Gender Equality Begins At Home : A Personal Reflection
As a mother of a boy and a girl, I was very conscious about never imposing social gender norms and stereotypes on my children. It was primarily because of my own childhood experience – I was expected to act, behave, and express myself in a certain way since I was nine or ten years old. Since that tender age, I used to be told every day that a girl’s value and worth lie in her cooking and domestic work skills. Regardless of the education of a woman, if she is not good at cooking or cleaning, her husband’s family would never love her. That’s not all. A girl should never reply back, should never say ‘no’ to any order, never challenge her traditional and cultural values, or talk or laugh loudly – the list was endless. Because of my apathy in cooking as a pre-teen, every day I used to be reminded how worthless I was. I felt limited, restricted, inferior, and less cared for throughout my entire childhood, because of my gender. Gender equality indeed begins at home.
Stereotyping affects both boys and girls
Guess what? I had a brother who was one year older than me. And the rules, expectations, behavioral standards, life goals, everything was different for him. He never had to do any household chores, help with cooking, or cleaning. He was also allowed to remind me every day that getting good grades would not give me a pass to a great life if my cooking skills are not great!
We both were equally smart and ambitious. But by the time he was 14, I could see the expectation started mounting on him about his professional success. However insulting and disgusting it might sound, as an elder brother he was responsible for paying the expenses of my marriage (read dowry)!
It was not only me, but we both were victims of cultural gender norms and gender roles, which affected our adult lives in different ways. It’s a common misconception that gender stereotypes affect only girls.
Keep gender-norms out of the conversation
As a mother, I was extremely cautious and conscious of not repeating these with my children. I refrained from setting any expectations or behavioral standards based on their gender. I taught both of them to help me with household work when needed.
I’ve never told my daughter ‘you are a girl’ in any context. Even today, I associate this sentence with an attempt to limit my ability, my freedom, and my dreams.
Even with my utmost concern and awareness about keeping gender out of the conversation, I remember, it was impossible to control what family members or neighbors would comment on. For instance, my son used to be often teased by some relatives as ‘girlish’ for being tearful and sensitive.
Leading by example is the best way to teach
“To be in your children’s lives tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today.”
By the time my son was 12, he started refusing to do dishes, and chores or help me in cooking. The more I tried explaining to him the importance of sharing domestic work, the more he started resisting it. At that point I realized, he never saw his father doing any domestic work, which is a very common social norm in India. Most of our close friends and families also have very divisive gender roles when it comes to domestic work. More than what you explicitly tell them, how you as a parent lead your life, influences them the most. It all boils down to leading by example. Our family certainly needed more gender-equal roles.
As boys grow up, they start identifying themselves more with their fathers. I realized my son had probably started considering these works as womanly or feminine.
On the other hand, my daughter would often come and ask me whether I would need any help in the kitchen. If a girl always sees her mother cooking and taking care of family members, no matter how independent or empowered you raise her, she will always have a greater amount of implicit biases about her role as a caregiver of the family.
It all starts with sharing the chores
No matter how insignificant it sounds, gender equality begins with sharing domestic and care work. Though women today are more economically independent, all over the world they spend significantly more time doing domestic and care work than their male family members. This impacts women’s economic and professional performance, and growth and makes them more vulnerable to emotional stress and anxiety. Women often seek less demanding careers not because they are less capable, but because they don’t have a strong support system at home. The gender gap in care work is a huge contributing factor to the professional and social gender gap. Equality in domestic and care work helps families and communities flourish.
Power dynamics between parents affect children
The power dynamics between the parents shape children’s perception of gender roles to a large extent. In many cultures, men are the head of the family and the decision-makers. Women, on the other hand, are not allowed to take any important decisions independently. Men consider reversing the gender rhetoric equivalent to giving up on their power and privileges. If we want to break these patterns for future generations, parents should try to be conscious of reversing gender roles.
We’ve started realizing that we did not want to repeat the same mistakes that our parents made. We’ve made a lot of positive changes in our household in the last year in breaking the division of work. My husband didn’t grow up to have to contribute any chores at home, but he has started doing it now to teach our son the importance of countering traditional gender norms. We do believe that gender equality begins at home. As adults, it’s harder for parents to overcome their own cultural biases. But, once you acknowledge and own your unconscious biases, you can work your way through it!
Related posts: A Step by Step Guide For Men To Fight Against Gender Discrimination and You Too
Related resources: Gender equality starts at home: Seven tips for raising feminist kids
#GenderEqualityBeginsAtHome #MenCanCook #ShareDomesticWork
Yes, I love this. I make sure my son knows he needs to help in the kitchen. And I want my daughter to know how to change her own tire and such. I think that’s important!
Tara Pittman (@momknowsbest15)
Having 4 boys and 1 girl, I made sure to teach them all to cook and clean. My sons are awesome in the kitchen.
That is true that some household roles should not be assigned to a child according to their gender.
I have 1 boy and 1 girl, and I totally think it is a conscious decision to break down gender norms with my kids. I even have to remind my own parents that some things won’t be made to be a “big deal”… like my dad hates that my son likes his long hair…. my kids both play with whatever toys they want and do the same chores.
So true….nature versus nurture. We must begin with the teaching at a young age from home.
this is so true. i’ve been reading new books for myself and to my kids to try and unlearn / learn.
cute & little
Like you I have a boy and a girl and they both help around the house. My son is such a ‘foody’ as well so he is always making something in the kitchen.
World In Eyes
Great post, I strongly believe that Gender inequality begins from Kitchen, so we must finish it at kitchen.
Treating and teaching children as equally as possible it huge.
I loved this post and enjoyed reading. I have to say you have a beautiful family and loved the pictures too…. the pictures are what grab me 🙂
This is fantastic and 100% correct. When ever we have kids we’ll be doing our best to ensure they are tolerant and treat everyone as they themselves would want to be treated.