Just like all the other values you teach children — honesty, compassion, kindness — gender equality is as important an issue they need to be taught from an early age to grow up to be responsible beings. This means you steer clear of restricting your child to definite gender roles or stereotypes to begin with. To ask a child to walk and talk “like a girl” or not play with dolls as a boy is to systematically repress their choices, instincts and identity.
Of late, some parents including celebrities like Pink or Kate Hudson have also been practising gender-neutral parenting, that is letting kids lead the way in expressing themselves and defining their identity. While parents practise it at home, schools have also taken up the task of raising awareness among children. A case in point is Maharashtra state curriculum board Balbharati, which is now incorporating many changes in the illustrations and stories in books to break gender stereotypes.
Kids may be reluctant to “study” about gender issues from their school textbooks but nothing compares with the joy of reading story books. To think of it, most children until a while ago grew up reading fairy tales about a damsel-in-distress being rescued and wooed by a prince, eventually colouring their understanding of gender roles. Thanks to some authors today, more and more children’s books are exploring serious themes such as gender in an age-appropriate way, without preserving it for an adult conversation. Many of these authors, some of whom we spoke to, have found a delightful way of educating through their stories and illustrations without necessarily being preachy. That’s the USP of a book like Abba’s Day by Sunaina Ali and illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta that narrates the story of a father who equally contributes to housework, among others mentioned below.
Abba’s Day by Sunaina Ali
Published by Katha, Abba’s Day is a fine example of how parents can lead by example. “I was moved by the simplicity of the narrative, which wasn’t trying to be preachy or judgmental,” Dasgupta, whose illustrations were inspired from the way she spent time with her father, told Express Parenting. “Illustrating Abba’s Day organically harmonised with my personal experience of spending time with my dear father. I tried to keep my visual style fun and free-spirited so every child could enjoy it. I wanted readers to see themselves in little Ayesha (protagonist) irrespective of their gender, colour and abilities to celebrate the beauty in diversity,” she said.
I Won’t Eat That by Lavanya Karthik
Another tale, published by Ms Moochie, that delves into the evolving relationship of a father and child is Lavanya Karthik’s I Won’t Eat That, in which it is the dad who cooks painstakingly for daughter Chinna every day, which she refuses because in her imagination, Appa embodies fear and power. “I think children need to see all kinds of books, and all kinds of people and situations in those books. Books are windows to the great world outside; sometimes they are also mirrors, showing you who you are (or aren’t). A book lets a child glimpse possibility — strong, inclusive relationships, supportive environments for all genders, diversity, tolerance — that she might not see in the environment she lives in,” the author said while talking about the importance of reading.
Annie & Arjun by Varsha Verghese
Gender biases are ingrained, sometimes unknowingly, in our parenting style. And that’s what Varsha Varghese’s book Annie & Arjun, illustrated by Trisha Maniar, published by The Irrelevant Project, tries to address. The book is about a brother and sister whose household responsibilities are gendered from childhood. The book addresses gender inequality and encourages children to question it. “In Annie and Arjun, a pair of siblings notice that they are often asked to do quite gendered chores. Annie is asked to help washing up in the kitchen, while Arjun is asked to fix Dadi’s rocking chair. The children do realise that the parents do not do this out of any ill will, but simply assume that these would be tasks they would enjoy based on their gender. The siblings think up a fun way to resolve this,” explains the author.
Talking about how gender stereotypes permeate our lives, she added, “I believe there are too many influences out there that perpetuate gender biases and stereotypes. From advertisements, TV shows and films, children’s toys and clothes to opinions they are generally exposed to from their peers or adults around them. There is a need to change this landscape, and books like the ones I have written hopefully make a tiny dent.”
Pink and Blue by Ritu Vaishnav
Author Ritu Vaishnav thought of this book, published by Puffin, when her son once came back from school and declared he no longer wanted anything pink since it was a “girly” colour. As the title suggests, this books aims to initiate conversations around gender stereotypes with children, to overturn the gendered idea that “pink is for girls, blue is for boys; girls play house, boys play cricket; cry like a girl, kick like a boy.”
We also asked the authors to name some other children’s books that topple gender stereotypes. Take a look:
- The Timmi books by Shals Mahajan (Duckbill)
- The Ammachi books by Rajiv Eipe (Pratham)
- Angry Akku by Vinayak Varma (Pratham)
- Nabiya by Chatura Rao (Tulika)
- Guthli has Wings by Kanak Shashi (Tulika)
- Mayil series by Sowmya Rajendran and Nivedita Subramaniam (Tulika)
- Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton (Bloomsbury)
- Mina Vs The Monsoon (Yali Books)
- The Weightlifting Princess (Pratham)