Once again, I am taking a lesson out of the book of actual, casual interaction with kids of all ages.
This is based on the HUGE boy-girl rift we have these days when it comes to just about everything. From toys they can play with to colours they are “allowed to” like based on their genders, kids these days don’t seem to be making choices based on, well, choices. All choices are mostly predetermined at birth based on whether they were to be received in a blue towel or a pink towel.
During one of the reading sessions, we started a discussion on their favourite toys. The second one of the boys mentioned “dolls,” the whole class came crashing down because “boys don’t play with dolls.” I just looked at them calmly and asked: “why not?” They didn’t seem to have a response other than “Dolls are girl’s toys.”
My next question was to the girls, “How many of you play with cars?”
A few hands went up.
And weapon things like guns, bows & arrows, etc.?
A few more.
So I asked them how it was fair that they were allowed to play with all sorts of available toys with no restrictions, while boys couldn’t play with certain toys. From this point, the kids took off on a heated conversation on equality and fairness, because it looks like we are surrounded by a bunch of young feminists these days. 😀
Now, this post could go on a lengthy discussion about gender discrimination in toys, colours, cartoon characters and other such social conditioning forever, but that is not what this particular post is meant to be about.
This is about where the discussion headed next.
So among other things like ‘girls can also be policewomen and pilots and soldiers’ to girls are ‘just as strong as boys’ they started to discuss fights. Here, one of the most important points that came up was how boys were taught never to hit girls. One boy, and a very clever one I think, said, “If boys are just as strong as girls, why are boys asked never to hit girls and that all girls need to be protected?”. That got quite a few little feminists silent for a bit. Tough one to come up with a decent counter-argument, that one. So once again, I tried to mildly step in with another question to this smart boy.
My question was, “Why is it okay to hit boys?”
Now there was another little pause till the little women folk jumped in with shouts of “It is not! It is not!”
So my point is, I know that it is with really great intentions that we teach our sons to “not hit girls”. I am raising a boy as well, and it is a constant thought as to how to teach them to treat women with love and respect. And, what I have come to believe is, no matter how good our intentions, if we bring up our boys with the thought that “you should always protect girls and you should never hit a girl,” we are being seriously counter-productive to the cause of teaching them that women are equals. Instead, can we just tell them to treat EVERYONE with equal respect and regard? And that they should not hit a girl or a boy or anyone else for that matter. On the other hand, if provoked and hurt, they are allowed to defend themselves from everyone alike, irrespective of the person’s gender.
My point is can we not tell our boys that women need protection and tell them that they should be given respect instead.
The moment I asked the boy the question about why it was okay to hit a boy, there were definite murmurs about ‘because he is a boy’ and ‘he can hit back’ and ‘he is just as strong as me’ etc. SO, my point is, a very well-meaning, modern age parent, wanting to bring up a caring and compassionate boy, taught him that women should be protected and treated differently. And the child naturally interpreted women as the weaker gender.
I know it is a fine line to walk. And I walk that line every day answering these and many other such questions, not just to my 7-year-old boy but having these discussions with all the children who come to The Reading Room. In fact in the latter case, that line becomes finer since I need to answer questions staying true to my beliefs and conscience and still without directly appearing to contradict what they have been told!
It was in the midst of this same discussion that a boy asked me if it was okay for boys to cry. My response was “Why not? Don’t boys feel sad? Don’t boys get hurt? How do you express these feelings?”
Me: Okay, imagine one of the little boys falls and hurts his leg. But he doesn’t cry or appear like he is in a lot of pain. Everyone thinks it is just a small injury. What would you prefer that he cry and get immediate attention or have a fractured leg?
Him: “But teacher said in class one day that boys don’t cry.”
Me: (In a little fix now) Maybe the teacher just said that because this boy was not stopping and she had to make him stop. In that regards, even girls should not cry for unnecessary things and tantrums.
My basic point is, IT IS the need of the hour to bring up our sons well. It is a pressing need. But, we need to clarify if by “well” we mean to teach them that women need ‘protection’ or that everyone is equal and everyone should be respected. That no one is allowed to hurt anyone else but, on the other hand, you are allowed to protect yourself from anyone and everyone.
That respect, help and compassion for ALL, go a longer way in life. And that, protecting is necessary, but let us reserve it for the younger, or much older, or the sick and helpless. Let’s maybe not categorise women into that, even out of good intentions.
Do let me know your views on the same.