On Kids, Safety, And Gendering: A Young Mother’s Thoughts About Raising A Child In A Regressive World

I gaze into his clear eyes
Like I gaze at the starry skies
Reflecting the colours vibrantly alive
Oh yes! He is learning
How it looks like,
What now, to me is this world’s
Big dark scary side.

Today is like any other day. He comes back from school and as I change his clothes, I ask my regular question: “Hope no one made you feel uncomfortable?

No,” he replies casually.

Always tell mummy if someday...”

Disinterested, he runs out to play.

He is four.

I am a mother. An awfully petrified mother. When I hear my friends fretting about the safety of their daughters, I often think about my son. Every parent worries about the security of their child. I do not know what we can do about it, especially since my child is so small, so I talk to him. I talk to him about everything. Everything.

I see now, after all my years of growing up in a rigidly structured Indian environment, how we go out of our way to ensure the safety of our girls. We protect them from strangers, uncles, almost everyone out of fear of abuse. We keep them away from dark, solitary lanes –in these ways, forever asking them to be delicate and dependent. We make them feminine. But seldom do we worry about our sons’ sexual safety. We let them loose and never doubt a friendly visitor who comes too close. We teach our boys to fight. We take pride in their masculine might.

I gave birth to a child, they make him a bit of a man with each passing night.

The process of emotionally destroying a male starts at a very early age, along with the process of gendering. Small kids become aware about socially acceptable norms for a girl and a boy. Language, I feel, plays a very important role in the construction of one’s identity. Communication strongly impacts a child’s brain and moulds their growth into individuals that they think society wants to see.

As I delve deeper into my study of gendering, I realise that growing up, my parents never enforced gender roles on my brother and myself. My brother and father cook well and my mother’s decisions were always significant. I also realise now why talking things out, crying, seeking help is considered ‘unmanly’.

Ladka hoke rota hai (‘you’re a boy and yet you cry’) , ladka hoke kitchen set se khleta hai (‘you’re a boy but you play with a kitchen set’), ladki jaise zyada baatein karta hai (‘you talk too much, just like a girl’), mera sher (‘my tiger’)” are only some of the widely used expressions in our daily language designed to demean girls and uplift the status of a man, thereby destroying the essence of being an individual above all.

To fit in the societally-assigned normative gender roles, we try to mould our children’s personality. This social construction of masculinity is also one of reasons why men refrain from talking about their own victimhood. In a world where everyone is aware of women being victims to sexual crimes, we hush up and conceal the bitter reality of male rapes. However, a significant portion of males are victims of sexual assaults – even as most of them stay unreported.

Under section 375 of the IPC, the term ‘rape’ only identifies forceful sexual assault over a female. Therefore, a large number of male sexual abuse cases are left unheard due to the lack of legal recourse and also significantly, because of the dishonour associated with it. Masculinity is further reinforced with phrases such as “mard ko dard nahi hota” (men do not feel pain), which add to the stigmatisation of male sexual abuse – in a world where male sexual abuse is more commonplace than one would have us believe. Indeed, a 2007 survey of children who experienced sexual assaults reported that 57.4 % of the victims were boys and 42.3% were girls.

This social construction of men being regarded as superior, and physically and emotionally stronger propagates gender inequality and justifies the role of a female being inferior, weak, and therefore, dependent. But the reality is that anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. However, in our society, being more protective about a female child is considered more normal than extending that courtesy to a male child.

This idea confused me when I gave birth to a male child. I have a kid who needs my protection from anything suspicious – and this far more important than only focusing on whether a child is a boy or a girl. However, as a young mother, I realised my surroundings had made an influential impact on how I should bring my child up. I strongly feel that we need to make our boys softer, calmer, and assure them that they are not weak if they weep, that it is okay to speak up and look for help when needed, that no one can touch them without their permission. And so each day, I combat societal expectations and try to raise him not as a boy, but as my baby who came to me and empowered me to stand by him and not let him lose his identity.

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Meghna Middha is a research scholar at the Department of English Studies, Dayalbagh Educational Institute, Agra, India. She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in the field of Gender and Sexuality as represented in contemporary fiction and film. Queer literature and Cinema are the areas that she aims explore. She believes that literature and film can be important channels to bring the struggles of the queer community into light. Her article “Relocating Heterosexuality: The Search for the Self in Sandeep Roy’s Don’t Let Him Know and Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt”, has been published in Volume 4 No. 3 & 4 of “The Atlantic Review of Feminist Studies” [ISSN NO: 2320-5105] edited by Dr Sunita Sinha,which is being published by Atlantic Publishers & Distributors (P) Ltd. New Delhi. She has recently presented two of her papers in the conference held on gender and sexuality in Florence and Warsaw.

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