M for Men

My posts in the A2Z challenge started out as a fun-filled narration on my experiences related to school admissions. With time, I realized how my thoughts were peeling off layers of issues hidden under the security blanket of education. The moment a child is born, a doctor announces its gender to the parents first. And there begins the first step of discrimination because the birth of a baby girl is considered as a burden in a lot of families while a baby boy is a reason to celebrate even today. And from there on begins the set expectations from each gender. 

I grew up in a household where equality was the norm. I have seen my father take care of the kitchen as and when required with the same expertise in which he handled his teaching job. Nothing was assigned to be a job based on gender in my home. But the world outside is never so kind. Glass ceilings are a harsh reality for women and I have faced such biases at various places of education and work. But if there was something that I had decided for my son, it was to raise him sans any gender discrimination. But the ‘well-wishers’ can obviously not let me have my way with the child without garnishing our lives with their opinion in generous doses.

As Tuneer learned to play, the first thing that he was drawn to was a kitchen set that I had purchased for him. It used to be his favorite set until recently when the love swayed towards a newly purchased supermarket set. But weren’t kitchens supposed to be a girl’s domain? To those ‘well-meaning souls’, it didn’t matter that the mother hardly entered the kitchen because what was important was to let the child know that he was expected to play with toys befitting a boy. Some went a step ahead and commented on how I was raising him as a girl. With a smile on my face, I would often reply as to how I was so proud of my MasterChef who already knew how to keep his foodie mother happy. 

Breaking gender stereotypes
A MasterChef in the making at his 1.5 years

Tuneer turned out to be a very soft-spoken and sensitive child. What was surprising was that his emotional quotient was much higher than a child of his age group. So, whenever he sees someone in pain, he tries to reach out. At his age, he might not be able to solve the problem but his compassion towards others never lets him stop him from trying. When we are consciously trying to speak about the need for empathy in adults, this quality of his often gets ridiculed as a sign of weakness. People around him are keen to teach him to be a strong boy and be apathetic instead. The other day, I had no option but to casually mention to a ‘well-meaning’ relative uncle how this is how society created psychopaths. This uncle has stopped talking to me after that.

‘Boys don’t cry’ has been another typical sexist statement that has led to a false notion of manhood. While I am not quite fond of shedding tears, I have consciously tried to teach Tuneer that it is okay to cry because that’s just another way of letting out emotions. Of course, people around including family members leave no opportunity to let him know how only girls are supposed to be crying. When he looks at me quizzically, I often respond with a smile, “Have you ever seen me crying? Do girls in your school cry?”. I have a strong desire to tell this set of people that someday I am going to make them listen to the voice of Himesh Reshammiya singing on a loop and see how they don’t end up crying in pain (If you don’t know who this man is, you are living a blessed life devoid of noise pollution)!

Most of the clothes that I received as gifts for Tuneer after he was born had shades of blue. For me, pink and blue have no significance beyond being colors only. I have worn the lightest of shades for life whereas my mother loved a fiery red color. With time, Tuneer has started sharing his color preference which happened to shades of pink the last year-end. He had asked for a full-sleeve pink shirt as his Christmas gift but we failed in securing one even in the biggest of retail outlets in Kolkata. The answer that I received was in the lines of how boys don’t wear pink. We finally found one in a First cry store in our native town. One of my friends, a mother to a beautiful girl often complains about how she is tired of seeing so many pink clothes for girls in most of the stores. 

Pink is him
Pink is him

The boy had taken my statement of ‘pink is him’ a tad too seriously during the interview season. Dreading a devastating outcome, I had pleaded with him to wear something in a more neutral color. I had no desire to explain the choice of pink color to the interviewers. However, realizing that he had the upper hand in this case by simply choosing not to answer any question in the interview, the kid refused to budge from his stand. I had no option but give in. Strangely, the interview turned out to be uneventful. When Tuneer was asked about his favorite color, he said pink while pointing towards his pink shirt and I saw the teacher give a smile as she said ‘very nice’ to him. He is due to start his session in the same school on Tuesday.

While the post has a deliberate dash of humor added to make it a light read, the sad reality is that it is a constant struggle to fight gender-related prejudices. Most of us stand alone in our battle against society and its the preconceived mindsets, that at times includes even the most favorite members of our family or friends. There have been times when I felt like giving up. I wanted to scream at the boy for shedding tears, had a strong desire to throw away his favorite pink tees and tell him to simply mind his own business instead of his caring about others. But that would have been too easy for patriarchy and misogyny to break my strongest stand for equality. So I let that thought pass and get back to appreciating my little boy and nurturing his super special qualities. 

Thank you for being a part of my A2Z journey as we make it to the half-way mark today. I will be back with a new post on ‘N’ tomorrow. If you have missed any of my previous posts in this series, you can read it here.

Author: Sonia Chatterjee

Who am I? An Ex-Banker turned Blogger/Writer/Solopreneur. Any qualifications? A Postgraduate degree in Chemistry followed by Post Graduate Diploma in Management. I am still trying to figure out how and when I can connect all these dots to what I do presently. Have I done any real work? If two years in Market Research and six years in Banking (three different Banks though) as Branch Head can be considered as real work. Where do I live? After a nomadic sixteen years in Delhi, Bangalore & Mysore, I am back to where it all started from - Kolkata. My favorite things - Food, travel, books and my three and half-year-old toddler son What is this blog about? Sonia's musings is an attempt to channelize emotions through words and pictures hoping they touch a chord with my visitors.

46 thoughts on “M for Men”

  1. It’s great to see that you are teaching Tuneer great life lessons. I’m proud of you! This pink and blue discrimination starts from the time gender disclosure (Not in India but here since they get to know the gender in advance, people celebrate it with families and plan Blue & Pink themes to reveal the gender of the baby). Having a color for gender is not much dangerous but things you mentioned such as ‘Boys don’t cry’, ‘Boys are not supposed to play kitchen toys’ etc are horrible.

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  2. You are so right. For me the struggle is even more difficult. With an entire army of a family under the same roof, it is so difficult to instill gender neutral values in my boys. The moment they get inside the kitchen there are atleast three other women who want them to go and sit while they can help them with whatever they need from the kitchen. It was a pleasure reading your post as always.

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  3. I simply loved the post. Felt like you had written about my childhood. The gender norms and stereotypes gave me a painful childhood. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like they will whither away soon. Thanks for the write up.

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  4. Pink is him, indeed. He looks pretty cool in that shade…. i would have looked like a strawberry icecream ball trying to escape being eaten in comparison.

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  5. I loved this post. Raising a child without gender discrimination can be a little difficult. When my daughter started playing she would opt for balls instead of dolls. One person even told me why does she play with balls get her a doll or a kitchen set. Though she has a few dolls she still does not have a kitchen set. Instead, she picked up an air gun. Also, I am getting sick on seeing only pink for girls and only blue for girls. In the school interview when she was asked what her favourite colour was, she replied green. The teacher was taken aback and asked her why not pink or purple. But I am happy for the fact how I am raising her to be empathetic and you are also doing great work with your son.

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  6. People only say, they don’t discriminate but they do because they only say, don’t follow what they said. I don’t support the belief boys shouldn’t go in the kitchen. My 2years son always stands in the kitchen and I noticed he has some interest in those things. I wish my son would also learn cooking and help the family whenever they needed.

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  7. Totally understand the discrimination… I gave into the discrimination(of dressing them up in pink and blue respectively) when my kids were young but now neither of them know “gender bias” as both are brought up exactly the same way – kitchen chores, table cleaning chores etc etc

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  8. I agree that it’s the sad reality of our society and discriminating boys and girls on the basis of colours or toys etc is sad. Even I buy all the colours for my girls. They both infact prefer blue and yellow to pink.

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  9. I really loved reading how you shut the Uncle-with-a view up. In India every family member, relative, neighbour, random person walking on the road has an opinion on everything that they generously share even when it is not asked for. This is the point you put across so well through this post, Sonia. As for Gender-Equality, people need to understand the concept before they accept or implement it , and that will happen only when they stop resisting it. You are doing a great job with Tuneer. Develop subjective deafness and keep going!

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  10. You are bringing up Tuneer so well, Sonia! Just do what your heart feels right, society be damned! Every one will have their opinions which they will expect you to follow. But, he is your son and you know how to bring him up well. We need sensitive boys today, who will grow up into sensitive adults who will be caring towards all around and make it a better place to live in. We can see what misogyny and patriarchy have done to our world. It’s time we gave empathy and sensitivity a chance, don’t you think?
    And, by the way, pink looks so good on Tuneer! Pink looks good on men. Hubby wears pink shirts and looks tooooo good! ;P

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  11. Lots of love to Tuneer!
    The so-called ‘well-wishers’ are experts in garnishing their opinion in generous doses as if they are certified advisors in every field. You are doing an amazing job as a mother and Tuneer is doing it all right.
    I agree with this built up Pink and Blue color discrimination, I used to hate it when everyone gifted pink frock, pink shoes, pink teddy to my little girl, why so much pink? Every color is as beautiful and innocent like each child. Gender bias, color bias har cheez mein logo ko bas problem. This post was my favorite of all 🙂

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  12. Clap clap. So well written and I can almost hear you shell out my story. I share the same feelings about my son and because he too is a sensitive boy, it is almost seen as a sign of weakness. Very hard to fight these ideas.

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  13. It is not bad to be sensitive. Though society may say it is effeminate, we need more sensitive men and women to run our society. Swami Vivekananda once said, (I don’t remember where)” those who cannot cry at fellow human beings misery, are they even humans?” So crying and being sensitivity are not bad. My sensitivity, should not let me deviate from my responsibility. Even on a life and death competition, one should feel for the opponent while doing his or her duty.

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  14. I could have hugged you for writing this, Sonia. You and I are so alike and feel so similarly, it is uncanny. I had the same pet peeves with my sons. That cry like a girl made no sense to me because I hardly ever cry and don’t know why crying is considered bad anyway. Also, my older son loved playing with a kitchen set and I bought him one much to the amusement of many women friends. I have always loved getting pink kurtas and tees for my sons. Heck, my favourite colour is blue so all this is so much bullshit. I hate stereotypes. I wonder if our sons are sensitive and empathetic individuals because they are raised by strong, feminist mums. Earlier these stereotypes would really annoy me. Now, I don’t care. It really does not matter any more. I guess if more of us would do this, these stereotypes will just melt away. Kudos again for writing this post!

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  15. I completely agree with you and being a mommy of two girls I had faced these kinds of situations so many times in my life, when people consider me unfortunate or offer advice that you should try once more for a boy child..sad and harsh reality of our so-called modern society.

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  16. I enjoyed this post immensely. Though it has parts that would add a smile to the readers face but the underlying issue is much more grave. It is indeed a big challenge to cut through the gender differences that is embedded into the very layers of our existence. But, you are doing so right to create a gender neutral environment for Tuneer. More power to you!

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  17. What a beautiful post. I am glad you are embracing gender-neutral parenting; God knows we need more people to let their little boys wear pink and play with whatever toys their hearts fancy. I love how he is smiling in that picture. May God give you both the power to live life to the fullest 🙂

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  18. This gender discrimination is, sadly, a big part of our national legacy. I have never been fond of pink, even as a little girl. My favorite colors are blue and yellow. And I liked reading Chacha Chowdhary more than those fairy tales other girls my age were reading. But I also liked doing embroidery. Each kid is an individual. Don’t know why we have the urge to generalize so much.

    Like that incident you mentioned about not getting a pink shirt for him easily, I faced a similar issue recently, when I was hunting for a small lion stuffed toy for my niece. All the shops that I went to were like – “madam stuffed toys to generally ladkiyon ke liye bante hain and ladkiyan kahan lion-tiger ke saath khelti hain!” 😐 And my niece is so weird, she just wouldn’t touch any of her teddy bears, and at that time, had taken a big fancy to the picture of a lion in one of her books! Eventually I also found one in a First Cry store, but alas, it was too big for her.

    Find my M post @ Benefits Of Being Mindful | 5 Ways To Boost Happiness With the Practice of Mindfulness

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  19. You are doing great job by not teaching your son gender bias. Pink for girls, blue for boys, kitchen set for girls, cricket set for boys. These things are meaningless in progressing world.

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  20. Pink is a lovely colour which I am very fond of and it is also my nephew’s (my sister’s son) favourite colour. And talking of cooking my father always used to contribute to the kitchen and is an expert cook. During her last year of service, my mother used to travel from Chennai to Kanchipuram and back (yes, this is true) every day for a year. This had to be done in order to save her retirement benefits. And during that one year, my father, myself and my sister used to do all the cooking. Even earlier than that my parents had always treated me and my sister equally. In fact, my father was a bit partial to my sister as fathers will be with daughters. And when I was in the UK my sister used to come back from the hospital very tired and I always made sure that there were the usual sabzi and sambar and rasam waiting for them when my sister and brother-in-law came back home after a tiring day. But unfortunately, after marriage, my wife does not allow me inside the kitchen saying I mess up the place. So cooking skills are a bit rusty now.

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  21. Thats so true. I have faced this thing at my place where my grandmaa use to discriminate, but then as I grew i came to know how she never gave variety of food to me n my sister but always to my brother. the time when I understood things at the age of 6-7 I started back answering her and asking her that we deserve the same as our brother. That was the time when my uncle aunt and mom dad smiled as I did something that they tried for years explaining her not to discriminate. This is something very bad one can do. I still tell her she did that and we were hurt

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  22. Its really nice to see that you have discussed in this issue, though there were nothing such in our family,like i never been forbidden to enter the kitchen that’s why i have quite good hold in cooking, but have noticed such age old thoughts in some people, your real life experiences you have mentioned are interesting(in other way).
    Hopefully change will come with the efforts by the people like you.
    one suggestion…dont loose your temper, i know its easy to say but tough to hold.

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  23. The funny thing is that growing up, men who are perceived to have best fashion sense can be all seen in pastel colors! You don’t see adults dressing in blues and pinks. These retail brands need to open their eyes and understand what is happening around. As for the crying, well what can we say. I think you should just ask that uncle, “how did not crying turned out for you as an adult?”

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  24. My elder one likes to get butterfly or dolphin or princess tattoos at parties, used to say pink was one of his favourites, and loved copying me when I dressed.. we let him do what he wanted most of the time.. but to cover the range of thoughts and emotions and reactions needs a whole article

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  25. I am so very proud of you and the entire fam Sonia. If we can bring change, I am sure the next generation will not even think or address gender differences.
    We are bringing Kavya the same way, I have noticed how her Dad tells there is nothing you can’t do. Who said Boys are stronger, you too have good muscle power and can do better than a boy.
    At times I wonder if he is gonna send her in army 😉
    Love the post S.

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  26. I have another slightly upsetting incident about colours to share. When I was pregnant, I went on a baby supply shopping spree to brands like Mothercare et al. To my surprise, I found all the pink coloured accessories (changing mats, bath tubs etc) were almost half the price of the same articles in blue. Of course I bought pink and of course I had a boy; and he happily used each of these 🙂
    Good luck for first day of school tomorrow!

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  27. My son never chooses pink clothes. I have never said or taught that blue is for boys and pink is for girls but his friends have told him so. I dont like the colour discrimination. No colour is feminine or masculine except a person’s perception. but I cannot change his view.
    Whenever he used to fall down or get hurt he would cry out loudly and one lady said, ‘dont cry like a girl’. I told her kids /boys will cry as they have feelings.
    Hope Tuneer does not catch such discrimination from school friends/peers.

    https://ideasolsi65.blogspot.com/2019/04/mouth-parts-of-body.html

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  28. in a very subtle way you have pushed the hard truth through the readers mind. I have never suppressed my sons tears, it was always ok to cry and went out emotions. even if someone says to him- Don’t behave like girls, he promptly says I have never seen a girl do this, their is no gender specific way to do it. he has become a hardcore in pushing such people away.

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  29. Know what, my son loved pink when he was younger too and I remember writing posts about it. He wanted a pink laptop with green wires, imagine! Now his favourite colour is red. Blue has never been his choice and thankfully so. People who said that pink is for girls and blue is for boys can go take a hike.
    My upbringing was like gender neutral like yours. If anything, I was given more liberty since I was elder and the responsible one. I’m trying to raise my kids with the same mindset. Girls can fight and boys can cry. That’s the truth.

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  30. Patriarchy at a macro level may be less prominent but in subtle ways, we always feel its presence – like the incident of not finding a pink shirt for Tuneer. I think if we as mothers and fathers, raise our boys and girls without the existing gender stereotypes, then patriarchy will suffer a great blow, may be slowly but surely.
    We all can agree that present times offer more freedom to women than yesteryears.

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  31. Got a bit late to catch up with this post of yours but what a wonderful and liberal thoughts and views you possess. Every one is unique and equal at the same time and to imbibe this feeling in kids is indeed an achievement. I am sure rebels like us will bring about the required change sooner than later. I am a fan of the way you shape your words and thoughts in accordance to the mood. Keep inspiring!

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      1. Every blogger has a few favorite fellow bloggers whose posts give you entertainment, solace, logic or just an escape. You are one of them for me. I love the way you let your thoughts and heart connect to the pen. Nothing seems drafted, no hint of desperation, just the innocence to share. It is always a pleasure.

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