One pleasant summer evening, when both my kids were off to the park, my daughter decided to carry three of her stuffed animals with her. With limited space in her tiny arms, my son offered to carry her stuffed Peppa Pig toy. As they walked on the road, he was questioned by three adults as to why he was holding a ‘girl’s’ toy. After all, Peppa Pig wears a dress and is pink all over. I saw my son’s eyebrows scrunch tightly as the awareness dawned that he was doing something ‘boys shouldn’t be doing’. He hurriedly corrected people, saying he was helping his sister. To which, he received praise.
“Oh, how gallant!” “Oh, look at your big muscles!” “Yes, you must help your sister, you are her brother after all.”
Such an innocuous event. No one was harmed. And yet my mind was reeling with the implications. We live in a polite society where nothing is overtly said but always inferred. Every day, my kids are subjected to small, tiny suggestions about how they should appear or behave. When my son wore pink shorts to the park or my daughter attempted to join an all-boys’ football game, they would raise eyebrows. A ‘concerned’ party would always attempt to correct their behaviour. When my son fell and bruised his knee, he would be told to ‘shrug’ it off. “You shouldn’t cry, beta. You are a strong boy.” Whereas if my daughter scraped her knee, she would be treated like a delicate flower and fussed over. As someone who has been subjected to patriarchy her whole life, I respectfully decline to box my kids according to gender-defined norms.
Patriarchy, in a nutshell
It’s a system that thrives on gender discrimination, in favour of men. A collective social bias passed down from generation to generation; patriarchy attempts to box every individual into predetermined roles. Traditionally, this ancient social structure gives unlimited power to men and subjugates all women. But make no mistake, men have also suffered from patriarchy, especially if they don’t fit into the cookie-cutter mould that has been pre-designed for them.
Feminism, the anti-patriarchal stand
The core of the feminism movement is equal rights for both genders. It was coined to bring about awareness and eradication of the prejudices women faced and to provide them with the same social standing as men. Today, it has developed a bit of a bad name, but that is the work of patriarchal forces that go against feminism. Women have the right to vote, work, be educated and use birth control because of all the hard work by feminists through the ages. The movement doesn’t exclude men. All it calls for is an egalitarian society where gender discrimination is abolished.
Why we need to smash the patriarchy for our kids
Every day, your child will be exposed to several chains of thought that advocates patriarchy. Whether it’s a television commercial that speaks about how every woman’s destiny is marriage or storybooks that speak of men as doers and women as nurturers only, little by little, society will wire your kid’s brain to accept these archetypes.
We have all been victims of patriarchy
Women are cautioned continuously in how to behave, dress and speak so as not to attract ‘negative’ attention. But the men received almost no such teachings. No one tells a boy, ‘Girls can wear whatever they want. You don’t have the right to touch or comment.’ Girls are responsible for their actions, as well as that of the opposite gender. This narrative that ‘boys will be boys’ is harmful to both genders.
Even popular culture can be a flag bearer for patriarchy whether it’s fairy tales, popular fiction, cartoons and movies. Be the voice of reason, and explain why such an archaic narrative is wrong and invalid in today’s time.
Educated people may not condone the harsher aspects of patriarchy. But they still carry a subtle mindset that segregates us into pigeon holes. While girls are now encouraged to work and be independent, at the back of people’s mind, her nuptials are still considered essential to her survival. Certain gender expectations are still very deeply rooted in our psyche. We have to free our kids from these stereotypes if we want them to thrive.
Where do we begin to end patriarchy?
If you genuinely believe your kids should have the freedom to think for themselves regardless of their gender, then you already stand against patriarchy.
For every adult who is conditioned and deeply rooted in the practices of patriarchy, their journey started in childhood. It’s not too soon to start your child’s education on gender equality. Young children have no preconceived notions about people. They also see themselves as people, not genders. That’s why childhood is the best time to start.
Patriarchy can affect your child’s self-esteem and sense of identity. A girl in a pink dress will attempt to climb a tree until she is told she shouldn’t get ‘her dress dirty’. A boy will play with his sister’s dolls until someone belittles him for doing so.
Neighbours, family members, popular culture and ‘well-meaning’ strangers will always attempt to ‘correct’ their behaviour. Before they can do so, you can step in and prepare your child.
What every child under ten should know:
#1 Boys and girls are equal
While they have several, startling differences, neither is inferior to the other. Equal doesn’t mean the same. Boys and girls may be biologically different, but as people, both are on equal standing. For older kids, make it clear that when it comes to education, career decisions and life decisions, both genders should be allowed to make their choices. It’s also a good idea to discuss the history of women’s struggle for equality with your kids, irrespective of gender. Awareness of the past struggles can help create a better path towards the future of equality.
#2 Your identity is yours to create
Thankfully, the world is constantly evolving. Your child must know early on that she is not defined by her gender, social background or skin colour. It’s okay to like things that traditionally belong to the other gender. It doesn’t make you any less of a boy or girl. As a parent, accept their choices as valid. If your daughter doesn’t like to wear dresses, or your son loves dressing up, don’t make them feel like they’ve chosen wrong. Lead by example.
#3 Many people preach in favour of patriarchy
It’s okay to teach your child that society is flawed. People are complex, and not everyone believes or does the right thing. However, that is their burden to bear. Your child needs to be clear about what is currently the norm and what needs to be addressed. Your kid will find it easier to reject stereotypes when they are enforced. Teach your child to follow his instincts. And to always check with you when he is made to doubt his decisions.
#4 Be kind to others who are discriminated
Your child needs to learn that it’s okay to be different. Throughout their experiences, they will encounter people who will be ridiculed for making choices that go against patriarchy. They need to be compassionate and accepting of those people.
#5 To be compassionate against those who propagate patriarchy as well
We are all victims of patriarchy, even those socially and subtly brainwashed in favour of it. Your child should be aware that change doesn’t happen overnight, and that people who follow gender stereotypes; they do it because they are conditioned. While their judgement should be ignored, don’t be too harsh on them.
Gender equality – what every parent should try and practice:
If you’re raising a girl:
If you’re raising a boy:
5 ways to start small and address the big issue
This is a very complex discussion to have with your child. You need to be patient and teach your child to listen and learn with empathy. Here are a few ways to drive your points home.
1. Keep your words simple
Use everyday language that your child can understand. You can ask your child, ‘Do you think boys and girls are equal?’ And then slowly expand on the topic.
2. Read news together
While a lot of the news may seem too complex for children to understand, you can draw their attention to specific issues. Like, if there is an article about a woman achiever, or if specific discriminatory laws have been abolished.
3. Use storytime well
You could read books that go against patriarchy like ‘Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls’ and ‘Stories For Boys Who Dare To Be Different’. You could also read traditional stories to point out why it doesn’t apply to our lives anymore.
4. Don’t lecture, discuss
If you ramble on, then your child might lose interest. Allow your child to absorb little bits of information at a time and encourage a dialogue.
5. Talk about the people you know
Discuss family members or people around you who have gone against patriarchal roles. This makes the topic more relatable.
For further reading on gender equality/ smashing patriarchy:
If you’re intrigued, here are some resources:
1. ‘Seeing Like A Feminist‘, by Nivedita Menon
This book explores the many women’s movements in India, and how complicated the fight against patriarchy truly is.
2. ‘The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men‘, by Robert Jensen
This book addresses the various issues caused by patriarchy and calls for an end to the domination of this prevalent social system.
3. ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It‘, by Terrence Real
This book explores how men suffer from patriarchy by being forced to hide their emotional grief and depression.
4. ‘We Should All Be Feminists‘, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Patriarchy is a complex topic to discuss with your children, so be patient. Your child may take some time to absorb the information thoroughly, but a little bit every day will help shape his ideals and values at a young age. We were all perpetrators and victims of this giant social evil, and we need to ensure that the next generation handles society demands and prejudices with empathy and understanding.