LIT­TLE GEN­DER BEN­DERS

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - HT THINK! - An­tara Sen­gupta an­tara.sen­gupta@hin­dus­tan­times.com

Delhi boy Aar­nav Arora Sing­hal, 5, loves to wear dresses and or­gan­ise princess par­ties with his fe­male cousin. “I buy most of his shoes and bags from the ‘girls’’ sec­tions of de­part­ment stores, be­cause he loves the bright colours,” says his mother Madhu, 35, a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive. “My hus­band and I would never try and dis­cour­age him from wear­ing what he likes, but peo­ple’s re­ac­tions amuse me. There was a time when he re­fused to cut his hair and even fam­ily mem­bers and teach­ers would call him a girl — de­ri­sively.”

Sim­i­larly, six-year-old Re­haan Iyer Agar­wal from Mum­bai has about a dozen dolls, in­clud­ing three Dis­ney princesses and four Bar­bies, and loves turn­ing his mother’s du­pat­tas into ball gowns, string­ing beads into ac­ces­sories and mak­ing Play­doh dresses for his dolls.

Chan­dana Gupta, 6, daugh­ter of Mo­hal­ibased pae­di­a­tri­cian Dr Gau­rav Gupta, mean­while, in­sists that her par­ents buy her clothes from the boys’ sec­tion, and spends most of her play­time with her wide col­lec­tion of re­mote-con­trolled cars.

Aar­nav, Re­haan and Chan­dana are part of a grow­ing num­ber of ju­niors who are ef­fort­lessly blur­ring the lines be­tween what lit­tle boys and lit­tle girls ‘ought to do’, with the full sup­port of their par­ents.

Fam­ily coun­sel­lor and au­thor Gouri Dange at­tributes the flu­id­ity to the fact that gen­der roles are more fluid in the home.

“The mother works out­side the house; the fa­ther cooks. Chil­dren are pick­ing up on the fact that their roles aren’t strictly de­mar­cated,” she says. “Most chil­dren even­tu­ally grow out of it as self-re­al­i­sa­tion hits them with age and pu­berty.”

Devel­op­men­tal pae­di­a­tri­cian Samir Dal­wai adds that there is also healthy in­ter­ac­tion be­tween chil­dren of both gen­ders as many more schools are now co-ed, and that’s lead­ing to these cross­over trends.

Many par­ents are find­ing, how­ever, that the real is­sue is that their child’s so­cial en­vi­ron­ment hasn’t evolved at the same pace.

“Ini­tially, it used to worry me when Re was mocked or ridiculed,” says Re­haan’s mother Lalita Iyer. “But now I know he can hold his own even in a class full of chil­dren raised on very strong gen­der stereo­types.”

In one of her blog posts, for in­stance, Lalita writes: ‘When Re likes some­one enough to want to in­clude him/her in his uni­verse, the first thing he tells them is that he likes play­ing with dolls... he has re­alised that he would rather be choosy about his friends and that they should have full in­for­ma­tion when they choose to be friends with him…’

Aar­nav’s mother Madhu adds that when he picked a Bar­bie at a toy shop, the shop­keeper kept in­sist­ing that he buy a more mas­cu­line toy “like a car or a gun”.

“Th­ese are the same peo­ple who will ar­gue in draw­ing rooms that our boys are not raised to be car­ing and sen­si­tive. If we raise them to equate man­li­ness with weapons and vroom­ing au­to­mo­biles, what else can we ex­pect?” she adds.

Coun­sel­lors cau­tion that there is some­thing else to watch out for: En­cour­ag­ing an atyp­i­cal pref­er­ence with such pride that the child feels they ought not to al­ter it.

“The truth is, par­ents shouldn’t ac­tively en­cour­age any­thing,” says Dange. “As par­ents, your re­spon­si­bil­ity is to en­sure that a good mix of ac­tiv­i­ties is avail­able, and let the child take it from there.”

One thing you should clearly not do, adds Aruna Broota, clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and for­mer pro­fes­sor in the de­part­ment of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Delhi, is suc­cumb to pres­sure and take the clips / stoles / dolls / cars away.

“That could make the child ei­ther re­bel­lious or self-con­scious,” she says.

PRAMOD THAKUR/HT

(Below) Re­haan Iyer Agar­wal, 6, from Mum­bai loves turn­ing his mother’s du­pat­tas into ‘ball gowns’, string­ing beads into ac­ces­sories and mak­ing Play­doh dresses for his dolls.

GUR­PREET SINGH/HT

(Ex­treme right) Chan­dana Gupta, 6, from Mo­hali, poses with a mace on her Ben 10 bed­sheets. She in­sists her par­ents buy her clothes from the boys’ sec­tion of cloth­ing stores.

AB­HI­NAV SAHA/HT

(Right) Aar­nav Arora Sing­hal, 5, from Delhi picked out a Frozen T-shirt, fairy princess hot­pants, a but­ter­fly head­band and white an­gel wings to wear for his shoot. He also likes ear­rings, stoles and flow­ers in his hair.

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