Messages At Home Perpetuate Gender Stereotypes: Feminist Conference

Feminist Conference, Messages we are given at home

Shethepeople.tv hosted India’s first feminist conference, empowered by UN Women India, in Mumbai yesterday evening. Discussions revolved around whether Feminism is now considered the ‘F’ word, whether it is important to include men in the discussion, and whether feminism can often start from the home.

Veteran actress Dolly Thakore, comedian Aditi Mittal, author Kiran Manral and founder of SheThePeople.Tv, Shaili Chopra, discussed the ways in which men and women can be given different messages starting from their childhood. The messages children are given can sometimes perpetuate gender stereotypes, the panelists agreed.

Aditi Mittal said that while she was growing up, she wanted to get married and have children. She said she didn’t know any better. It was only a few years ago that she realised that there is a ‘whole other world out there’.

Dolly Thakore recounted her fascinating and uncharacteristic journey. She comes from a family in which women held power, and the men were more subdued. She says she learnt to be independent because of her hard-working grandmother and mother. She also mentioned how campaigning for the feminist cause was different when she was growing up. She said that bra burning was in fact the first thing she heard of when it came to feminism. Even though many wrongly associate feminism with those kinds of symbolic acts in today’s world, at that time the needs of the movement were different, and those acts were important, she said. Indeed, the place women are at today is because of the women who fought for our rights years ago.

Thakore should know, she has interacted with legendary feminists like Gloria Steinem and Erica Jong.

Kiran Manral spoke about her experiences with her pre-teen son. She said that the idea of understanding what consent is should start from a young age.  She has taught him that everyone has full rights to their own body. If he doesn’t want to hug or kiss someone, he doesn’t have to. ‘My body is my space,’ and ‘no means no,’ she tells him. She also taught him not to raise his hand on a girl, which funnily backfired on him when he came back from school, having been beaten up by a girl. When he asked her how to deal with the girl, Manral told him that next time he should hold her hand and speak to her. Manral spoke about how it is important to inculcate sensitivity in girls and boys.

Mittal said that issues of permission and access also lead to stereotypes and discrimination. For example, when she was growing up she saw that her elder brother was given permission to use the bus once he turned 10 years old. When she turned 10, she was really excited to use the bus too, but was denied permission. When she asked why, she received no coherent explanation, except that she was a girl. Mittal also spoke about how technical and administrative duties are immediately given to a boy. She said her parents always asked her brother about small things like setting up the Wifi, or which phone to buy, but would never ask her about these matters.

Thakore said that in her college years in Kanpur, there were 3 girls to 35 boys in a class. The girls there used to walk cowering down, and without confidence. When she started working, first at All India Radio, and then at Doordarshan, all the important work was given to men, and there was unequal pay. She said she is happy that the women of her age fought for equal rights, and managed to get an equal footing in terms of pay.

Shaili Chopra spoke about how gender roles are prescribed to girls and boys from infancy. Blue is a colour for boys, and pink for girls.

Perhaps the best moment from the discussion was when Mittal spoke about how people often attribute gender to her comedy.

Nishtha Satyam from the UN made another poignant comment related to the topic in another panel discussion. She said men and women cannot have mutual disrespect for each other’s competencies. Women cannot assume men will be worse at domestic chores, just as men should not assume women will be incompetent in administrative chores.

Also Read: Why can’t women be funny? Aditi Mittal on India’s obsession with stereotypes