“Stop crying like a girl”
“Boys will be boys”
“Why are you playing with a kitchen set, do you want to turn into a cook for your wife”
“Don’t play in the sun, you will turn dark, no one likes dark-skinned girls anyway”
“Is that a woman driving, huh, no wonder she is so bad at it”
“Pink pants, are you gay?”
“Just ignore, you should rather behave properly next time” Be like a man.
Do these statements sound familiar? They are just casual statements, right? But do you know that sometimes these harmless jibes are misinterpreted by these young impressionable minds which act like sponges. Young children imbibe and mimic what they see around their environment which includes home, educational institution, peers, media and of course the internet. And these statements seep into their skin and internalise gender biases, stereotypes, misogyny, patriarchy, male chauvinism and sexism in later age.
The recent “Locker room” incident & subsequent twists have definitely catalysed many questions and discussions. Some blamed and shamed parenting, some voiced their outrage against technology & social media, some raised allegations against other’s children for brainwashing their own children, while some brushed off the incident saying “they were just chatting, they didn’t mean any harm”. Some parents forced their teenage children to deactivate their social media accounts, while some snatched their gadgets right away. Is this a solution?
We at Vega Schools, believe that this could also be a good time to pause, look around and reflect on how we as a society got here, where teenagers from some reputed schools found it “ok” to even type those sexually violent words. Is it the teenaged phase to be blamed only? Or the lack of gender progressive learning in schools and homes.
Research shows that the concept of gender in children forms between the ages of three and seven. During this early phase, children form an understanding of gender norms, identities, prejudices and stereotypes. Rigid understandings of gender norms and identities and stereotypes seriously limit young children’s freedom to develop to their full potential according to their unique and valuable talents and interests, irrespective of their sex.
How can this be achieved?
Open communication in a safe environment: As Learning Leaders and parents, it’s our responsibility to create easy channels of communication with our children. We need to create in classrooms an atmosphere of openness where students can interact with each other and in groups. Where while working collaboratively, students feel safe to share their feelings, anxieties, stress without the fear of getting judged. They should not feel threatened while asking questions or affirming their choices. Let’s assure them that it’s OK to be different. Vega being one of the safe schools in Gurugram, firmly believes in letting children be their own selves.
Disassociate with gender-biased roles: If our 4-year-old son is crying & sad, we do not immediately attribute it to him being weak or call him a sissy. Similarly, if our daughter feels comfortable in pants, then we do not attribute her to be “boyish”. That’s what a safe school like ours is, practising.
1. Masculinity doesn’t involve aggression and being feminine doesn’t include sensitivity.
2. It’s time to teach our children that ‘cooking isn’t a gender-specific role; it’s a life skill which we all need to learn.
3. Both girls and boys can cry and exhibit physical strength when required. Let’s not praise girls only for their appearance or caring nature and applaud boys for their physical strength. Both are capable of doing complex tasks in-home and classroom if guided and monitored properly.
4. It’s also time to make room for emerging definitions of non-binary and transgender identities as well.
Explore the diversity of the world: It’s high time we teach our little learners about our diverse role models who come in all shapes, sizes, skin colour, ethnicity, gender, race, religion and varied cultures. Our children learn from examples and this will remind them that they can be anything they want regardless of their gender. Suhas Gopinath was the youngest CEO of India at the age of 17 while Ashwini Waskar became India’s 1st competitive bodybuilder which is usually perceived as a male profession. These examples should be shown to our children at home and school to broaden their mind.
Don’t blame only the boys – Sometimes our preconceived notion about boys and their aggressive behaviours make us differentiate them from the girls. We tend to be harsher on them because of our assumptions that boys have more behaviour issues than girls. Thus if we constantly target them, they may, in turn, become more rebellious by internalising their shame as anger.
Lead by example: Children learn by imprinting and modelling behaviours they see in adults around them. So when the father does the utensils, while the mother attends zoom meetings, then it normalises the concept of equality in the home. Let the father express his weakness and fear and seek help from the children rather than staying uptight in a situation of crisis. Let the children see that both sets of parents are discussing finance and world issues, and not the “men of the house” only.
Say no to body shaming: Do you know what is a bigger health concern? No, it’s not always obesity but the constant pressure to be ‘thin’. Imagine a world where children are not welcomed because of their looks, body structure, skin colour or physical disability. Heartbreaking, isn’t it? Thanks to our society, culture and media, unfair beauty standards have been set and the one who doesn’t fall under these standards is not considered worthy enough. Thus we need to change the way our children feel about themselves and others’ physical appearance. We want our children to grow up feeling confident about their bodies and it can be achieved only when we stop direct and indirect body/fat shaming our children or others.
Think beyond academic performances: Usually we parents and sometimes teachers focus mostly on whether our children are doing well academically and not listening to their inner feelings, desires, and aspirations. Everything is attributed to how well he or she is doing at school. If the grades are low, then there is definitely something wrong with the child. If the grades are good, they are blessed with a happy child. But sometimes even top rank holders may have internal issues or anxiety which we tend to ignore. Exams should never be considered as the only benchmark for learning because then children will possibly not know that learning basic life skills will actually shape their overall personality and behaviour.
Be watchful for cyberbullying: According to a recent survey under a project by Microsoft Corporation, India has been reported to be the third-highest country where children are cyberbullied, after China and Singapore. This is not only alarming but very concerning. Cyberbullying has immense psychological and social implications on the formative minds of our young children causing depression, anxiety and stress, sometimes suicidal feelings. While parents need to constantly monitor their children’s online relationship and schools need to urgently conduct cyber-bullying, gender sensitisation and gendered-abuse workshops with parents, learning leaders and students regularly.
Empower children to speak up: If Malala Yousafzai’s parents didn’t encourage her to voice her opinions against women suppression or Greta Thunberg’s parents ridiculed her lifestyle choices to reduce carbon footprints, then today we wouldn’t have these two names as the world’s youngest change-makers. Our younger generation is bursting with revolutionary ideas; we just need to listen to them.
Vega Schools believe that when all stakeholders, i.e. parents, educational institutions, peers, media and technology play an important part in standing up for equality, we can create a just and fair world where no children are held back by restrictive gender norms. We will have to empower all children to realise that they have equal opportunities; they need to be more tolerant and believe in their abilities.
Please feel free to write to us at [email protected] to get in touch with our counsellors and learning leaders for any kind of support and help for your child.