media and television than books. There needs to be a change in children viewing these forms of gender because instead of raising Prince Charmings who kiss beautiful women and Cinderellas who wear excruciatingly painful glass slippers, we ought to raise Prince Consent Matters and Corporatellas who shatter glass ceilings.