|The male nanny in FRIENDS is such an aberration! (Photo credit)|
When Ross and Rachel hired a male nanny, everyone is shocked at the idea! It is so hard for the group to believe that a man would want to take care of babies out of choice. The men keep wondering - it's like a woman wanting to be.... - and the women, challenging - yes, what's the end of that sentence? The debate ends only with Joey's "a penis model". Although the awkwardness doesn't. Sandy - the male nanny - knits, plays an instrument and more importantly, isn't scared to let his feminine side show with free flowing tears. For a sitcom set in times when they are okay with even same sex relations, gender stereotypes still seemed to be deeply rooted.
No matter which culture we belong to, we are hard wired to believe that everything is gendered. Come to think of it, what befits a boy or a girl is decided right when the baby is born. I am guilty of never buying my nieces a car and always look for dolls and pink things! There are clothes for boys and girls and toys for boys and girls. And then when children play house, it's the girl who stays home to cook and the boy goes out for some kind of work. Reverse the role and have the boy make make-believe tea and that'll be insulting - that's a girly thing to do! "Are you a girl?" - is the rhetorical question the little boy is asked. (Although the kiddo might have no clue what the fuss is about) Because girls take care of home and boys go out in the world and earn.
The gender debate is more relevant in todays times when we are putting them on the spot and examining their validity more closely. There is so much talk on social media and elsewhere about how the new generation of boys need to be brought up with gender sensitivity. Crime against women is a huge issue we wish to tackle through well raised boys. We want to teach them that girls can have the freedom of movement as boys do irrespective of time of the day or night. Girls are out there asserting themselves and the boys need to play catch. While those lofty goals are great in the larger picture, I think it’s the individuals who’ll make a bigger difference. And a great step towards that is how we have become more aware of mindsets that are coloured with gender bias. This awareness is the key to changing them. Although many of them show we have a long long way to go before our world becomes truly gender neutral.
I was recently sitting with some people and one of them said that his colleague carries a tube of hand cream so that his hands stay soft in winters. And he found this very weird because it’s women who have soft hands while callused, rough hands are manly! I don’t think I would have paid attention to something like this a few years ago. But now the first thought that strikes me is how gender has nothing to do with soft hands! The skin of a person is just that and needs care in winters.
While we are trying to work on changing gender stereotypes in our heads, instances like the above point out to how deeply ingrained they are in our minds. Something as simple as a hand cream has gender implications!
Like I said, we have become more aware of gendered mindsets now. I was raised in a family where I don’t remember my dad ever being in the kitchen. And now I am married to a man who’s culinary adventures are limited largely to a biannual event of spreading dosa batter on the pan proudly displaying the result on a plate! (Below) Cooking, in my head, is mainly a woman’s job! (Yes, I am a work in progress too!) Sunday chefs I know of - men who cook a special dish once a week! But its hard to believe that a man might take care of an entire dept of running a household!
And it was eye opening to get to know such men who can manage the entire show independently and rustle up proper meals!! Such men amaze and surprise me. I still sometimes find it hard to wrap my head around a friend who cooks as an everyday chore. He plans the menu for the week, shops for groceries and is completely in charge of what happens in the kitchen!!
Another heartening instance is of a stay at home dad who does exactly what people would call a woman’s job - running the household, taking care of his kid while his wife has a full time job. He’s the odd one out when mommies take kids to play in the park but that hasn’t deterred him from wearing his #SAHD status on his sleeve. And I think this is such a huge dent in the stereotypes we propagate.
I am thrilled to personally know these people and applaud them for what they do. We still haven’t changed as a society. But these men have thrown all gendered caution to the winds and have done exactly what suits them. And that, I think, is a great thing in creating a gender neutral world.
Although some examples have made long strides in the positive direction, are we ready to change with these change makers. How easy is it for us to dissociate ourselves with what we call girly and think of it as gender neutral? And I question this based on something that actually happened. If you ask me, this friend who cooks everyday is setting a great positive example for his son. But when the kid wrote an essay on what his dad does around the house and mentioned that his dad cooks, the teacher made him erase that information from the essay. I am not sure if Dads are still supposed to sip tea and read a newspaper around the house. Teachers are a very important influence in our lives. And I shudder to think of many many more such teachers who still tell their students that girls cook and boys, and by extension dads, don’t. That girls are docile and boy don’t cry.
Just I was about to finish this post, the same friend pointed out the most atrocious thing related to this topic. Needlessly gendered is what I'd call it. And I think it is so wrong at so many levels, reinforcing exactly what we are trying hard not to! Silly toys for boys and girls even though either gender could play with a bike!
And that is why I said that before making any changes in the outside world, we need to change from within. Challenge the notion that soft hands are feminine and callused hands are manly. There are tons of such things that I hear often:
Women cant drive
Women don’t build muscles
Men can park well
Women can’t park well
Women don’t understand finances/investment
Men are tech geeks
Women don’t drink whisky
Husbands are better decision makers
Boys don’t cry
Girls cant fix leaking taps
The change has to start from within. If we are serious about creating a gender neutral world, there are a few things which we must do:
- Stop saying its girly/not for boys and vice versa. Let games, toys and clothes be just that
- Set the right example as parents. We pick up our first cues about the how the world works right at home. I learnt men don’t cook because my father never did. What messages are you sending to your kids about gender roles at home?
- Challenge the teachers at school if they are set the wrong example. I can’t even begin to emphasize how important teachers are in shaping our world view.
- Get out of the blue and pink mindset
- Stop telling women to watch what they wear. Teach boys to look beyond a woman’s clothes and look at her as a person she is.
- Think of boys AND girls being out at any time as normal. Let the boys know that as people, everyone has the freedom of movement.
- A woman covering her body or the lack of it doesn’t define her. So stop judging her
- Stop accepting any reason as valid to bring a woman down - her dress, the time of the night she was out, her inebriated state. Its okay for men to be out and drunk at 2 am. Why not women!
If men can be perpetrators, they can be equal partners in fostering equality too. Change the notion that a man encountered on the street is definitely going to be a perpetrator. He can also be someone who responsibly ensures the woman gets home safely. How we achieve this seemingly impossible change is up to us - maybe, one tiny step at a time. We need to take off our gendered glasses and get a fresh perspective on things. It is great to see campaigns against notions like boys don't cry and lets hope that there will be a world where girls will be kings and boys can be nannies! No eye brows raised! :)