It’s school holidays and hopefully we’ve spent some quality (er…!) time with our children. It’s a great time to get to know our children again, in a way, without the rush of routine, homework and after-school activities to think about. It’s also a good time as a parent to ‘re-group’ a little.
Desi Gender Stereotyping
If your house is anything like mine during school holidays, there are probably toys lying around everywhere. And as I have a daughter and no sons, pretty much everything is pink or purple and girly.
The notion that pink is for girls, blue is for boys has become such a given that often we don’t question it. How many of us choose a pink card when we someone we know gives birth to a baby girl? Why not blue for a girl? It just seems wrong doesn’t it?!
Has it occurred to us that we are actually limiting our children and stifling their individual identities by forcing them into society’s idea of what a boy/ girl “should” be?
When I was growing up, my mum had very specific ideas on how to raise me. I was taught how to cook, clean house, shown crafts like sewing and knitting (all of which I rebelled against as a teenager and lay around reading Just 17 magazine.) But she was trying to raise me to be a submissive, respectable young lady that would one day make for a suitable Asian bride. Meanwhile my brothers were encouraged to ride their bikes, play sports, Lego and generally “be men”. It’s all so forced- so stereotyped that it makes me cringe.
The debate on how we limit girls by dressing them in pink with aspirations to the Disney princess mould of womanhood is one that is important to me. Why should our girls only be raised to be “suitable Asian brides”? Why should they be told they can only wear ‘girls colours’, and play with dolls and kitchen sets? Equally, if our sons are creatively minded, why should they be forced to play with Lego rather than craft, paint or play instruments?
In our South Asian culture where gender roles are very much defined, it can be difficult for desi parents to navigate this whole debate. From day one our girls are expected to be demure even submissive whilst our boys are encouraged to be manly-men. This continues on well into adulthood where us women have all kinds of expectations- and limitations- placed on us in terms of our careers, married life and so on. (The same goes for Asian men to some extent too, which I have written about.)
And even if we as parents are enlightened (uh-hum!) on this whole debate, it can be really awkward when the grandparents vehemently disagree with you because your ideas don’t fit with their ideas of how their grandchildren “should” be raised.
So how do we manage to avoid typecasting our children, keep the extended family happy and maintain some sanity? Here are my tips:
Pick your battles and be gracious:
I did once turn down a gift from my mother-in-law because I felt really strongly that it wasn’t suitable. I told her why and she accepted my reasoning- thankfully! I think its important to set your boundaries as a parent. But the key thing is to pick your battles and not turn down every Disney Princess or Ben 10 gift that your children are given. Grandparents have a stake in how our children are raised and it is their prerogative to spoil our children a little.
Don’t be too strict:
Which leads me on to say that its important to have a balance. It’s never wise to completely ban a toy, colour or anything else from your children’s choices- you run the risk of it becoming a forbidden fruit which simply makes it more exciting. We do indulge our daughter’s love for princesses a little, but always show her there are other choices, and emphasise that its good to incorporate non-girly toys in her playing. And we always tell her there is no such thing as “girls/boy’s toys” or “girls/boys colours”.
Talk it through:
If there are some things which you feel very strongly that your child shouldn’t have, talk it through with them as to why it isn’t good for them. This is something we are working on with our daughter: like any other five year old, she doesn’t want to listen to reason and rather have instant gratification! But communication is a part of parenting so I know it’s worth investing in, and we keep working on it.
Be a counter-culture parent:
Ultimately there are some things you’ll have to stand your ground on, whether that’s with your child or with other family members. And yes that’ll make you unpopular at times. But one thing I’ve realised, in today’s society where so many things grab for the attention of our children- and not all of those are good, is that we have to fight for our children. Sometimes we have to make choices for them that we believe are the right ones and hope there is a dialogue there for understanding.
If you have any thoughts on this debate, or any tips to share, please do leave a comment.