By, Meghna Pant
In this month’s edition of Feminist Rani we discussed whether modern women are raising their sons to be feminists. We spoke about how early in life boys are taught what it means to be men and how their attitude towards women are shaped primarily by their caregivers. In short, are mothers today paying careful attention to defining gender roles or not?
We were joined by blogger and author Kiran Manral, who is the author of ‘Karmic Kids: The Story of Parenting Nobody Told You’ and journalist Lalita Iyer, who is also the author of ‘I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot’.
I asked Lalita what her son is learning from her as a single mother, “I don’t want to introduce my son to gender boxes,” she replied. “Children may not listen to you, but they watch what you do.”
She also added that she was raised “to be gender neutral. Never once was I treated differently for being a girl.”
Kiran is the mother of a son who has been made famous by her very popular blog. I asked her what lessons – both purposefully and subconsciously –– she taught her son? “I’m trying to make my son aware of the difference between media messages and reality with regards to gender,” said Kiran.
Boys are never encouraged to imagine what it is like to be female. Are these feminist moms guilty of the same? “We raise our daughters to be sons. But we don’t have the courage to raise our sons like our daughters,” said Kiran.
Lalita said that her son buys doll and is comfortable wearing pink. “I will not unpink him,” the proud mom asserted. “If he wants to become a dancer when he grows up or gay, I will be okay with his choices.”
On the playground and in the classroom what are boys being taught? What is their notion of what being a man involves? Kiran made a noteworthy observation when she said, “We’re teaching girls to stand up for themselves, but we’re not teaching boys to reject aggressive macho behaviour.”
It’s true. I mentioned that boys are being told what it ‘means to be a man’ in very narrow, restrictive definitions.
Speaking about the grid of societal structures, Lalita said, “Supportive and helpful is how a husband should be. People need to stop saying ‘oh you’re so lucky’ when a man does something as simple as cook in the kitchen. Father’s get adulation for doing little.”
But she also pointed out that, “The world is also unfair to stay-at-home dad’s.”
After motherhood, most women become stay-at-home moms or return to a less than appealing professional situation, which is less fulfilling or engaging. This needs to stop. As Gloria Steinem said, “It’s not about biology but consciousness.’ First with the labeling. Instead of ‘working mom’ we should call it ‘career-loving parent’
Kiran said that in this context the “school moms judge the most, especially when I have to travel for book tours.”
We can do a great disservice to boys if we don’t raise them correctly. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage. We teach them that ‘boys will be boys’ granting them impunity, ego that they have to battle all their life.
In a truly egalitarian world we would welcome declarations of male and female empowerment with parity. The world would be a happier, freer place if girls and boys didn’t face the pressure of gender expectations.
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