Monday, June 28, 2010

Gender Stereotyping for kids

"You like dressing me up, so why cant I dress up my dolls?"

I see a girl fussing over her dolls and I think, ugh, gender stereotyping.

Sanah has an interesting selection of rag dolls from all over, in different colours and she has her two baby sized, baby shaped, blonde haired, blue eyed dolls. She was gifted a barbie but she has never really sat and fussed over it. She can not be separated from her baby shaped dolls. I see her mother her dolls and think about role play.

Fussing over the dolls, cuddling them, bathing them, making them sleep, taking them around for a walk, setting them down and telling them stories. She is mirroring me.She often admonishes the dolls," Dont disturb me now, I am working." She picks up the phone and says, "I am busy with my babies, I cant talk to you now."

She plays out the role of mother, nurturer to her dolls in the same mode as she sees me. Instead of damning the role play that is an integral part of her figuring out the world I need to be conscious and critical of the kind of mother I am. Too strict? Too busy? Too preoccupied? Soneone whose life revolves around her kids and husband? Someone who loves the child to bits but has an independent life, an existence outside the role of mother and wife?

I burst with pride when my child tells me "when I grow up I want to be a mummy and a writer". Thats the combination that she normally comes up with but at times she says, a mother and a drummer, a mother and a dancer. A friend,a fierce feminist, looked a bit alarmed seeing me pleased. I told her I did not see my feminist position compromised in any way. She was playing out her fantasy keeping me, and my mum ( and so many of my friends) as a reference point. For the time being, I am going to loom larger than life. She is being nurtured, she wants to nurture. She equally has as many adult females around her who are fulfilling their life's ambition through their work and creativity, not as being a mother. They are going to be around in her life and as she outgrows me being her role model she will make her choices. She will seek fulfillment. All I can do is to make sure she is not surrounded by people playing out gender stereotypes, then I can calmly enjoy watching my child tie her baby to her back in my dupatta and potter around saying, gosh I am so busy.


dipali said...

And that is why you are so awesome, Sur!
An absolutely delightful post:)
Keep 'em coming!

Banno said...

Yes, no reason why the two can't co-exist. Mummy & ....

Rohini said...

Being a feminist does not mean you have to stop being a woman na? Motherhood, career, it's all part of the package. Besides we should just let kids be - at this age, role play is just fun, it is not a predictor of their future!

SUR NOTES said...

Rohini: True, the games that they play today is no indicator for what they will become tomorrow. My emphasis is on the idea that she should not grow up to believe that motherhood, marriage are essential rites of passage. Its a choice she will make when she grows up. Her mirroring the 'mother' part of me is but natural because she is being nurtured, she will want to nurture.But that is not the ONLY way to be.
Banno: She IS growing up with the notion that a mother can be something else alongside. But she IS also growing up with the idea that you can be fully fulfilled through the work you do. I think my feminist friend was alarmed that i seemed to be encouraging the 'i want to be MOMMY and ------' I might have been too, but watching this child closely I started seeing it somewhat differently.

Sue said...

Ro said just what I was about to say. Why the ugh at gender stereotyping? That's a reverse bias, isn't it, if you wouldn't have minded a little boy at the same play?

Bhabbles thinks it's mothers who go to office and fathers who stay at home and he wants to grow up and be a Babu (unless, of course, he's fighting with me and wants to be a Baba). Go figure!

SUR NOTES said...

Sue: its gender stereotyping because thats whats expected of girls. thats why I am uncomfortable with it.
Bhabbles is growing up in a house where a mother's role is not to stay at home. Its the father who is the primary caretaker. His notion of fatherhood and motherhood already defy convention, and that allows him space to imagine gender roles differently. Thats the important thing.

Sue said...

1. I believe that the inborn urge to nurture is something none of us can encourage too strongly. Boys are not encouraged to develop it and that leaves us with menfolk who are not cruel but simply do not know how to show their love.

2. I think we tend to underestimate the role models we ourselves present. As I work out the person I want to be, I find the skeleton structure on which I shape my acts is built of the principles and ethics my parents live by. Likewise, even if Sanah were to decide to go against every feminist feeling of yours, you’d probably find she was merely reworking them to suit herself. It’s impossible to make a non-feminist out of the daughter of a feminist.

3. I say this a lot, but I do believe it: the world Rahul and Sanah are going to live in will be so very different from the one in which we grew up. Whether R grew up with variable gender roles or not, he’d have to get used to them soon enough.

4. I fear, in our discomfort with the stereotypes, we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I wouldn’t comment on the male side of things, but as a woman I see fewer and fewer women are equipped with what I consider life skills but what are usually seen as ‘feminine arts’ – mending, recycling etc.

Awfully long comment, I do apologise. I did chop lots off it, though!

SUR NOTES said...

Sue: Bring on the long comments. Wish you had not lopped it off. I agree with you entirely. Thats why i began by saying that my usual 'ugh' at seeing girls play doll doll has changed to a more layered understanding while watching Sanah.

Sue said...

Actually, I was all set to do a post on it and leave you the link but then I remembered all the other posts to which I had wanted to respond thus and never did so I quickly commented before I lost the impetus here as well!

I have so much to say on this topic, it's hard for me to stop. :)