Posted by Alankrita Anand
When do you realise that you’re a boy? When society tells you.
Ravind was just another kid playing around with the other kids of his age in his village in rural Madhya Pradesh until the day he wore girls’ footwear and his friends teased him about it.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t know that I was a boy”, says Ravind, now almost an adult. It was over time, and through his engagement with other children and adults, that the realisation came. Today, Ravind is of the opinion that girls and women should stay indoors as far as possible, they should not go cattle-grazing and they should definitely not drive vehicles.
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Meanwhile, a much younger Abhay, from the same village, is being taught how to cycle. He’s also learning how to study and play. His sisters, in the meantime, are learning how to cook and clean. When Community Correspondent Ramlal Baiga asks Abhay why he does not want to learn to cook and clean, his answer is simple: “Because I am a boy.” But when Ramlal prods him further and asks what will happen if he does these chores, he smiles and says “nothing”, slowly averting his eyes.
Gender is learned at home, so unlearning it must include the entire household.
Abhay, who is eight years old, has already formed opinions about the different chores that men and women must perform. And Ravind thinks that this gendered division of labour is for the greater good. “Society has set these norms for good, everyone has their own roles to play”, he says, a marked difference from the time he used to go play wearing footwear ‘designed’ for girls without giving it a second thought. Clearly, he has been taught that to perform his masculinity, he must set himself apart from what is defined as ‘feminine’. The rigid separation of gender roles is socialised and while Abhay has just started being schooled in the norms of masculinity, Ravind is a confident graduate of the school.
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While Abhay is being encouraged to study, 60.39% of Indian girls are out of school by the upper primary level. Many families believe that their daughters’ roles should be limited to the household, and so, there is no need to educate them. Many others are apprehensive of sending girls out for fear of harassment and of tarnishing the family’s ‘honour’. Younger boys like Ravind imbibe these ideas too. “Where will girls go when they are out? They will get lost,” he says.
How do we start to break the pattern? Ramlal says that he, too, grew up in an environment of gender discrimination without realising that it was discrimination. “I come from the same society, I had the same ideas till I joined social work organisations and movements, especially Video Volunteers. Eventually, I started to unlearn gender stereotypes and today, I’d say that my own progress is at 80%.”
Ramlal believes that dialogue is crucial, and they must engage entire families. “In my gender discussion club, I have 12-13 boys and men. They discuss gender issues but may not be able to discuss them openly with their families. Gender is learned at home, so unlearning it must include the entire household.”
Just like Ravind is mocked for doing household chores in case of emergencies, Ramlal has also been mocked for having conversations on patriarchy and trying to challenge stereotypes. “Things won’t change overnight, but conversations are key”, he says, hoping to work with the boys in Ravind’s and Abhay’s village towards dismantling patriarchy.
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