“Why doesn’t daddy wear a skirt,” she asked.

A little flashback:

We were going out for dinner. I made my daughter wear a shirt and a skirt which she showcased with excitement, saying “Wow, Anaya is wearing a skirt and a daddy dress”. I explained to her that shirt is not a ‘daddy dress’. Everyone wears it, even mummy. Pat came her reply “Oh, mummy too wears a daddy dress.” Several tender explanations later, she finally understood that a shirt is just a shirt and I heaved a sigh of relief.

At last when I thought it was over, came another question, “Why doesn’t daddy wear a skirt?”

“Well for one, your daddy isn’t Ranbir Singh”, I thought to myself while shrugging off her question. I didn’t have an answer then.

A couple of days later, my sister-in-law and I went to pick her up from school. As my daughter has not seen a female drive a car before, she was taken by surprise, “Arey bua car chalati hain!”(Aunt drives a car!)

Despite my efforts to create a gender-neutral environment at home, my daughter who is barely three was already gender stereotyping. I knew it was time to act.

In retrospect, I realized how often we adults unconsciously feed the little ones’ mind with such stereotypes. While it is mostly playful and unintentional, sometimes it is intentional as well. However, in order to raise gender unbiased kid I listed down a few do’s and don’ts. Along with practicing this ourselves, we also ensure that others around us follow them too such as grandparents or frequent visitors. Here you go:

  1. Share chores at home: Kids are observant. They believe in what they see. As parents, it’s our responsibility to set the right example for them. There should be no gender-specific chores. And when there is, impart some wisdom to your little one. For instance, most of the cleaning and cooking in my house is done by a female, either by the house help or me. So those few times when the husband cooks or cleans, I ensure to put across a point to my daughter.
  2. Do not make statements like ‘Stop crying like a girl’: Stop saying that. Just stop. Real men cry, so do strong women. My husband cried in pain on seeing me in labor. He cried of joy when our daughter was born. Everyone, irrespective of their gender, can cry. It doesn’t make you more of a girl or less of a boy. It just makes you more human.
  3. Girls are beautiful and boys are strong: We often associate girls with beauty. Have you ever referred to men as beautiful? I don’t think so. Neither have I. Our treatment of the word ‘beautiful’ is sexist. Calling your kid as beautiful or strong, once in a while, is fine. But constantly referring your girl as beautiful will make her feel inferior to boys as she grows up. And constantly referring boys as strong will put them under unnecessary pressure. It is therefore important to not label these adjectives to any gender. Tell your kid he/she is smart intelligent, beautiful, and strong and everything in between.
  4. Avoid shows that are hyper-pink or super-blue: Keep a check on what your kid is watching. Videos and cartoons have a profound impact on them. Hence, it is necessary for us to screen those shows that are gender insensitive. For instance, the show called ‘Peppa Pig’ boosts all common gender stereotypes. Not letting your kid watch such shows will help the cause.
  5. Let the kids choose their toys: Let the kids select for themselves. My girl loves her kitchen set. Her favorite color is pink. But she chose it for herself. It wasn’t the only choice given to her. And who knows, she could be the next Tarla Dalal! Well, she loves her cars and the bat and ball as well. So she can be next Mithali Raj too. Similarly, if your boy wants to play with a doll, let him be. Don’t feed him with gender poison: dolls are for girls and cars are for boys. Let your children play with a wide variety of toys. Let them be creative and imaginative.
  6. Encourage girls and boys to play together: Enter your child in mixed-gender activities, sports, playgroups and school. When children are comfortable playing with the opposite gender, it will not only help them in future relationships at school, home and work, but also instill in them a trust and respect for other gender(s).
  7. Introduce gender sensitivity through stories: Don’t limit the storytime to damsels in distress. Instead tell the kids stories with strong female characters as well as modern-day stories where ‘tough guys’are also allowed to express emotions.
  8. Blue for boys and pink for girls: Not anymore. Promote all colors for both genders. Keep a neutral decor for the kids’ room and buy them stuff in all the colors. Treat children as individuals and not on the basis on their gender.

I can’t emphasize it enough that kids are extremely observant and imbibe what they see. So it is important for the adults around them to set an example.

I still haven’t answered my daughter’s question yet “Why doesn’t daddy wear a skirt?”In spite of the musings and ponderings, I haven’t been able to come up with an appropriate answer.

Can someone help me with it?

This post was previously published here

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