To Be Shirtless Or Not To Be: Sometimes, Equality At Home Is As Simple As That

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Shah Rukh Khan on parenting: Bringing up daughters and sons as equals is really not the demanding labour some families make it out to be. The rules of the game are rather straightforward, actually. Everything that a son is allowed, so must a daughter be. And everything that a daughter is disallowed, a son must too.

“It’s just not practical.” On the pretext of this weak and weak-willed justification, even the most progressive Indian families get away with treating sons and daughters differently. Let’s not even talk about those families that are out, loud and proud about creating clear distinctions between the lives of their children basis gender.

If one is looking to raise their children equally, where does one begin? How does one teach them? By hollering about systemic patriarchy confined within the four walls of your living room? By conjoining your children at the hip so they do every single thing together, equally? Or by granting them full autonomy without any parental guidance?

Equality doesn’t have to be as hyperbolic as all that. Sometimes, it can begin at something as simple as a shirt.

Shah Rukh Khan On Parenting As A Feminist Dad: He Shows It CAN Be Done

As it happens on the random internet, an old interview of Shah Rukh Khan is going viral online, in which he underlined why his eldest son Aryan isn’t allowed to roam shirtless in the house. “I believe that a man in his house doesn’t have the right to go shirtless in front of his mother, sister or women friends. I tell Aryan to put on a T-shirt all the time.”

Khan, who is father to three – two sons and a daughter, Suhana – explains “it’s got nothing to do with having breasts.”

“If you’d feel uncomfortable seeing your mother, daughter, sister, women friends without their clothes on, why would you expect them to accept you shirtless? Don’t do something a girl can’t do,” he says.

Khan has always been a champion for the upliftment of women (in his private capacity at least, though the same can’t be said about the messaging in his films) and has consistently expressed, with natural ease, the but-obvious need to raise sons and daughters like equals. “Respect for women” is a mantra he has often reiterated in interviews.

But this shirt advice is deeply profound. Supremely simple, yet profound. 

It’s significant – in a country that still places the responsibility for change in the rape culture on women. In a society that isn’t teaching its sons to take accountability for gender injustice. In homes where fathers and brothers, while topless, have the audacity to tell the women to cover up. For morality’s sake.

What does that tell young men, if not that they are the superior gender? That masculinity is linear and unchangeable? How does a young boy perceive the world when he sees his sister’s wardrobe being monitored like his is not – like it will never be? Will this kid not grow up with preconditions deeply misogynistic?

But what will a simple turn in parenting – like serving a son and daughter the same amount of snacks, allowing them both to dress per choice, instructing them both in household chores – do for children? Will it not tell them they are as deserving as any other? That identities of gender should not define success or opportunity? That it will make a world of difference in the way our future looks?

If patriarchy begins at home, so can equality.

Views expressed are the author’s own.