Gender stereotype: Various forms
We teach children that the worth of a guy is defined by how high he rises in his career and of a girl by how good she is with kids. Let’s teach little boys that being tender and good at marriage is important. Let’s teach little girls that they need to be ambitious and breadwinners of the family
“She is cooking meals, she is washing clothes, she is cutting grass…” I had no idea what my five-year-old sister was blabbering about but I did know what to ask her next.
“Is she driving a car?”
“Is she going to the office?”
Those two nos did not just take me by surprise but ultimately led me to a chapter in her social studies book entitled What my mummy does at home. There was a reading exercise along with pictures showing a woman cooking, ironing, washing clothes, making a bed, serving meals and that’s it. There’s nothing wrong with women cooking, washing clothes or doing any of these chores as they are an integral part of all of our lives but it is definitely wrong when they are repeatedly presented as “only for women.”
The gap between the involvement of men and women in household chores has been shrinking in developed countries. But here in Nepal, even though the number of hours women spend on household chores has decreased with an increase in female employment, there is no corresponding rise in male participation in domestic duties. According to the Nepal Millennium Development Goals Progress Report 2013, 74.8% of unpaid family labour is carried out only by women. I cannot say if this is a result of how Nepali men have been brought up, their ego or just plain laziness, but I do believe that if we had schoolbooks with pictures of both men and women not just going to work together, but also cooking and serving together, at least a few Nepali women would get a chance to enjoy a cup of tea on their sofas, without having to cook it themselves.
The promotion of stereotypes does not just end here. The use of marketing strategies to sell books with labels like “stories for girls” or “stories for boys” serves to reinforce gender stereotypes and instead of broadening children’s thoughts, limit them with old-fashioned concepts like boys need to be strong and girls pretty. Parents do not realise the impacts these books make on young minds and neither do they think about the message they are sending when they bring kitchen sets to their daughters and toy cars to their sons. Again, there is nothing wrong in playing with kitchen sets but it is definitely wrong when it is labeled “only for girls.” I don’t disassociate from the fact that I played with Barbies and I still love pink but that has nothing to do with my gender. It is also true that none of my guy friends will say they love pink because they have been brought up with a mindset that pink is “girly” and “girly” is uncool, “girly” is weak, “girly” is not “manly” enough. These issues have already been brought into the limelight in Western countries but here, where we took so long to even ban Chhaupadi, I don’t know how long we will take to understand that these thin lines drawn by pink and blue in the innocent minds later turn into big concrete boundaries between men and women.
The gender stereotypes that we spoon-feed to little kids take various forms. In a conversation, one of my guy friends mentioned how a Nepali girl would never initiate a text. My response to that was to ask him not to generalise because if I, a girl, want to talk to a guy, I can text him a thousand times without feeling ashamed. But later when I thought about it, I realised I have had instances when my girl friends never talked to a guy because they thought it was a “guy thing” to start a conversation. When a five year old girl reads in her social studies book that a woman’s job is only to cook, iron and wash clothes, she believes everything else needs to be done by a man which includes not only fixing a light-bulb and opening a jar, but also sending a first text.
Yes, I am concerned about the negative impacts these books will have on all these little girls but I am more concerned about how it would shape the mentality of boys. I have observed four generations of men living in my house at the same time: my great grandad, my grandad, my dad and my brother and none of them have ever labeled any tasks or roles based on gender but neither have they contributed much to the household chores. They say my great grandad was a great cook, yet I never saw him cooking in the fourteen years I spent with him. The same can be said of my dad. The point here is not how good they were at cooking, but how often they offered to help out in the kitchen. They refrained from doing something they were good at because they thought it would tarnish their masculinity and the scenario is not very different in most of the houses over Nepal.
I do not think it is fair to blame a certain publication, a teacher or a school for promoting gender stereotypes when we are promoting them ourselves in our homes. How do we expect kids not to follow the stereotype when we show them no matter how good a girl is at other activities she has to cook and no matter how good a guy is at cooking he shouldn’t? We teach children that the worth of a guy is defined by how high he rises in his career and of a girl by how good she is with kids. Let’s teach little boys that being tender and good at marriage is important. Let’s teach little girls that they need to be ambitious and breadwinners of the family.