Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.
And here on Earth, they’re both striving to be equal. Or at least one sex is trying to play catch up with the other.
I was eight months pregnant when the Nirbhaya case shook Delhi. It wasn’t the first or even the last time a woman was brutalized, but something about it touched a raw nerve. ‘Women’s safety’ was the new catch phrase, a clarion call for everyone to rally around. Me, I just knew that for women to be truly safe, both men and women need to believe in it equally badly.
I knew then, that if I had a son, I would try my best to bring him up in a gender-neutral space where he would grow up knowing equality, not entitlement. But they say it takes a village to bring up a child. And sometimes, the village has plans quite different from yours.
Despite your best efforts, patriarchy has an insidious way of sneaking in.
Like a few years back, when we were at the mall and my son needed a diaper change. I was in the middle of something, and my husband took him to be changed. And came right back.
Because each and every diaper changing station was attached to a ladies toilet.
Sorry single dads, at-the-mall-alone dads, sharing-the-load kind of dads, you can either spend time at the mall, or have a clean baby in unsoiled diapers. Who said you could have it all?
Another time, I entered a fancy toy-store because my then two-year-old wanted a cookery set. We were immediately ushered into the “Girls” section where I was shown a dazzling array of cookery sets in pink, bubble gum pink, light pink, and some more pink. Luckily my son couldn’t read, generally didn’t care, and was really happy with his fuchsia-pink set.
Both times, society was very firmly telling us what roles we should be playing. There was no scope for variation.
Today my son is three, and at that exciting age where he’s constantly soaking in new words and experiences. Parenting manuals (and common sense) tell me these are his most formative years. So, I must admit, it pricked a little when he came back from school one day and told me solemnly that “boys don’t dance.”
Another three-year-old I know came back from day care and told her mother she wanted to be an air-hostess when she grew up.
“That’s a great idea. You can be anything you want, you can also be a pilot.”
“No, I cannot. Boys are pilots. I am a girl and I will be an air-hostess”
Today these might be funny anecdotes we tell each other but soon you begin to notice a pattern, of how we are bringing up yet another generation with pre-set ideas of gender roles and equality.
Just a few weeks back, I received the ‘syllabus’ for my son’s nursery class. It seemed innocuous enough with a lot of emphasis on play, song and dance. Until I read the fine print and realised that from July, my son would be learning rhymes about ‘Driving like Daddy’ and ‘Cooking in Mummy’s Kitchen.’
As would the 30 other students in his class, who would then go back home and play act these roles. Soon the play acting will stop and real life will take over. The little boy will probably grow up berating “women drivers” and the little girl would most likely grow up thinking that no matter how professionally successful she is, the kitchen is still her responsibility.
Am I over reacting? Maybe I am. Or maybe I am not and all of you trying to bring up a child with a sense of fairness and equality have faced similar hurdles. In which case, it’s really time for us to try and ‘change’ the village. I, for one, am definitely going to try and ask my son’s school to teach him a different set of poems.
— Priyanka Bhattacharya Dutt is a journalist and co-founder of Tura Turi, an art-inspired children’s merchandise brand