We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters

Feminism as a concept, theory, philosophy, movement and finally as a practice is something we are all well aware of. Freedom from all inequalities, suppression and discriminations, that are imposed on those of the female sex can be taken as the summary of feminism in the most extremely simplest terms. This summary cannot possibly encompass all the facets and extensive history of feminism and doing so is not the goal of this essay. Feminism, I believe has crept into all things in life and while it has not become so substantial to the point it can correct the inequalities with swift reforms, it has made possible to understand that the differences in treatment of women is not natural but simply generational indoctrination that has gone unchecked. We are thankfully seeing many women, break from this cycle and encouraging other women to do so also. The demand for equality has spanned to all spheres of life, in pay, in treatment, in respect, in careers, in due recognition and in agency of choice above all else. Much effort is now being made to make true these demands, that should have been natural and free in the first place.

Somewhere along the line though, a misconception has come about. The general misconception is, gender equality is synonymous with feminism. The thought behind this misconception is puzzling because it goes against what gender equality means. No one gender is superior to the other and therefore it is illogical to believe feminism, as I have crudely attempted to summarize it, can ever be synonymous with gender equality. The misbelief that only women can strive to live as men do and men cannot or should strive to live as women, speaks to the narrowness of the believer’s mind. Such people are not as progressive and liberal, they perceive themselves to be.

If one were to delve deep into the ways in which men are restricted and suppressed, which is not completely different to how women are restricted and suppressed, one finds that there is much expectation from one belonging to the male gender, as there is to one belonging to the female gender. These expectations are levied without consideration for individual personality and choice. Now I ask if this sounds familiar? It should because this is the perpetual hurdle that each woman faces in her fight for equality.

Toxic masculinity is the term in vogue that is best apt to describe the set of expectations that men are burdened with from birth. Preferences, taste, hobbies, clothes, personality, mannerisms, speech, conduct, emotions, thought process and so much more is policed by societal expectation that any man that adheres it not is labelled ‘effeminate’, ‘sissy’ ‘womanly’ or branded as gay. Liberating men from such confines is not widely or popularly talked about. It is construed as inconsequential in view of the oppression women have faced. Never can it be considered as a pressing issue (or necessary sadly), when securing equality for women always takes precedent.

There is no shock then, in child-rearing where we always try to fix the mistakes of the past, daughters are not prohibited from growing up like boys but boys can only be boys. The image of a girl playing cricket doesn’t perturb one as much as the image of a boy learning to sew does. Very few recognize that the idea that they are no women’s tasks or duties stems from the belief that no gender is assigned to any task or duty. When things are non-gendered by nature then, it makes sense not, to convey that to and encourage one gender only. It is the completely non-sensical to tell young girls that they can do or become anything they want and in same breath say there is pre-set path for boys which they can’t deviate from. Equality means all are equal and this includes boys and men as well.

More and more girls now take up sports, which was reserved as male-only domain for centuries. Yet a boy with no interest in sports is thought to be unmanly. Why is the former empowering and the latter unbecoming? A century ago a woman wearing pants would have been scandalous and downright immoral. Now pants are unisex so why can’t skirts become unisex in the future? If femininity is something that is beyond clothes and instructed mannerisms why can’t masculinity be the same?

A girl learning to change the bulb and a boy learning to fold laundry. This is equality as both are simply learning life skills that they would need in their future adult life. The same girl will learn to do the dishes and the boy will learn to change a tire. These are simple day-to-day tasks. The one to assign genders to them, prohibiting their exchange is simply an archaic school of thought.

There is much fear in boys turning into effeminate or ‘weak’ as there is in hoping girls turn to be strong independent women. This independent woman is always placed in a society where she is much as capable doing a “man’s job” as man but curiously there are no men who can do a “woman’s job” well. If we as a collective society can concentrate on freeing women from their societal shackles, why can we not spare little effort on freeing men from their shackles too?

What is the point of raising daughters as you would a son, when your son is still brought up as a son? Then will we have not created a society of men and men-imitators? For the ideal society of gender equality that we so hope to achieve, it is indispensable that we do away with idea of rigid masculinity. We can achieve this only through educating our children both boys and girls equally in all things necessary for life.

It can be debated that doing so would blur gender lines. Men would be like women and women would be like men with no distinction between them. But is that not the society we want. Where our natural gender does not determine our entire lives and we are free to define ourselves. That we be judged for being ourselves and our actions and not the gender we had no control in choosing. That we be free from the limited options that are our gender presents us with.

Those who fear this blurring of gender lines fear shift of power dynamics in relationships. This is reflection of how deep power in forms of hierarchy seeps into our daily life. Power is the enemy to equality and it thrives in inequality. Disparity in power is what has sustained our social systems in all our history. So there is no wonder that true equality is resisted vehemently by society as a collective.

It is in my view not a question of raising sons as daughters but a question of raising both sons and daughters equally with same education and worldview imparted on them both. That is what will give feminism a fighting chance. We cannot raise boys as the paragon of masculinity with all it’s vices included and expect them to treat women equally with respect.

As mentioned before, we look to the next generation to correct the mistakes of the past. In raising that next generation, we should make no past mistakes. If then we will be caught in a vicious cycle where the only thing we can do is look to the generation next, as the generation before us looked to us.

Let not effeminate be an insult as tomboy has ceased to be an insult. Gender be it feminine or masculine, is not as frail as everybody makes it out to be. It is my most personal view that character and actions alone should serve as weighing scale to a person and no other criteria. But it is bound to be fit for Utopia only so let us strive for equality in treatment if not in judgement.

I wrote this essay for an essay competition. The title was the topic (I didn’t come up with it on my own). It took me too much time and lot of thinking to write, so I felt it would be wasted as an one-time-use piece that would be forgotten later. This essay is also my rant/vent towards gender stereotypes and expectations.

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