We are raised ingrained notions of gender roles –fathers go to office and mothers cook yummy food, brothers play cricket and sisters play with dolls. These stereotypes and roles continue to be enforced and re-enforced everywhere in homes, communities, apps, and offices. These are the notions that create vulnerable girls prone to stigma and cruel boys who will rarely be held responsible.
The discourse on gender equality & prevention of violence against women & children has emphasized on the need to engage in conversation with Men & Boys. Boys in India grow up with little access to reliable sexuality & relationship education. And their position in the Indian cultural milieu confers of them unearned privileges. So we are essentially dealing with a thoroughly deluded culturally rooted entitlement.
It is crucial to talk to men and boys directly and they must be accompanied by positive, affirmative action everywhere from family to workplace, from the streets outside to curriculum designed in education boards.
You may find out that your son follows YouTubers who trash talk women. Be patient & engage in conversation. If you outright reject the influencers in their lives, there are chances of they may turn more secretive.
This article will focus on one important aspect - conversations that families must have with their sons.
- Using the right words: What boys hear in the home influences how they think & talk. They form their ideas of gender roles based on this. If men in the house do domestic work don’t refer to it as men “helping” women in the household chores. Instead say that he is working and keeping the house clean. If a father is taking care of a child, don’t say “baby sitting”. Rather, he is taking care of his own child.
- Choices & Consequences: Boys get away with poor choices because the consequences are not made evident for them as compared to girls. For e.g. if a boy has the habit of snatching & hitting in a group play set up, the first reaction of the parents is to tell the girls not to go near him and play elsewhere. This gives a wrong message to the boys that they can get away with aggression. Instead take the boy out of the group play & insist on him correcting his behaviour if he wants to return to the playground.
- Male Privilege: Help your son understand that he is privileged. A simple exercise could be to ask them about basic activities they engage in which girls are generally not allowed to e.g. Coming back home late in the night with no one asking too many questions, hanging out at tea stalls with friends till midnight, getting away with not performing any domestic work etc. While there are a few girls who are allowed to do all of the above, explain to them that majority of the men & boys have these privileges. And with privilege comes responsibility.
- Body Image & Self Image: Many boys grow up with wrong notions of how they are supposed to look & feel which leads to feelings of inadequacy & despair. It is crucial to have a conversation with young boys about their bodies & enable them to be comfortable with themselves and their body types.
- Sex & Sexual Feelings: Talk to boys (age-appropriately) about masturbation, nightfall & sexual feelings. Explain that these are normal & a part of growing up. Give them the space to explore. Help them understand that while their sexual desires are valid they should be careful with boundaries & privacy and not harm anyone else emotionally or physically.
- Pornography: Pornography is not sex education, nor is it a documentary account of sexual activity. Ask your son to monitor the time they spend watching porn and if it seems like it is getting out of hand. Catching your son watching porn is embarrassing but a great teachable moment to deliver your lessons on gender, sex & sexuality.
- Talk about Consent: Tell them that Consent is key at every stage in a relationship, especially in sexual relationships. If they are ever in doubt ask them to double check with their partners. They should never assume silence or a reluctant no as consent. Make sure to tell them how consent applies to online spaces as well.
- Peer Pressure: Help boys recognize the tremendous pressure they may face from their peers. They can navigate tricky situations by thinking critically through them – whenever they feel unsure, they need to pause, maybe talk to someone else & then arrive on a decision.
- Know the influencers in their lives: Have an open channel of communication with your son to understand the influencers they follow online and offline. The sooner you start this conversation the better. Drop your judgement about tastefulness etc while asking children about this. You may find out that your son follows YouTubers who trash talk women. Be patient & engage in conversation. If you outright reject the influencers in their lives, there are chances of they may turn more secretive.
- Understanding & Navigating romantic feelings: Teach how they can build healthy relationships based on mutual consent & respect where both partners feel loved & cared for. They must never harass, threaten or shame if the other person is not interested in a relationship. Teach them to handle break-ups with grace and not create a mess or harm. Explain legal consequences if necessary.
- Keep an eye out for the content they consume: Point out issues with popular imagery that children may see every day around them. For e.g. while watching a series together if you see that a particular stereotype is being promoted you may ask the children, “why is this mom the one who is always making & serving dinner?” “Who is the strong person in the show?” “Who is the kind one?” “Who is a bully?” “Who is termed as “sexy” or “a geek”?
Start early. Start small. Start at home. And keep going.
(Excerpted with permission. The above article is part of Aarambh India’s A Field Guide To Indian Empathies: Raising Sensitive Children for a Diverse Future)