Prejudiced gender definitions begin at home
We wake up to the gloomiest news. We go to bed with heavy hearts from the happenings around. This vicious cycle of crime against humans has reached such an extent that we tend to question humanity in general…we wonder if kindness, compassion, respect, and tolerance prevail anymore.
Why have we stooped so low that people find solace, comfort, or pleasure in torturing and abusing others or even in taking own lives as the last resort? At least one rape is reported every fifteen minutes across this country (NCRD data 2018) and news of murder is no more shocking; revenge and intolerance, it seems, have become a way of life.
We need to understand that these warrant urgent attention and quickest actions or interventions. Interventions that need to start from formative years. Sensitisation and awareness should start at homes, schools, and slowly spread to public spaces.
As guardians/elders, we need to realise how and when to introduce the biological part of our being, which includes gender definitions that go beyond the binary, about sex organs, sexuality, and sexual activity to children. I have been told by many teachers that biology classes that deal with gender, sex and sexuality are skimmed through and not dealt with in detail or with the seriousness the subject deserves.
Gender definitions, stereotypes, and compulsions have been felt, experienced, and handed over from one generation to another without any effort to identify prejudices and societal roles. Why do we still have gender differential talks at homes? What makes parents and teachers treat a child differently based on gender? Why are girls always taught to be obedient, to relent, to be disciplined, to ‘dress decently’ and to not talk out of turn?
It has become a norm where brothers, fathers, and other male relatives pass dictums to girls in the family to not wear jeans/leggings or sleeveless tops as it exposes the body. What message are we conveying through these loaded words? That identity of girls or women is in their bodies or sexual organs? Do we ever talk this way to boys or men even in passing?
It is normal or ‘cool’ for boys and men to walk around in folded lungis/dhotis and shorts or even shirtless. Many of these same men would even pounce on women when they choose to dress the way they wish to. If we do not break these watertight gender definitions and sensitise them about dos and don’ts, choice, and consent during formative years, crimes will only rise.
Such sensitisation and awareness must start with schools and with the literal meaning of the Uniform system. Why do we have two separate designs for boys and girls in school? In a few schools where girls have skirts as uniform, they are compelled to wear pants below skirts to avoid exposure of their legs to boys.
The more we suppress and make a girl believe that their body is not theirs but a property or element that gives pleasure to another person, girls start to believe that their primary identity lies in their sexuality and not in their individuality, thoughts, and choices. My son goes to a school where they have unisex uniform where boys and girls come in the same attire. If a child starts to feel that they are different or privileged first from their dressing patterns, as a society, we stand to only fail.
The differentiation then moves subtly to other platforms and parameters, where elders start to form an invisible wall between genders. As a country we have moved forward to legally embrace third gender into our fold (much more sensitisation, though, is required for social acceptance). Yet we painstakingly realise that women still suffer because of gender expectations and violence.
This pandemic has only revealed layers of gender-defined roles in households. Communication between parents and children need to increase and be more open. Mothers and sisters should openly share their experiences, good or bad, with the men in the family. This lets them reflect on their own patterns of behaviour, if any. Encourage the boys and men in the family to do their chores from washing their own dishes and clothes, to buying grocery, and cooking.
Such small steps go a long way in making boys redefine gender roles and reiterate it in their subconscious minds. Make conversations related to menstruation, cramps, and the discomfort a woman goes through so that the men understand bodily changes in women and start respecting them more.
Let boys and men not feel ashamed about buying sanitary pads and make them comfortable around the topic, and to accept it as yet another normal (it is largely a practice in many houses to buy sanitary pads and term it bread and be sneaked inside the house in a black cover).
Why is menstrual talk and concerns projected as a taboo still? Boys listen to how parents make passing or unhealthy comments about girls and imbibe and copy the same. Do not talk in hushed tones about issues concerning a woman’s body and hormonal changes. Such secrecy encourages men to pass lewd comments on women and laugh at women’s concerns.
Let there be as openness and transparency about such matters at home. When a child is between 10-13 years of age, sit him/her down and explain every minute detail about gender and sexuality to them in a language that lets them identify their own bodies and not through fairy tales or myths.
Efforts should be relentless to redefine spaces and dialogues around gender, to encourage movements that create awareness, and changes that push the world into gender-neutral and gender-equal spaces. School textbooks need to be redrafted, and home and social environments redesigned to be more inclusive. There are millions of people who are faceless and voiceless in our ecosystem only because they belong to a particular gender, sexual orientation, or for the choice of partners.
(The author is an educationist and founder of Zocio, an organisation working extensively in the social emotional learning space. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)