Sometime back there was a video doing the rounds where the once-upon-a-time big-screen diva Madhuri Dixit was saying something about boys don’t make others cry. It was a beautiful concept created into a thought-provoking video by Vinil Mathews.
What’s Gender Stereotyping?
The beauty of the video was in its simplicity. It addressed such a basic prejudice we all are conditioned to accept as ‘normal’. Gender stereotyping. Boys are the stronger sex, hence cannot cry. We have grown up listening to that reaction so many times that unconsciously we too say it, even without realising it. In this video Madhuri Dixit says it, so I’m hoping many more men would have at least heard her out. Boys don’t make others cry. Really? I would love to believe it myself.
Society and Gender Stereotyping
Our social conditioning and gender stereotyping are so, so deeply entrenched in our psyche that we look upon the men, or to be politically correct the males, as the stronger sex. And it’s not just restricted to the rural or the conservative, traditional families but has spread like a malaise to all sections of society.
In India, mothers dote on their sons because they carry the family name forward, thus keeping the lineage safe. Fathers adulate their sons, irrespective of their capability, talent or character, because now they, the fathers, are assured a place in heaven as they have a son to light their pyre.
As for the females, the sisters are reminded repeatedly that it’s the brother who calls the shots, so keeping him happy has its perks. Wives, well, the lesser said the better, after all, he is the ‘pati-parmeshwar‘ (her lord and master). So in short, each one in the family treats him as an esteemed asset, almost a Demi-God status.
Effects of Gender Stereotyping
So what happens when one gets so much attention? Well, one learns to take all this for granted; one treats everyone around one as menials, whose duty is to serve you. The boy grows up thinking that he’s the best. And maybe it’s because of this gender stereotyping that he finds it difficult to adjust and adapt himself to the harsh realities of life. Maybe, that’s why most men find it difficult to work under female bosses. I don’t know but that’s how I’ve seen it.
The scene of the husband abusing his wife is not fake or unreal. That’s the real ugly truth. He doesn’t give a thought to what she feels. He’s right in his thinking because that’s what he’s learnt from the time he was a little baby in his mother’s lap.
Why is it important to stop it?
Growing up on this staple diet of confused and convoluted thinking can distort one’s attitude towards the other sex. If the children are from infancy treated equally and not discriminated against based on their sex, then it will create a more healthy environment for them to grow in.
Gender stereotyping enables society to follow a prejudiced mindset which is not good for its progress. It leads to unconscious biases, making assumptions about perceived backgrounds. It affects our behaviour towards others.
More and more females are breaking the glass ceiling and making their mark. and I’m sure their journey hasn’t been easy. But it’s time the men remove the prejudiced blindfold and do away with this regressive bigotry. It won’t be an easy task for them. But there have been some baby steps in that direction and that’s heartening.
What can we do?
The suggestion made in the video is correct and much required. For the men to be made more sensitive towards the others, they have to be made to feel that the others too are equally important. Be it socially, within the family, at the workplace, or anywhere. Other people, not only women but also other men, are as human as they are. They too feel pain, hurt, denial, humiliation, anger, and frustration.
Once these men understand that they are not the focal point of everyone’s universe, they will better understand the others. And this can be done only, and only if they are told about this right from the time they are born. Treating them as just another family member, another sibling, or another child, will make them truly belong to the family, and not as the poster boy for the family.
Let’s start at home and in schools
#StartWithTheBoys is a fantastic initiative which is the need of the hour. The increased cases of rapes and sexual violence only bring forth the glaring reality of our skewed stereotyping of the genders. For women to be treated as human beings and not non-entities, it is important for boys to be made more gender-sensitive.
It’s important to create a gender-neutral environment at home and in school. Chores could be distributed between the siblings according to their age and capability, not sex. Parents should involve both the sons and daughters in the tasks at home. Good habits like making your bed or helping in the kitchen need not be gender-based.
Teachers should educate the students about stereotyping and its ill effects. The teachers should themselves practice non-stereotypical attitudes towards the students. Like, avoid expecting the girls to be well behaved and the boys to be boisterous.
When talking about role models, consciously choose a diverse set of role models. No selecting only male scientists and female fashion models. To develop an inclusive mindset, emphasis must be on their accomplishment and not on physical attributes.
At schools, the tasks should not be allotted as per the sex of the child. Sports should be made available to all, not just football for boys and Kho-Kho for girls. Students must be allowed the freedom to choose the subjects of their choice and not based on stereotypes.
More and more parents must encourage discussions at home about gender stereotyping. Children will learn watching the adults, so practice before you preach. It’s important to provide the correct environment at home for the child to challenge stereotypes and help create a more inclusive society.
So, a quick wrap-up
A tall order given that centuries of social conditioning have now become an accepted norm, especially in the Indian context. To expect changes overnight would be both impractical and dangerous. Knee-jerk reactions to any situation do not lead to the desired results. But a start has to be made, and changes are slowly but surely happening. Let’s be part of this change to make it a better future, a better world for our children.
I would love to hear about your ideas and experiences and suggestions about this. Looking forward to it!
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