Quite literally since we were born, our minds have been conditioned to absorb the many differences and stereotypes inherent in our societies today when it comes to gender.
If its a girl the room must be painted in pink, right from the onesies to the blankets to all the dresses and toys. Similarly if little Junior is on the way, his room must be painted a baby blue and wallpapers of fire trucks and cars must line the walls. If this continues, will we ever see the return of neutral colours?
I don’t yet have kids of my own but the closest kids to us (also literally as they are down the street from us) are my sister-in-laws two girls aged 7 and 3 – fast going on 17 and 13 respectively! Contrary to most young girls at that age, it isn’t barbie dolls and frilly dresses they have any interest in but rather racing cars, cricket and the colours black, red and green alternatively. In fact, the only ‘girly’ interests they have so far is in dance – ballet and bollywood to be precise. And of course, there was no escaping the ‘Frozen’ princesses stage.
Today themed birthday parties and celebrations for children have become commonplace with no holds barred on the decor and opulence at the event and no stones being left unturned to fulfil every fairytale their own princesses dream of and their little ‘Tarzans’ demand. Even today the boys will be found in a different part of the room having their own party on the side while the girls in their frocks and magic wands parade around the pink tiered cake and follow the belle of the ball around who has even been presented with a sparkling crown to set her aside from the rest. It is because of this blatant fine-tuning etched in their minds from day one that the idea of breaking away from convention and adopting hobbies and interests designed for the opposite sex only that frequently comes under the scanner today.
According to Lise Elliot, Author and Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, these gender-specific divides have adverse effects on developmental growth and aren’t always a good idea. Limiting boys and girls to that one colour, that one hobby or toy and also particular behavior limits their thinking, purview of knowledge and eventually even ambitions. Elliot suggests an interesting counter measure – to buy toys and play things that are deemed fit for the opposite sex by society today – like Legos and building blocks for girls to enhance mathematical intellect and a pet such as a dog for boys to teach them to be more nurturing and caring like their female counterparts.
My 3-year old niece today associates smoking, alcohol, snoring and even drinking coffee with men. “Papa is having coffee because he is a boy.” Because she doesn’t see any one else in their house having coffee. Her mum has tea so tea is automatically “for girls”. They internalize everything they see and hear right from when they are toddlers.
But isn’t it time we break them away from the metaphorical moulds of pink and blue we have sculplted them into and let them choose the colours and interests they want to pursue for themselves? Yes, it is true that the ‘ pink and blue’ colour spectrum makes it easy for new parents to plan and organise their pre-natal lives in ease but why can’t the walls be painted a yellow or a green? Why not neutral? Keeping it neutral teaches a child from day one that boys can like pink too, that girls can play with blue trucks and wear trousers without being scorned or bullied in school to stay within their ‘girly limits.’
What we don’t realise is the consequences this seemingly trivial talk of colour change can have on a child’s entire developmental growth, perception of the world and behavior towards others in every stage of life. The idea of girls liking pink or only dolls and frocks gives birth to the wrongful stereotypes of women being incapable of many other tasks and skills such as excelling in math, science in school. Many teachers even today prefer to turn a blind eye to a girls contribution to an intellectually demanding subject vis a vis that of a boy. Similarly, if a boy is found playing with a doll or a pair of high heels, for example, the parents themselves will rush to pull these ‘girly’ toys away from him and thrust the G.I Joes and superhero figures towards him faster than the blink of an eye. This boy will inadvertently grow up to be scornful and condescending of girls and their ‘silly pink play things.’
Our country today hosts many such examples today of men and women and their disposition towards each other due to the very limiting fabric of the foundation on which they have been brought up. Our women sports teams – be it cricket, hockey or any other sport get barely a passing mention in tabloids and the social media chatter today whereas the colour of Virat Kohlis eyes or how quickly Dhoni coloured his salt and pepper beard becomes front page news. Why? because women aren’t supposed to play a sport. It’s not a pink barbie doll. It’s a boy’s play thing. Those who do make it to the tabloids winning accolades in their fields like Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal work that much harder to earn that bit of respect whereas flick of the wrist and the ball over the ropes gets people talking about that male cricketer for weeks. And then theres those like Mary Kom with a passion for a purely ‘male’ sport like boxing who struggled from day 1 to get anywhere near where she is and that too a filmstar had to emulate her in a movie to really bring her in the limelight that ironically, Priyanka Chopra bagged more than the real superstar herself.
The story in the common man’s household is no different – rural or urban. Men are still being showered with more affection and importance and tasked with what they perceive as tasks within the capablities of men only while women are still pushed towards household chores and frivolous duties – even education for many rural households not an effort to be wasted on them. The problem is rooted much deeper spanning generations of poverty, lack of education and misogyny.
As Eliot observes, the most wecan really do is to try and level the field for both genders from day one. Let your daughter pick up a hockey stick. Let your son play house once in a while without rushing to ‘right’ this perceived wrong. The sooner we realise that there is no wrong in what a child wants to play with and the only wrong is our own in limiting their outreach, the sooner we see them grow into individuals who believe in the idea of equality.
Pink and blue aren’t the only colours in the spectrum. Teach them the beauty of each one.
The views expressed in the article are that of the blogger