Gender Equality is one of the most talked-about topics along with breaking the barriers. Especially during this season, when International Women’s day is just around the corner, entire social media would be flooded with messages and tips as to how, and why to break the barriers and how we can achieve gender equality. Through this article, I want to stress the fact that how seeds sown at the right time, will yield better fruits, in a similar way, if we can sow the seeds of gender agnostic feelings into our children, then we would be living in a much better gender-neutral world, where we don’t have to talk about breaking the barriers. And as a parent, that’s our most important step towards breaking the barriers or working towards developing a gender-neutral society.
What is meant by Gender Neutrality?
Even though we are in the 21st century, we still carry forward our ideas of gender stereotyping and pass on those very same old and irrelevant beliefs to our future generations, by intention or by habits. That is the reason why gender neutrality has become the need of the hour.
We need to treat our children or even fellow human beings as individuals and human beings. Not as a girl or a boy. Once, when we achieve that maturity in our thoughts, then everything would fall into its own space. We all agree that there are some psychological differences in the construct of a girl or boy along with the anatomical differences. But these differences don’t make one weaker or the other stronger. In ancient India, both men and women were treated equally and have been showcased even in our scriptures. Where, everybody has the freedom to choose what is right for them, without any pressure or expectations. In doing, what is right for each of the genders, both of them used to respect and support the other genders. We need to go back to those principles and start living by them, which removes all these gender barriers from our thoughts themselves. You can read my article about it here.
What is meant by Gender-Neutral Parenting?
Experts confirm that most children would be able to identify not only their own gender but also start understanding the basic gender differences by the age of three. And that is the time when they start receiving different messages about gender stereotyping from the parents as well as the extended family, friends, and neighbors. And that’s how the seeds about gender inequality get sown in them.
In gender-neutral parenting, we first identify and come out of our own gender biases and raise the child as an individual first. In this process, we don’t stereotype our child with toys, books, dresses. We have to introduce our child to the gender differences as an individual, instead of as a boy or girl.
Children who are raised in a gender-neutral manner will have more compassion towards all genders. Whereas, the other children will tend to exhibit mostly only sympathy and a few show empathy (that again is based on how they were reared in their childhood) towards the other genders.
When both the genders show compassion towards each other and help each other during the time of need, then there is nothing like that. We will be working as the two wheels of a two-wheeler, which is helping the other wheel to maintain balance. Society needs all the genders to flourish and all of them play equally an important role. No one is weaker or stronger. If we are able to instill these thoughts into our child at a tender age itself, then we are successful as a parent in raising gender agnostic children.
One generation full of loving parents would change the brain of the next generation and with that the whole world.Dr. Charles Raison
Tips to raise Gender Agnostic Children.
1. Start Early:
Try to remove gender stereotyping by letting the child pick up the color which he/she likes. There is no steadfast rule that blue is for the boys and pink is for girls. Even boys can paint their nails if they like it. Girls can play with guns or mechanic sets, boys can play with kitchen sets. When we as parents show an open mind towards all these gender biases like colors, toys, dresses that normally get sown at a tender age, the child would be more open to trying out everything.
2. Children observe and learn a lot
Children by nature learn a lot by just observing. So, as parents, we need to remove the casual remarks about gender in our talks with friends and families. Let me relate this incident that happened almost six years back but is still fresh in my memory. My child came to me rushing to me one day from the park with a confused look on his face. When I inquired about it, he blurted out saying that some people casually passed on a remark in the park that the parents of sons are really lucky and don’t have to struggle. I just couldn’t fathom his statement and when inquired in detail, I got to hear that his friend’s mother remarked that sending girls to school is difficult as they need extra time to style their hair. And that set the ball rolling in my young son’s mind. That might be just a casual remark for that mother, but it became a gender statement for a young child and we need to desensitize the child about all those remarks isn’t it?
And our society is full of such people who pass casual remarks in such a gender-stereotypical manner. Hence, we as parents must at least start providing a gender-neutral environment at home and sensitize our children about such remarks.
3. Inculcate respect towards all gender
We need to start educating our child that whether it’s a boy or a girl, that person is an individual and has their own individuality and their own personal boundaries at a young age itself. We need to respect them as individuals and not as girls or boys.
The most common remark that the child gets to hear is that girls are weak and need to be handled with care from society in the form of movies and stories. My child wasn’t really interested in reading the fairy tales as he was saying why those girls were waiting for the prince and rescuing them? Why they didn’t try to save themselves? I took that opportunity to explain the real grit and hard work the girls do in various roles, though their bodies look fragile.
In fact, the other most common statements, one gets to hear is “Don’t cry like a girl” or “Be a man” who says that boys can’t cry or boys are the only courageous and strong ones. Can anyone deny the fact that becoming a mom and suffering the delivery pains is the most courageous thing an ordinary human like us does? When we as ladies are able to bear those pains, then why should we tell our own boys only to be strong and not girls? This doubt never left me from my childhood.
4. Have a period talk:
Irrespective of the gender of your child, parents need to have the period talk with their child when they reach an appropriate age. But that talk needs to be fine-tuned in such a way that, even the boys understand the emotional, physical turmoil the ladies go through during their monthly cycles. That way, the boys can provide the required support and strength required to girls during that time and handle them gently. I even took this chance to explain the pains a mom has to undergo to deliver a baby and how her entire psychology changes after the baby was born. This made my child more empathetic towards girls.
5. Set the same rules and boundaries
In order to raise gender agnostic children, we as parents have to set the same rules for both girls and boys.
- Every individual, irrespective of their gender needs to be treated with respect.
- Provide opportunities to mingle, and play with other gender.
- Read them more gender agnostic books and not the books that stereotype the genders
- Teach them to think from other person’s shoes which not only improves the empathy in them, but will make them more compassionate.
- When we teach our girls to dress or behave appropriately, we also need to teach the boys how to look and treat girls with respect.
- The cooking and cleaning are household duties and are not really gender-specific.
- Time limits about the curfew times are applicable for both boys and girls.
- We need to provide support and encouragement for their dreams and aspirations irrespective of their gender.
A child will always have an open mind is willing to work towards gender neutrality, when trained right. So as parents it’s our duty to raise our child far away from those biased thoughts, which is an ideal scenario. When we can’t raise our child in that ideal Ethiopian way, we at least can talk about the logic behind those irrational biases to our child and why we need to ditch them so that the child wouldn’t carry them forward. By teaching our children to be gender agnostic, we are taking our first baby steps towards a gender-neutral society.
A gender-equal society would be the one where the word gender doesn’t exist and where everyone can be themselves.Gloria Steinem