As a way to understand the dynamics between male and female students in a co-ed school, I asked my 9yo nephew a few questions about it. According to him, his teachers tended to side with the girls in case of any dispute between the boys and the girls (which shouldn’t have risen up in the first place) even when the girls were clearly at fault. This seemed to create a lot of resentment in the boys against the girls, even as they continued to be friends with them.
Two years later, at his birthday party, boys and girls sat in separate groups even while playing games and eating and the only time they came together was while playing housie. The boys were loud and boisterous and even though the girls were not boisterous they were neither meek nor timid.
The resentment of two years ago seemed to have created a rift deep enough to make the girls form separate groups but not deep enough to not be invited to a boy’s birthday party at all.
Two questions rose up in my mind:
- What is the role teachers play in perpetuating or breaking stereotypes
- If mindsets develop in early childhood what must parents do to ensure the children assimilate gender-equality rather than develop the default patriarchal mindset.
WHAT I LEARNED:
- Parents nowadays are more sensitive about gender typecasting and are supportive of their children’s choice in toys, colour of clothes, books they read. Eg: dolls for boys to play with or trains for girls. Boys choosing to wear pink because they love that colour (pink supposedly being considered a colour worn only by girls).
- Teachers can create gender equality by encouraging boys and girls to sit /study/play together as classmates rather than as boys and girls and at the same time being fair in their dealings with the students, irrespective of their gender.
- Many students face a lot of peer pressure to confirm to society-supported gender roles especially in the case of colour of clothes and types of toys. Giving in to their personal choice which if it is against the accepted norms can attract ragging and unnecessary harassment from those who have not been sensitized to gender equality.
ROLE OF THE FAMILY
This brings us back to the point that the family plays an important role too in creating a mindset that encourages boys and girls to be considered as individuals with equal rights.
Parents then have to be very careful to examine their own behaviours and speech to ensure that they themselves are not perpetuating existing backward norms.
Is it not possible that while driving to the Toys Mall to buy that train set because your daughter wants one (or because you want to buy it for her as your contribution towards girl empowerment) the car driver in front of you is driving erratically and you mutter under your breath, “must be a woman putting on makeup”? Okay, that might be a bit over the top but such attitudes are so ingrained that we sometimes overlook them just because they are so rampant.
Or perhaps, your wife is doing all the cooking and cleaning while you are at work the whole day and then when you are back at home, you park yourself in front of the television for a “well-deserved rest after a hard day.” You cook a cordon bleu meal once a week and there is a lot of excitement and your wife tells her friends with great pride that you are a great cook. But you never ever help with everyday cooking because that is “your wife’s department.” Or worse, both of you work but cooking food is completely your wife’s responsibility. So even if your daughter is not buying that toy kitchen set, doesn’t your son get the message that the woman is in charge of the kitchen?
With girls and boys getting the same high levels of education, it is inevitable that the only things that will sustain a relationship are respect and trust between the partners. And this can be done only when the sensitization begins in childhood.
Happily, lots of young parents are much aware of the situation and making efforts to sensitize their young ones.
What steps are you taking to ensure your children are aware of gender equality?
Do share your practices so others can also adopt them and this in turn can only benefit society in the long run.