Uma (name changed), a Gurugram resident, was at a birthday party last November when she experienced something that made her livid. After the party, just as the kids were leaving, the host asked them to gather around a table and began to hand them return gifts. “My daughter was excited because she had seen some school bags featuring her favourite superheroes. When her turn came, she was given a bag which had a princess Barbie embossed on it. She was disappointed. When I asked the birthday kid’s parents — who happen to be family friends — they said the superhero bags are for boys only, and the Barbie bags are for girls,” says the 32-year-old homemaker. “I did not want to make a scene and appear preachy, so I asked my four-year-old to let it be. But, had I been the host, I would have let the children decide on what gifts to take home, regardless of gender,” she adds.
As a society, we always talk about raising children right and engaging in parenting that is fresh and healthy. We talk about embracing change and doing away with customs that are archaic. But, many families around the country — and even the world — still associate a child with the gender assigned to them at birth and not their individual personality. From colours to toys and movies, these parents pre-decide what their kids will and will not like, based on their gender.
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What Uma mentions is a clear example of gender conformity, which, in its nature, is rigid. To combat this idea, many parents are turning to gender-neutral parenting, which is essentially the opposite. It gives the child the breather by allowing them to break away from the binary. In practice, this form of parenting makes the child in-charge of their interests, and regardless of their gender, they are free to explore their likes and dislikes without any kind of influence and interference from the society.
Recently, when SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his partner Grimes announced to the world the birth of their son, and the name they had decided for him, it led to a lot of debate and discussion, and even some jokes about the oddness of it.
But, come to think of it, the name itself is so unconventional that it does not prescribe to any particular gender. If anything, it bows down to artificial intelligence! Earlier this year, actor Kalki Koechlin gave birth to a baby girl whom she named ‘Sappho’. She had previously said she would give her child a gender-neutral name. “I’ve chosen a name that works for either gender, and that is representative of a gay person, because I want my child to have that freedom of movement under the many umbrellas of gender that we have,” she was quoted as saying.
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Please welcome Sappho. Born 07/02/20. She just spent 9 months wrapped up like a momo in my uterus. Let's give her some space🌬️ Thank you for all the good wishes and positive energy pouring in. And respect to all the women who go through the intense and gruesome experience of birth, be it vaginal or c section, so many of whom are not given credit or support for the biggest challenges they face, but are expected to do it out of some kind of duty. The process takes a huge toll both psychological and physical and should have the backing of an entire community to truly heal. And a reminder to each and every human being of where we started, being formed from tiny molecules to conscious, beautiful beings. We are survivors of the biggest battle, the one for life and existence, and should treat ourselves and others with that love and respect. "Some say an army of horsemen or infantry, A fleet of ships is the fairest thing on the black earth, but I say It's what one loves." ~Sappho~ circa 600BC
And Kalki is not alone. There are many celebrities like her, who are believed to be raising their children gender neutral. Singer Pink and actor Kate Hudson are among those parents who are believed to be taking the ‘theyby’ (as opposed to ‘baby’) approach to parenting. So, can a boy like the colour pink? Yes. And can a girl be interested in cars and action figures, as opposed to Barbie dolls? Certainly. And does that, in any way, have to do anything with their birth gender? No.
Bengaluru-based Deepika K, who works for an e-commerce company, is a mother to a three-year-old. Born in a traditional Tamil-Brahmin family, she says she and her sister grew up not in a conventional way, but with a progressive outlook. “My husband and I were married for six years before our daughter was born. We always divided the chores, but with the baby’s arrival, things changed a lot. We have become a lot more conscious in terms of how we are behaving and splitting responsibilities,” she says, adding the idea is to show the kid how both her parents have equal footing and respect in the house.
“When my daughter was nine months old, I had to travel to the US, and it was hard, given I was breastfeeding. My husband took a leave to accompany me and take care of the child, while I worked. That is the story we tell her, of how we managed it. In terms of parenting, I started this hashtag called ‘#agenerationwithoutgenderbias’ in 2018, when I had just begun to use Instagram. I noticed that some things were being glorified. Like, I would hear parents sometimes say: ‘my daughter doesn’t play with dolls, she plays with puzzles’. While you may not have shown any bias, you may have just said that Lego is superior to dolls, which is not necessarily true. The moment you say something is superior, everybody wants it. The idea is to not tell kids that playing with a kitchen set is lame. As a parent, I want my daughter to pick up whatever interests her. I do not want to impose,” she says.
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Haven't we all been there? The biggest challenge and basis for bias, is assigning or believing that some tasks or activities are superior than others. . That cooking, and pretend play is lame. And that Lego blocks are intellectually stimulating. Neither one of these skills are sufficient. Haven't we come across bosses who are smart, but lack people skills? Or folks that can keep the team together, but can't put structure to the madness? . For holistic development of a child, it's important to expose one to nurturing toys, imagination toys, problem solving toys and more. The child, of course, will have a preference, and that preference is bound to change over the years. . It's bad enough to keep our kids away from certain kind of toys. Even worse, would be to imply that the parent approval and recognition would come with the use of certain types of toys. . So the next time you are invited to a birthday party, don't buy toys by gender. Get a 2 year old a kitchen set, a 3 year old Gelmag tiles, and a 4 year old a doll kit, because you would be making the world a better place, with just how you choose to spend a mere 500 bucks! . Join me, and 100 other awesome folks, as we use our voice to speak against the invisible and visible boundaries that limit boys! Follow the #agenerationwithoutgenderbias and watch powerful writing come alive through 400 character stories! . P.S. if you want to participate, simply DM any one of the participants, and we will be happy to have you join us!
Deepika says that while it is okay to assign a gender to a person — unless they decide otherwise — expecting something out of that gender is harsh. “If I assign your gender and call you a girl and say I expect you to be feminine, wear frocks and play with certain kinds of toys, it becomes confining. The moment you don’t have these boundaries, I don’t see a problem with gender. As parents, we are striving to present her with information and making her capable to pick up whatever makes sense to her.”
“The problem is not with girls liking pink; the problem is with girls being exposed to that colour only,” she says.
Amita Malhotra is the founder of EqualiTee, a gender-cool merchandise brand that challenges gender stereotypes in early childhood. As a young parent herself, she was fed up to see toys, clothes, books and everything else meant for children divided on gender lines. “If I wanted a t-shirt with a football for my daughter, I had to pick it up from the boys’ section, since the one for girls is filled with dolls, flowers, unicorns and butterflies. I realised how gender-based marketing helps brands sell more, but limits the aspirations, dreams and ambitions of our children. In 2018, I launched EqualiTee to create awareness about gender stereotypes in early childhood, as well as offer an alternative,” she tells indianexpress.com.
As such, EqualiTee includes apparel that shows kids aged 2-8 years “an expansive world of imagination, creativity and free expression”. “I was in college when I first learnt to think about gender and how it influences identity. When I became a mother, I found myself thinking deeply about what it means to raise our children as individuals, exploring who they are, and how they wish to be unshackled by rigid gender roles. There is so much conversation today about gender diversity and equal pay at work, but instead of inspiring our girls to be leaders, athletes, scientists, we ask them to obsess about their looks.
“Gender is often misunderstood to be all things women and we overlook how boys, too, are victims of a culture that idealises aggression, violence and emotional denial. I found this to be regressive and felt the need to challenge this not just in my personal life, but also expand to reach out to more parents,” explains Malhotra, who prefers the term ‘gender cool parenting’, or even ‘gender equal parenting’.
For her, it simply means “offering ideas and experiences to children based on their interests and not their gender”. “It’s about staying aware of our own unconscious bias, because children learn most from observing us. To raise gender equal children, we need to role model equitable behaviour as parents at home and expand their views of the world by exposing them to books, TV shows and films that challenge the conventional gendered representations,” she concludes.
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