Many children worldwide have grown up playing with Barbie dolls and Transformers. You can perhaps guess which children played with which toys. From the time of our birth we are taught the ways in which males and females should conduct themselves.

Why does society enforce such restrictions from the moment a child is born? Too often, our society sees men as the working hand of the family and women as the caretakers of homes. Both put in equal effort and time but the work done by women is not really considered “work”. It is a common fact that working women are paid less than their male counterparts.

Many parents invariably end up buying toys and clothes – pink for the girls and blue for the boys – based on prevalent and enforced gender notions. Mine did too. Why is that only girls can have pink and only boys can have blue things? Both are equally beautiful colors! So why is it that society laughs at a boy wearing a pink shirt?

“Don’t lift that, it’s too heavy.” Most girls have heard something like this at least once in their lifetime. What does it imply? That girls are weak? That they can’t do things alone, without a male helping them? Society has divided up tasks and decided which suits which gender. When parents are asked to describe their children, girls tend to be identified as delicate, weak, beautiful and cute while boys are seen as strong, alert, and well-coordinated.

“Don’t even try, cooking is not for you.” Boys will probably have heard something like this. But tell me, why can boys not learn like the girls? No girl is born a chef, they learn. So why are boys often not allowed to enter the kitchen by their mothers? And even if they have permission, boys themselves often think that cooking is below them. It’s a “girly” thing to do – an idea which is taught right from childhood.

Sociologist have shown that parents are likely to encourage their sons to engage in competitive play and discourage their daughters from doing so. Instead, parents tend to encourage girls to engage in cooperative, role-playing games. These different play patterns lead to the heightened development of verbal and emotional skills among girls and to increased concern with winning and the establishment of hierarchy among boys. Boys are more likely than girls are to be praised for assertiveness, and girls are more likely than boys are to be rewarded for compliance. This is again a way of enforcing gender stereotypes right from the start of a child’s life.

Society has built a wall between genders. Parents, teachers and other figures in authority typically try to impose their ideas of appropriate gender behavior on children, which in later life leads to gender discrimination. It is common to find that in classrooms, teachers constantly pit boys against the girls in spelling and math contests. These contests are marked by cross-gender antagonism and expression of within-gender solidarity.

This is detrimental for society in multiple ways in the long run. From birth, it is important to break down the gender boundaries by teaching our children that everyone is equal and deserves to be treated with the same humility and respect. The world will truly be a better place.

Cover photo credit: Azad India Foundation 

Share your thoughts

4 Responses

  1. Sharing a small incident which often happens in my house.. my mother would never let my brother do any if the kitchen or that matter typical house chores saying he should be working and learn to handle the outside world. While for me on the other hand who pretty much spending 7 consecutive years in the outside world the rule doesn’t apply. She drags me to kitchen only because it is my moral responsibility to feed the other family. And that with what face would I go to the other house. So if I cook something I have to share even when it was I who was hungry .. while if my brother cooks he isnt suppose to share because “woh apna pait bhar raha hai kyunki maine khana nahi banay!” And the irony is that this all comes from an educated mother who also happens to be a teacher and in this field from past 28 years starting from the times even before I was born! I know it is all wrong. And I find it difficult to make her understand that jobs and roles in society can never be gender specific all the time.

  2. Hey Zarif, great post! I completely agree with you on what you have written. I am happy that we have more and more voices from India on this forum. Incidently I too blog here and I too have worked in Bihar for last 2 years in Champaran and Patna districts. I can identify with your words 🙂

  3. Good introduction to the topic in this post!
    I think about the gender boundaries imposed on children a lot, something that everytime I try to talk to parents about is met with resistance but I
    believe slow progress is happening as people become more aware of the issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Join our free

Digital Communications Challenge for Changemakers!

Do you work with digital communications to drive change, for an organization or for your activism or advocacy?

  • Are you overwhelmed in this digital world?
  • Do you doubt your efforts or worry where to start?  
  • Are you having trouble connecting with the right audience?
  • Have you lost motivation this past year? 

If so, join Girls’ Globe’s free challenge to boost your digital communications and confidence as you work to make change in a digital world. 

Our 3-day challenge starts Tuesday, November 23. Sign up now and don’t miss out! 

Signing up will give you email updates about the challenge, and a subscription to our weekly emails with inspiration for changemakers. No commitments and it’s all free.

Coming Soon!

Subscribe and be the first to
know when we launch.

The content on Girls’ Globe is created by our members – activists, advocates and experts on gender equality, human rights and social justice from around the world.