Monday, June 23, 2008

'Mama, make me your daughter'

Nino loves to dress up like a girl. He begs and pleads anyone and everyone to drape him with my scarves, wear my danglers propped up on his ears and lots of silver bangles. Then he wears my shoes and says, 'Come to Mama'.
The first couple of times everyone thought it was cute - he actually does make a pretty 'girl' - and I loved decking him up. But gender play works only one way, and I learnt that the hard way over the weekend.

Nino and I went on a play date on Saturday with his new friends from the montessori playschool he's recently started. The aim of the playdate - with a pool and toys - was to get the children familiar with each other - and offer the mothers a chance to get to know their fellow parents better. Boys are outnumbered in the group, 3 to 6, and at the playdate there were only 2 present - Nino and the hostess's son. Nino loves shoes - everybody's especially small footwear that's more his size. He chanced upon the slip-ons of a classmate, a girl, and slipped them on and then preened on how the shiny mettalic straps looked. As he showed them off to me, I casually mentioned how he liked to make-believe that he's my little Nina.
The mothers all looked at each other and giggled. A few called out to Nino, asking him about his 'girl' footwear and wondering aloud if he needed to borrow a skirt. - It was all good natured humour - till one of the mothers said her daughter loves to wear jeans and plays 'dadda' all the time. This time the gender play was appreciated - as if playing a male has more educative and emotive value than playing a woman. I was left a little shocked myself, and not because it was Nino in question, but because this was coming from a group of seemingly educated, modern women.

My husband's family has this annoying habit of classifying actions into 'girl' things and 'boy' things - if you cry/whine, you're a girl. If you're not sitting 'correctly', you're sitting like a boy.
My mother-in-law gets very upset when Nino dresses up - and she says it's because it might tempt him to, in her exact words, 'grow up effeminated'. Sometimes I want to tell her, it's not just a girl that he wants to play - he's playing me. Is that such a bad/taboo thing?

And while we may encourage our daughters to 'wear the pants' in the house, we most definitely don't want our boys to wear the skirts. It's not just the fear of homosexuality that pervades our choices - any behaviour that does not confirm to prevailing gender standards is frowned upon. If he's a boy - he has to have all the manly qualities that define that standard. All those and only those. And while it applies to girls as well, I belive we're starting to make some space for our daughters. The sons, unfortunately, will still have to measure up to the balls/cars/speed/violence/sports genre. They will continue to have 'Cars' parties and get a block-building set even when they want a doll or a kitchen set. What you're seen choosing often translates into who you are.

Nino loves some of the male gender trappings (such as balls and cars and racing his animals) - but he's also got a few surprises up his sleeve. He's a very loving kid who loves even more to express that - through hugs or words. He's eager to mother every little baby he meets and once went around for months telling everyone he's got a little baby in his belly (after a close friend of ours got pregnant). And he's very observant when it comes to clothes or jewellery - and also art in the form of sculptures and paintings. He often helps me pick my earrings - and I must say, he has good taste.

My husband and I often wondered how we would react if we had children with different sexual leanings than ours - this was before we had Nino - and both of us agreed that it would be okay. And while we've never rasied this topic since Nino was born, both of us are very protective of him when he's playing 'Nina' around other people. I don't want to guess work Nino's make-believe time and make future predictions - but I do know that I want him to be able to be whatever he wants, without the guilt of having 'disappointed' his parents attached to it.


Swati said...

When an Indian man has trouble understanding why his wife would not want to change her name or include her name in the child's - it is because he was brought up that way, insensitive to the fact that woman is also a person. When he does not do laundry, expects his wife to come home from work and cook and clean - it is because he was brought up that way, unused to the idea of working in the house himself. When he has difficult accepting his daughter's independence - it is because he was brought up that way, accustomed to being the only power in the house. Kudos to you for raising your son with sensitivity and awareness of gender equality!

Nino's Mum said...

I agree completely, Swati. Gender equality have always been a very important virtue for me: and I've fortunately picked a husband who believes in it as strongly. And he is that way because his mother and two sisters are strong women who've helped chip off traditional chauvinism.
A friend had once expressed that educated people in India must all do the baby gender dectection test - but this time around, chose only female foetuses - and I'd remarked that I was glad to raise a son, because I would raise him to respect women in every role. I'm so glad you dropped by.

Broom said...


Hats off to you and your spouse for being such amazing parents.