Thursday, 3 December 2015

About Gender Neutral Parenting

(This one, in terms of its contents, is particularly close to my heart as I had written it our a while back before Toastmasters happened to me, and also this was published in quite a few web-magazines. You can find my original article HERE!)

Dear Toastmasters and Guests –

Gender discrimination forms one of the most gruesome crises in our lives. While gender crimes are more objectively defined, they are only but the tip of the iceberg. Gender discrimination, which is the root-cause of this social evil, is however much common. We are so accustomed to gender disparities in our society that it often becomes a challenge to even identify them as a problem, leave alone combating them in a constructive manner.

Today I am going to talk about a specific area in parenting. I will talk about gender discrimination among children. I will argue that socio-cultural conditioning at young, formative ages form the foundation stone of gender discrimination. And, as a call to action, I’d offer a few handy tips which can help us develop a progressive parenting approach, to raise more gender neutral kids for the future.

But, as is customary, I will begin with a story!

The other day, my four year old asked, yet again:
– Mum, are you really sure? That pink is not the colour for girls, and blue for boys?

I took her to the balcony as we talked:
– Look at the sky. What colour do you see?
– Blue. Light blue.
– Now tell me, is the sky there only for boys? Does it shine or rain only for them and not for you?
– No!
– Good! Now look down there. What colour?
– Green – she looks intently into the grass.
– What colour was the Sea, when we went to Goa?
– Grey.
– So, do you see?
– Yes. She nods at me thoughtfully.
-  All these things in all kinds of colours, both girls and boys can see and touch them.
– Right. So what would you say when anyone…?
– I’ll show them the sky and the park.
– Bingo!

Cook up whatever story you like, but, I insist, don’t lure them into believing they are any more different than what they really are. Instead, why not buy them green, yellow, red, blue and pink – any colour, actually?
So, here’s my second story.
Once upon a time, there was a king and a queen. And they had a beautiful princess.
And then happens this, and then happens that, and then the princess is in danger. And she cries. And then?
Well, and then… the prince comes and saves the princess. And then they marry and live happily ever after. All of them – Cinderella, Snow-white, or, Rapunzel. Or Belle, in Beauty and the Beast.

Wait. Hold. We cannot be oblivious anymore, can we? Please open your eyes to the traps before it is late. Help your daughter – this once. Don’t read to them stories, of what they should not become.
Instead, why not help her believe that it is alright to find charming prince, but she doesn’t always need a prince to save her from danger, and that she can be brave and save herself too? Help her believe that the only way to become a “queen” is not through arrying a “king” – that, she can conquer kingdoms too! Help her believe, to have a good life partner is indeed a pretty nice thing, but that is not the only way to be happy in life?

Tell her the right stories. Select and choose. Filter. Tell them stories but not these. I beg of you! Parents might wonder, “But didn’t we read them as kids? Have we grown up any wrongly? Oh, nostalgia!! Ah, those days…”
I know. I share that feeling, too. But then, dare to stop and think for once, won’t you?
So what shall we read them? – you may ask.

Well, trust me when I say this. I assure you, there are plenty gender neutral story books available. Pick up animal stories as you find them, or make them. The Ugly duckling, The Three pigs, The Country mouse and the Town Mouse! The Pied Piper of Hamlin. Remember Goldilocks, the little girl who ate the baby-bear’s pudding and went off to sleep in its bed? Remember Gretel, that younger sister, who saved her brother Hansel from the witch and then they came back to the father? Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood? I am sure you can think of some more, too.

Please, do not raise them in a damsel in distress model, do not raise them in a charming prince on a white horse model. Grow them up like you’d want them to grow up into.

Barbie for the girl, or that kitchen set. Cars and guns for boys. And why? So that, the little fairy grows up with her doll-house, playing a mother as she sees them to be, dressing up and plating hairs of her doll children, making them breakfast in her plastic kitchen and putting them off to sleep right next to herself. Cut to twenty-five years later: She is one of the two parents who, always worries more for her kids than the other one, and always knows what the child loves to eat. She calls home, in between her office meetings, to check if her baby has had its food and gone to sleep. She coos to them over the phone, lulling them, so that stop crying. She takes the day off when the baby is unwell, always. Her colleague snides! Her manager, eternally unhappy; worst, her mind guilty to its brim. She rushes back home after the clock strikes its time, never putting up her hand for that extra project, giving away her promotion to what you call, priority changes.

Maternal instincts, you say? Well, perhaps there is more to it.

So, for once, why not start right at the beginning?

Teach boys to nurture, teach girls to play with fast cars and tell other parents, the same, who lend an ear. Let them try everything irrespective of their gender. Dolls, kitchen sets, cars, beading sets, legos, jigsaw puzzles, doctor sets, cricket bats and balls.

Why not start with buying a doll when it’s a boy’s birthday and a car when it’s a girl’s. In all probability, s/he never had that before and s/he’d love it all the more.

And, next time the shopkeeper asks if it’s a girl or a boy, say – Just. A. Kid. Make a point to say it.

Oh, and buy a gun for none. Never!

Let them grow up knowing that men are not from Mars and women from Venus; that both belong to our good old earth. And, that they are equal, and that they always will be.
At least, let us try our best so that they become so! Let us try to put them into a combined upbringing. Let us give them space that they can share, where they can include each other. Let us provide to them some common grounds.

And finally – “Don’t cry like a girl!” Let us stop saying that to our boys, please.

(I had briefly summarised my speech content into a "call for action", as follows:)

1. Don’t buy them blue or pink.
2. Don’t sell to them the “damsel in distress” model in the name of fairytales.
3. Gift them gender opposite toys.
4. Encourage Co-Education.
5. Let the boys cry.


Project 2 - Organize Your Speech
Good speech organization is essential if your audience is to understand your presentation. You must take the time to put your ideas together in an orderly manner. You can organize your speech in several different ways; choose the outline that best suits your topic. The opening should catch the audience’s attention, the body must support the idea you want to convey, and the conclusion should reinforce your ideas and be memorable. Transitions between thoughts should be smooth.
Time:5 - 7 minutes
Objectives: • Select an appropriate outline which allows listeners to easily follow and understand your speech.
 • Make your message clear, with supporting material directly contributing to that message.
 • Use appropriate transitions when moving from one idea to another.
 • Create a strong opening and conclusion.

Links to:

CC1 | CC2 | CC3 | CC4 | CC5 | CC6 | CC7 | CC8 | CC9 | CC10

Here is what I presented for my second speech in the Competent Communications journey!

Did this help you? Do you want to discuss, or share a view? Leave me a comment in the box below!