• Pages

  • How Early is Too Early?

    AT THE PRESCHOOL that I run (where I also teach), there’s a certain action song we sing that goes like this:

    Cook like mummy,

    Yum, yum, yum, (repeat thrice)

    Let’s have fun together!

    Drive like daddy,

    Knit like grandma,

    Cough like grandpa….

    …and by the time we come to “Be like teacher, Shh, shh, shh!” I’m ready to pop a vein.

    Since school is located in an affluent Gujarati-dominated neighborhood with a disproportionate share of stay-at-home-mothers (SAHMs) and business-absorbed fathers, the children exposed to these stereotypical gender roles do, in all likelihood, go home to the same images where they get reinforced. [Note: I do not mean to tar all SAHMs or business-owner fathers with the same brush. The point is specific to my experiences at my preschool.] And then I’m met with wide-eyed disbelief when I tell them that girls are pilots too.

    So what do I undertake to combat the pigeon holes? A little juvenile song reversal (“Drive like mummy” can be a thought, to begin with right?), some questioning on how many daddies cook (one excited little arm waves at me from among a sea of puzzled heads) and, my trump card: presenting to them a real, live girl pilot in uniform! (Okay, so my life may seem a tad dull to the rest of you, but hey, when work-related travel involves busing to the zoo, I’ll take whatever excitement I get, thank you.)

    I observe them at play, loath to interfere, making sure both genders have gender-neutral and –specific toys within easy reach, and then watch a little resignedly as most girls twiddle spoons in tea cups while the boys use balls as missiles. I wince when I watch a parent absently hand out a stuffed animal or doll to their daughter and darts to their son. And then wonder: how much of this is physiological and how much is so ingrained that we’re unable to separate our socialization from the hard-wiring of our brains?

    Is it okay to let them believe only grandmothers have the right to a kitchen because that’s what they’ll likely see anyway or is at least a minimum level of exposure on available options necessary? I tend to veer toward the latter choice in the hope that a little boy or girl may someday remember that gender roles and boundaries may exist, but if personal happiness lies in ignoring them, then so be it.

    Advertisements

    11 Responses

    1. Oh please stop teaching that rhyme immediately! They’re plenty of others that don’t need to be bothered with gender equality.

    2. I shuddered just reading that rhyme. It is indeed one of the unfortunate cliches in India, and sadly often in an affluent but parochial environment. If I taught in that school, I’d probably take the liberty to ‘twist’ it around a little and throw some cheesy humor in it. Something like

      Oh what fun it’d be
      if daddy learnt to cook like mummy
      (yum yum or whatever)
      Why can’t mummy
      drive like daddy?
      etc.

      Who knows, it might get the kids thinking “yeah, why doesn’t s/he?”. I’ve noticed questions coming from kids – especially one’s own – are often very powerful and set one thinking about the (not so) “trivial” issues one hasn’t really given much thought to.

      This is something that needs to be weeded out before gender roles and typecast equations settle permanently in young minds. The earlier kids start questioning these, higher the chances of living in a free-thinking society, eventually.

      That said, I have immense respect for pre-school teachers and their patience. I try not to lose it two kids, I don’t know how you do it with so many!

      g

    3. Hi Dilnavaz!

      Really important issue!

      Things are changing slowly! I was surprised to find my daughter’s social studies textbook showing pix of mom driving, carrying a briefcase and tapping away at the computer, and dad jiggling the baby, laying the table and cooking!!

      Remember me? We were published in the same RNRI e-book at CB!

      Pre-school is a good time to introduce gender-neutrality! Keep writing!

    4. Recently, two of my nieces, aged 6 and 4, asked me what I’m studying, so I told them that I dont study anymore and that I now go to office. They just didn’t believe me, and responded ‘But girls dont go to office.’ I was really taken aback, though I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that their mom, their aunts, and all the women they know dont go to office. And I think its important that they are aware that such a possibility even exists!

    5. Recently, two of my nieces, aged 6 and 4, asked me what I’m studying, so I told them that I dont study anymore and that I now go to office. They just didn’t believe me, and responded ‘But girls dont go to office.’ I was really taken aback, though I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that their mom, their aunts, and all the women they know dont go to office. And I think its important that they are aware that such a possibility even exists!

    6. No doubt education and syllabus has improved over the years – especially in the field of environmental education. However, you’re right, there are still wrong gender cues. The 2nd std student I tutor has a chapter in her English text book about a mouse running from pillar to post to find a husband for his daughter. It’s a terrible mindset to learn early. That a father has to beg of the sun, wind, cloud and a tower to marry his “beautiful” daughter! The story has a different “moral” to it, but what about the subconscious message.

    7. Dear Dillu, I should have known that I’d find you in cyberspace… creating waves as usual with your “coolness” and warmth! In case you’re wondering who the heck I am… think back to about 17 years when you had a pen friend who lived in Andheri. Then one day you came down to meet her at your aunt’s home in Parsi colony… 🙂 Hopefully, kuch yaad aaya hoga!

      Write back, write back… loads to catch up on!

      lov,
      Lakshmi

    8. D: I don’t think the solution lies in stopping. The situation is very much a part of their lives and has been imbibed already. I’d much rather give them options so they realize it doesn’t have to be one way or another.

      gauri: That’s exactly what I do–twist the words around to create new scenarios each time. I always deal with children in many multiples and I think what keeps me going is the fact that I know they’re going home at the end of the morning/evening. 😉

      Nayantara: Wow! Which grade/curriculum is this? And isn’t the web a shriveled raisin? 🙂 Good to bump into you here.

      Ramya/noormohamed: Ouch. I hope you helped change that perception a bit.

      Rakhi Pande: Good lord. I shouldn’t be surprised, though. Millions in our country would still find absolutely nothing offensive about that story. Did you talk to your student about it?

      Lakshmi: I repeat: the web is a shriveled raisin. 😀 This is such fun! We’ve got to catch up.

    9. Hey there Dilnavaz, yes, did comment once or twice that he was such a silly mouse and such a silly story. Didn’t want to over emphasize or give it too much importance either so that she forgets the chapter quickly, but yes, my student did not fortunately take away the message that this is how it has to work. 🙂 Your rhyme is even more ludicrous though, hope you managed to change it.

    10. Good website!! i will come back again soon=D

    11. Have we ever considered the gender stereotypes (for want of a better term) that are promoted by our mother tongues? I am of Tamil origin and there is one particular term/idiom which has stuck in my head. It is a term used to deride an idea or suggestion which roughly translates into: ‘ if we do this, it will be as if I am born as a girl’ !! I remember bristling at the injustice of it. I remember I made my mother promise that she wouldn’t ever say it to me or my sister. And she didn’t.

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s

    %d bloggers like this: