Raising independent boys

I stumbled upon a very thought provoking read yesterday. You can read the full article here. To be honest, I think the title is totally misleading. It should probably read “I wish I taught my Indian son the value of a woman.” Instead the title was “I taught my daughter to be an independent woman but I regret bringing her up like that.” Never the less, it was an interesting read.

While the situation that occurred can happen in any family, in any part of the world, the author wasn’t wrong when she generalised the ideology of Indian men. I am an Indian and let me just say that the opinions I am about to share are a generalisation (and in fact there are some amazing Indian men) but the basis behind my opinions do exist. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it, it’s still very common.

In many households, boys are not expected to do much around the house. And as the author mentioned, in the last generation, the women were expected to do everything. With this generation, thankfully many parents changed. They encouraged their daughters to dream big and go out there to achieve whatever their hearts desired. The boys however got left behind. I once spoke to a woman who I considered fairly “modern” in her thinking…her daughter was a go-getter and was encouraged to follow her dreams. But when referring to the ways of her house, she said “The men in my family don’t enter the kitchen and they’re not expected to.” I remember being stunned and wondering how she could have such different standards for her two children.

She’s not the only one. It’s very common for Indian women, even those working full time, to pull the bulk of the weight in the house. And sadly it’s what’s expected of them…by their own mothers, their mother in laws and their husbands.

We live in the 21st century people and yet the expectations we place on our girls is that of a by-gone era. And what about the boys? Shouldn’t your boys know how to clean up after themselves, do their laundry, boil an egg? Why would you encourage your girls independence and limit your boys? Don’t they deserve to be all rounders as well? Don’t they deserve to be capable? To look after themselves?

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I’m not just addressing this to Indian mums but to all mums. Give your boys the independence you encourage your girls to have. They’re as capable. I’ve heard the phrase “mums and their boys”…I “know” the phrase…I have a son! There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. But the one thing I will insist on is him being independent. So he doesn’t actually “need” a woman to do things for him. He doesn’t need a woman to make him his breakfast, cook him dinner or massage his ego. He might be lucky to find a woman who wants to do all of that for him, but it’ll be her choice. And they’ll be lucky to have each other because I hope to raise a boy who will do as much for his wife as she will do for him.

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Gender Stereotyping and how it affects our children

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll notice I’ve posted a few articles recently on gender stereotyping and how it affects our children. There have been petitions signed, lobbyists and bloggers all rising up against gender stereotyping, especially in stores like Toys r Us where there is a very obvious divide between boys and girls toys. Boys toys being packaged in blues or dark colours and girls toys being predominantly pink in colour.

When I was growing up as a child, I was quite the tomboy. I played lots of sport (including football with all my brother’s friends), was always scraping my knees, hanging off trees and other activities which would now be considered very “boy’ish”. My dad always encouraged me to help him fix things and so today I can navigate a toolbox with ease. But I also love the colour pink, dresses, make up, manicures and mommyhood. So surely playing with “boys toys” didn’t affect how much of a girl I can be.

Some people may ask: “What’s wrong with girls playing with pink and boys playing with blue things?”

Here’s what I think. By gender stereotyping, you’re narrowing your child’s mind to accept anything that society says is meant for him/her. That’s not to say you shouldn’t dress your child in pink. Hell, if I had a daughter today, she’d be covered in pink, white and all things pretty. But I wouldn’t limit her exploration of toys or ideas about what she could do in the world. Want to jump in muddy puddles in your baby pink skirt? Go for it!

When I lived in Hong Kong, S absolutely loved prams (and micro scooters). If he saw them at the playground he’d go and start pushing it around. One Sunday I went to a carnival with some friends and they were giving away free pink toy prams. So we took one home and for the week after, every time S was going down to the playground, I’d send his pram with him. One day my helper came back and told me the other helpers laugh because he’s a boy and he’s pushing a pink pram around. This is the kind of thinking that gets to me. Today, S has naturally gravitated towards more “boy like” toys. He loves cars and trains and most of his toys are blue, yellow, orange or red.

I do worry though that boys who are told they can’t push prams or wear pink will be the men who believe a woman’s place is in the home. In other words, male chauvanists.

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The other thing about gender stereotyping is it creates self limiting beliefs in children. If a girl is made to believe that she’s only meant to be soft, delicate, quiet, etc., how will she go out there and in the words of Beyoncé, “run the world”?

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Getting over gender stereotyping will take time, after all we’ve all been moulded into it but get over it, we must, especially for the next generation. I met some friends a few weeks ago and one of them was telling me how she’s doing a master’s in construction. My first thought was wow, that might be tough because it’s such a male dominated industry. But before I could finish my thought, I felt proud of her. Here was a girl, taking on what’s typically a male industry AND doing it well. There’s someone who hasn’t let gender stereotyping hold her back.

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Here are some good articles I came across:

http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/five-ways-parents-can-reduce-gender-stereotyping-children-3236.html

http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Parenting_Gender/

http://voices.yahoo.com/gender-role-stereotypes-they-effect-childs-4842688.html

So what do you think? When you look at your kids toys, do they tend to fall into the pink for girls and blue for boys category? And has that been intentional or is it just the way things have happened naturally? I’d love to hear your thoughts.