We see a little girl, with her curls and her adorable dress, and are invariably tempted to comment on her looks.
Why not ask her about her interest in science and maths and sports instead, asks Parul Sharma, who is both an author and a mom. Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
What sort of feminists am I raising, I sometimes wonder to myself as I look at my little children.
Everyday sexism seems to be so rampant and ubiquitous that, unless one is really looking, it just slips through the cracks unnoticed.
It comes through when someone asks their mother what she does for a living. I write, I offer. Oh, that's great, they say, you have something to fill your free time with.
Whatever else writing has meant to me -- a way to understand myself, the means to self-expression, the possibility of telling my stories to the world -- filling my free time was not the reason I was drawn to it.
Would you ask this question of a man who writes, I want to ask these people. Would you reduce his life's passion to something he does to fill vacuous hours?
More than that, I want to ask my children: How does this impact the way you perceive these pre-defined gender roles?
If one needs an insight into the mind of the urban Indian mother, one needs to look no further than the Whatsapp groups that are ostensibly formed to keep each other updated of our children's activities but cover a whole gamut besides.
Husband bashing is rampant of course (fathers are conspicuous by their absence, having possibly left the task of supervision to the women).
There are a number of teary odes to motherhood but, more disturbingly, they seem determined to promote stereotypes -- dumb blondes that cavort with millionaires, women as spenders, men as earners, the clearly defined roles of wives and sometimes mistresses.
Nobody seems offended!
Analyse these jokes and conversations long enough and it becomes quite clear that, as primary caregivers, mothers perhaps already consider feminism a dirty word.
It can be seen at birthday parties as well.
The girls have princess celebrations that look like explosions of pink flounces. The boys like to rough it out on the cricket field where the girls are invited but are made to limit themselves to cheerleading for the boys.
Music at these parties is driven by Bollywood (as is everything else in our popular culture). The little people put forth disturbingly uncanny imitations of their film icons, the little girls already quite comfortable in the item number movements of their idols.
The return gifts are carefully colour and gender coded.
Woe befall any parent who dares pass off a blue present to a girl. It has sports equipment inside, you see, and that apparently damages little girls.
In my generation, sewing for girls and carpentry for boys was de rigueur in school in the name of Socially Useful Productive Work. Which is why I am heartened by how many more girls play sports these days.
Yet, the subtle discrimination remains -- the boys are enrolled in football and cricket and the girls are encouraged to participate in skating and gymnastics.
The lines are clearly drawn!
Walk away from the sports ground into the bookstore.
They are calling my novels chicklit, I notice.
Nobody seems to find that offensive.
I am dreading the day I am asked by my children what chicklit refers to. Literature for women? What happens if women write for men? Can men write for women? Was Jane Austen a chicklit writer?
Uncomfortable questions all, but I find it is very helpful to question our attitudes in the light of how we would explain them to our children. Everyday phrases that are tossed at us speak a whole language of inequality in themselves. It is hard to look away when you know that the children are watching.
Boys will be boys.
You have a daughter, you need to be careful.
I hope I have a girl this time, I am dying to dress her up in little tutus.
We are baking cupcakes, send your little girl over. There will be pink icing!
Just stop, please!
We see a little girl, with her curls and her adorable dress, and we are invariably tempted to comment on her looks.
Why not ask her about the books she reads and her favourite characters instead?
She has an interest in science and math and chess and tennis too, I bet, and she will blossom under your attention, as children are wont to, if only she knew that Barbies and cheerleading are not her only options.
Parul Sharma has two children -- Aditya is six years old while Ragini is three. Her latest novel, Tuki's Grand Salon Chase, is available here.