A few months ago, I was standing in my balcony and talking to my neighbour, 7 year old Angelina. Angel lives and studies in Bangalore. She is a bright, smart and energetic kid in the block and we are good friends. Angel was holding a scale in her hand and scraping it against the balcony grill. When I asked her what she was upto, she said she was readying her knife to cut Paneer. Just as I was imagining Kadai Paneer for dinner, she clarified that it was a game that they played in school. The game was about preparing a meal spread and the children cut up white erasers to make them look like paneer cubes and prepared a feast. I was pleasantly surprised and told her that it was amazing that the entire class came together to prepare Paneer. She was again quick to clarify “Not the whole class. Only the girls.”
“Angel, what about the boys?”
“Oh they’re always playing silly football games”
Hello 2017 and hello to boxing children into doing what is expected of their gender.
Our brains are used to working on auto pilot that we mostly just go with the flow. We end up doing things that have been the norm and continue to do so. Unconscious Bias or Big B calls the shots.
I am now going to ask you to recall the last time you gifted a child something. It could have been a boy or a girl and it could have been a birthday, a house visit or any other occasion. Think about your gift and ask yourself why you made this choice. Now spend a moment and ask your self if the gift would have been the same if the kid was of the other gender.
One one hand, there are traditional gender stereotypes that we end up subscribing to - That boys are good at sports and girls are good at the Arts or that boys play with race cars and girls play with Barbie dolls. So we end up creating experiences for them that reinforce these stereotypes, over and over again. Whether we’re buying birthday presents, toys and books for children or taking them out to watch movies, we’re creating moments of communication which influence and create realities for them.
I’m NOT saying DO NOT buy Barbie dolls for your daughter or Cricket Bats for your sons. Just be mindful about the kinds of experiences you are creating for them and the kinds of energies that they are experiencing. Are their experiences enabling them to be creative, strong, caring, nurturing, friendly, competitive and more? Are they experiencing attributes of the masculine and the feminine?
I often hear the statement “You are overthinking this. Why can’t you just let it be?” I think the problem is that we haven’t thought about this enough. Being mindful and being aware of your own biases is the first step towards fighting unconscious bias. Saying Hello to the Big B in your brain will make you ask the right questions and you will make considered choices and decisions going forward - from buying a gift to framing opinions.
Children are keen observers. My son, who is 14 months old is able to grasp gestures, tones and mannerisms. In a way Big B is already befriending young minds. So Pause, and look at your choices and decisions through the lens of gender. Ask yourself if your statements or actions box children into categories of what is ideal for their gender. Encouarge them to pursue things even if it pushes boundaries of gender norms that society, culture and the media have created for us. That's how you will be doing your bit for #genderequality.
Two months ago, my husband and I were visiting friends and their 3 year old daughter . I bought her a punching bag (Girls today need this!) and a mask painting set. When we presented the gifts, our friends was actually quite glad that this was a different choice from the usual pink toys and frill frocks that they received and even before we finished this conversation, the kid was already punching on one hand and had the paint brush on the other, all excited to explore :-)
Here is a letter from Lego that reiterates this thought.
Well, What was it like for you when you were growing up? What kinds of games did you play and how gendered was your growing up?
In this #artforinclusion series, as part of my work with Interweave Consulting I am presently going to explore unconscious bias and the many ways it creeps into our brains and spills over into our bodies: making us act, react and behave in ways we are not consciously aware of. Stay tuned.
#artforinclusion #unconsciousbias #genderbias #Episode2