Monthly Archives: July 2016

My Daughters Are Not My Sons. They Are Daughters. They Are Not Tomboys, They Are Girls.

daughters

I have three daughters. Yes, three. And no, I wasn’t “trying for a son”, as most people ask me, a question that only reveals their supreme narrow-minded stupidity than anything else. Why else, implies their tone, would anyone willingly have three daughters. I don’t know, but wanting to have them could be one obvious reason. Not sure if the obvious is obvious after all, especially those who walk around the world with “to-let signs in their eyes”, to steal a dear friend’s phrase.

I don’t bother replying to these questions, despite the fact that my silence is taken for consent, even lament. Also, the truth is that even I do answer, in some misguided sense of wanting to educate the world, it would be wasted breath. Such deep-rooted parochial ideas are not about to change with any answer I can give them, no matter now persuasive. So I’ve learned to ignore the questions, the prying, and the commiserative looks I get from people – which I find amusing more than angering.

However, for all my fortitude on the matter, there are days when I my patience wears thin – especially when I am told that my daughters are “going to be like my sons”. That gets my goat. What does that even mean? What can a son do for me, that a daughter cannot? I once asked this to an unsuspecting lady who probably said this to me with the expectation that I would proceed to unburden my worries onto her and express my deep gratitude for her understanding. Instead I asked her what she meant by that remark. She was taken-aback, but recovered quickly and added that they would “do what sons do”, and beamed as if she had shed invaluable light on the matter.

I didn’t press any further, because it was evident that she would be unable to articulate what she meant, and continue to make generic, seeping statements which would irritate me further. Besides, patience is not a virtue, and I didn’t want to be rude, so I let it go.

But the truth is that she’s not alone in thinking this way. I get only two kinds of reactions when people discover I have three girls. Actually, make that three kinds– shock, sympathy and reassurance. I am pretty used to it by now. I know the look. Mostly, though I don’t let it get under my skin, but there are times when I want to shake the people out of their idiocy and tell them to take off their blinkers.

My daughters are my daughters and they will remain so- they will not turn into sons if they do “what sons do”. It’s infuriating how the world wants to put people in boxes.

Think about it – if a girl wears shorts and plays sports, she’s a tomboy. The dictionary meaning of that word is – “a girl who enjoys things that people think are more suited to boys”. That says is all – people think. So we are saying that if you do boy things (someone please define those for me), you’re a tomboy. I reject this outright. My children do “children things” – play in the park, climb monkey ladders, swim, play sports, chase each other around the house. They are kids and this is what kids do – they play. Who decided what activities are “more suited to boys”? Give a kid a ball and he of she will play with it – it has nothing to do with the gender.

As a mother, I see my kids play with girls and boys equally, and they do everything. There are boys who come over and play with kitchen sets, does that make them “girlie”. I don’t think so.

It’s all in the conditioning. We do it from the time they are born. We think a child would be inclined in one way or the other and we make those decisions for them. We hand cars to boys and dolls to girls, and then we hold up statistics to bolster our arguments on gender. As I have said before in a making a case against gender-based toys that Kinder Joy puts in their pink and blue chocolates, that we think we know better. But we don’t. My girls like the “blue-for-boys” Kinder Eggs, because they prefer the toys in them.

And no, they are not tomboys, they are girls, they are children who love to play, to create, to not want to be told what they should do. They are my daughters. If I had had sons, they would have been my sons. It’s as simple as that. Why is this so hard to understand?

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The Thing About Gender Stereotyping

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I was standing near a teller’s counter in my bank the other day, waiting to be served. It is one of those so-called new-age banks that make a big deal about service and customers, and adding value to peoples’ lives.

As I waited, I noticed big, cheery posters behind the counter extolling the various virtues of the bank. As is typical of such ads, they trumpeted their superior expertise in helping people achieve their dreams, whatever those might be.

One particular poster caught my eye – not for any design brilliance, because in that it was much like the rest (they pretty much merged into each other), but because of the message it sent out. I can’t remember details about the exact financial product this ad offered but, in essence, it asked you to plan for the future – to put away enough money for your kid’s requirements when they grew up, the time that you’d need it. It showed a father with his grown-up son and daughter. They were all beaming with joy at the camera – the son in his graduation attire and the daughter in, you guessed it, a wedding one. So while the son’s aim is to graduate from a good college, the daughter’s is to get married. I wondered if anyone else around me had noticed the blatant stereotype. Of course, no one had. They were keen to get the teller’s attention and get out of there. I did too, because waiting at a bank is stuff of people’s nightmares (unless you are my father, for whom it is a social outing, and who would never go a bank like mine where he could not exchange details about his grandchildren with the teller). But that’s beside the point.

The truth is that to the people who created this ad and the ones who approved it,
this did not strike as odd. Nothing in the image looked incongruous to them, which is why it made it to the walls of the bank, and many others. If, however, the images had depicted the reverse – that is a delighted father flanked by a daughter in a graduation hat and a son in a groom’s dress, it would have seemed inconsistent – inconsistent with the reality that is. And reality is a matter of perception.

Toe me, this is a typical example of how stereotypes seep so deep into our psyche that we fail to notice it, or imagine any other truth. A daughter must get married, a son must get a job – that’s essentially the message that this ad is sending out. And everyone seems to be alright with it. Not quite new-age if you ask me.

Let me take this a little further. If you look at the other advertisements of the bank in question, or most banks or financial institutions for that matter, notice how they depict men and women. If it’s an ad about net banking to pay shopping bills, you’ll have a jubilant woman celebrating the fact that she can hereafter shop from home. However, if it is one about paying taxes online, there will be a content looking man quite chuffed at the convenience – again, women shop, men pay taxes (because women don’t get numbers)

To take this even further, I now come to the much-talked about Rajdeep’s question to Sania Mirza about motherhood and settling down. Did he think about what he was saying? I doubt it (if he had, he would not have asked it). Which is my point – stereotypes creep into your being and influence your thought process in ways that you don’t even realize.

The ad at ICICI and the question that Rajdeep posed have one thing in common – they equate womanhood with marriage and children. Such are the perils of falling for stereotypes – you stop thinking, even as you believe you are.

And only when this changes, will perceptions about women change. Only then will women will be treated as equal.

It’s a long road.

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Why I Will Never Call Myself Fat Again

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Ok, this is an unusual admission from me – I am not fat. Not saying I am not thin, but am not fat either, whatever the definition of thin or fat is.

Which brings me to this question: what is the definition of fat, or thin? And who defines it? And why do we accept it?

The truth, unsurprisingly, is based on our perception about the issue. What I may think of as thin, may not be so for someone else (my children’s friend’s bordering-on-anorexic mothers probably think I am fat. I differ. Conversely, my mom thinks I am thin. Again, I differ). It’s all relative.

Today, somehow, being thin means being skinny, or somewhere near it. The whole definition of beauty has changed completely. And women, more than men, are trying to live by some warped standards of beauty, and are putting themselves through torture to conform to it. Innumerable studies and life experiences of people have repeatedly shown that physical qualities in people do only so much to make them happy and contended – one because they are fleeting and two, because they don’t add meaning to people’s lives. That may be a philosophical outlook that you may or may not agree with, but it does not take away from one simple fact – that our obsession with looking good and the methods of achieving it are unhealthy. And this must stop – because what we’re doing, and by we I mean women like myself who have unknowingly fallen into the trap and perpetuated the idea, is passing it on to the next generation. Most of us (like yours truly) may not mean to, but we are. Every time I look in the mirror and exclaim that I have gained weight, I am (albeit inadvertently), passing on my idea of beauty to my children. I may tell them otherwise, but children look at actions and take away from that. They are watching us at all times and learning from our behaviour. What we do or say seeps into their sub-conscience and feeds their ideas about life and society – in this case about defines being thin; it tells them what they must be like to be accepted as attractive.

Children are sponges – so if you, even in jest, say that you are fat, they will process this very differently than you may have intended.

Let me now confess that I have been guilty of this. I have often made a correlation between my weight with feeling good and not, as I should have, being fit and feeling good – because that’s what it should be about. I want to be healthy, and not being fat, in the medical sense, is part of it. But that’s not what I conveyed in my actions and words. I am a runner and I do believe that it makes me fitter. Yet, I have somehow done a bad marketing job of making those feelings known and amplified the ones that I don’t really believe in – which is about wanting to be thinner than I am.

For instance, when my sister and I joke about “going on a crash diet”, we lead our children to believe that depriving yourself of food is justified and even required if one needs to be acceptably thin (and thus physically attractive). The fact that neither of us never act on our words may not be enough to quell the ideas we had engraved in our children’s impressionable minds.

Why this sudden awakening you may ask? Because my older daughter (now ten) said to me the other day that she feared being fat when she grew up. It was one of those passing things that kids say, which they forget about the next moment and move on. But, her words stopped me in my tracks. I realized what I had done. I knew she didn’t fear it, like she fears the dark, or earthquakes. Yet, just the fact that she, at ten-years-old, had thought about gaining weight when she grew older, was enough to set me on a path of correcting the wrong I had done.

Parenting, I have learned, is not about the ability to always do the right thing, or about berating yourself for doing the wrong. It’s about realizing and admitting when you’ve made mistakes, and setting them right. That’s exactly what I plan to do now. And it can’t be done by siting my daughter down and giving her philosophical monologues on the idea of beauty. That’s taking the easy way out and frankly, it never works. She’s growing up in a world surrounded by image-obsessed people, who, along with some ill-timed remarks by her mother about her own weight, have influenced her little mind. What she needs is to see the right ideas in action. She needs to see her mother run and then talk about being fit, she needs to see her mother dress for a party and not ask if she’s looking fat, she needs to see her mother feel good about herself about the way she looks and not rue about her lost youth when she was thin.

My new-found resolve, however, does not mean that I shall now proceed to wander around with unkempt hair and live in sweatpants, because that would really prove I don’t care about how I look and thus send the right message to my kids. It won’t, they’ll just think I am sloppy. No, it means that I stop saying things I don’t mean and, through my actions, I prove that being healthy is what matters.

And the effects of this will be two fold – one, of course, I will teach my daughters the right thing about their body-image and two, I will feel good about myself, which I have not been doing lately. I run to be healthy and because I enjoy it, not to be thin – whatever that means today.

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