We spot various forms of sexism in our everyday lives. We’re quick to roll our eyes at the prejudiced comments made by politicians on national television or by well-meaning relatives and zfriends at social gatherings. We blame the government for pink tax and express our concern over the rising cases of domestic violence and sexual assault against women. We complain how men dominate professional spaces and the pay disparity between men and women. Sexism makes its presence clearly visible in the way society perceives females. They’re labelled as the weaker sex, who are in constant need of protection and this protection comes at the cost of submission. But, have we taken a moment to reflect on where sexism begins? Where do roles and responsibilities for men and women get demarcated? Where are we taught what is okay for a boy but not for a girl? And, who ever decided what was masculine and feminine? The answer is simple; at home.
What are we teaching them?
From the very beginning of our lives, right from childhood, we experience sexism through the manner in which we’re raised. A girl and a boy might have the same set of parents, but the treatment they receive from those parents can drastically differ from each other. From restrictions on clothing to different curfews, it is evident that what is okay for a boy can never be okay for a girl. Sexism plants its roots through the most subtle manner; we’re taught to use gender as an insult. Restrictions are set on our emotional outlets because it’s not fine to ‘cry like a girl’ or ‘be rowdy like a boy’. Sexism decides which activities one can enjoy because girls cannot play cricket or football like boys to reduce the risks of injuries or get tanned under the sun. And, boys definitely cannot enjoy cooking or dancing or playing dress-up! If the boys are on the field and they miss a shot, the standard rebuke is to ‘not play like a girl’. Girls are taught to smile because they’ll look prettier, while boys get away with anger and bad behaviour. We decide the clothes, books and movies children should enjoy. Right from the start, boys and girls are taught that the worst thing they can do is act like the gender opposite to them, which begets the toxic cycle of disrespect and contempt for the other gender.
Children learn best through examples and they’re quick to adapt to the pattern around them. A boy that is raised in a household where only the mother manages all chores will automatically assume that it is normal for households to solely function on a woman’s effort. A girl might worry that this could be the future she’s in store for. Similarly, in a household where the needs of the patriarch are prioritised or he’s offered more authority simply because he’s the breadwinner of the family might indicate to children that the needs of a man are more important than the needs of a woman. Even the ways in which a husband and wife interact at home set the tone for relationships their children build in future with their significant others.
What can parents do?
- Communication is key to change. Having frank, open communication will lead to your children unlearning stereotypes and will feel comfortable enough to share their views with you. It’s always a good idea to learn something new.
- Encourage your children to follow their passion, whether or not it fits the boundaries of gender. Join them in activities that bring them fun. This will lead to a stronger bond between you and your children.
- Set an example. If it’s possible, try dividing the workload between you and your spouse to show your child that household chores are not just a woman’s job.
- Do not engage in regressive content on social media or on television. Stop laughing at sexist jokes. These things have a significant impression on the child’s mind.
In our attempt to raise our children in the norms that are acceptable by society, we stifle the growth of our children by not allowing them to explore beyond the stereotypical gender preferences that are set for them. Our role as parents is to inspire and encourage children and not discourage them from being who they want to be. It may take a lot of time to unlearn the narrative that has been fed to us over and over, but through simple changes in the way parents interact with their children of both genders, the society can be made a safer space for women. We can create a future where it is okay for individuals to be who they want to be without the fear of crossing the boundaries of being masculine and feminine.