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.
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.
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.