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How children react to gender stereotyping - an experiment in Gujarat

Children were asked how boys and girls cry, sit, laugh, stand, walk and dance

Video Volunteers | Global Voices 

Representative Image
Representative Image

don’t cry. Sit like a lady. Barbie for and Lego for These are seemingly innocuous adages that generations of people have grown up with. But is it really that innocent or well-meaning?

It is not just that are supposed to wear pink; they should also play with toy vacuum cleaners and learn to relate to fluffy, cuddly animals. Boys, on the other hand, are supposed to wear blue and have rugged adventures.

Most people never learn to question these inflexible binaries and end up replicating them in every aspect of their lives. When a little girl is being given a toy vacuum cleaner and a little boy is being given a NASA tee shirt, people tell them what they expect of them: the girl to become a homemaker and the boy to aspire to become an astronaut.

This is not simply a difference in roles – it is a hierarchised difference. There is no doubt in peoples’ mind that an astronaut is a harder thing to become compared to someone who can vacuum a house.

Community Correspondent Daxaben Punjabhai from Gujarat, one of the less developed states of India, set out to explore how there relate to stereotypes imbibed from their families and surroundings. She asked them to perform how and act in various situations: how do cry, laugh, sit, stand, walk and dance? And how do do the same? Their responses are not as uniform as one might expect, as seen in the video below.

Sometimes difference is only limited to the sartorial: don the dupatta (scarf) to indicate they are now acting in a feminine role. wear sunglasses and a hat when they are enacting

However, a clear difference emerges between the two genders when they are asked to show the difference in sitting, standing, walking and dancing, whereas they cry and laugh in a somewhat similar Both and think that when sit, they do so in that are markedly ‘feminine’: a hand on the cheek, primly folded legs. When sit, there’s casual masculine insouciance radiating from them: hands crossed over the chest authoritatively, or legs spread comfortably apart.

Asked to imitate how sit, both and struck authoritative

are supposed to sashay like they are on the ramp when they walk. have a definite swagger, upturned collars and often wear goggles (apparently).

Stereotypes dictate that are supposed to sashay like they are on the ramp when they walk.

The most marked difference is in how and are perceived to dance. are demure, mostly using a dupatta, and their dance moves are limited to hand movements and saying hips.

The think that boys, on the other hand, only perform the Punjabi bhangra – uninhibited and an exhibition of joyous exuberance. themselves think that their dance moves must show how physically able they are – they turn cartwheels and do complicated breakdance moves.

According to this little girl, this is how dance.

shake their booty, according to this boy.

While it is entertaining to watch them perform with so much enthusiasm, the video highlights the hierarchy that is inherent in patriarchal roles. The dance without inhibition when they are imitating So it’s not like they are incapable of, less skilled than, or enjoy it any less. But something imposes a restriction on them – their patriarchal milieu.

Some might be tempted to argue that things are a lot better for in an urban or megacity environment. But is it really so? Radhika, who works at the Video Volunteers Goa office, recalls that she had to establish her femininity as a child:

I had short hair. So all the neighborhood kids would keep referring to me as a boy. I countered them by pointing out my painted nails: how could I be a boy if I was wearing nail polish?!

But not every instance is so innocuous: are berated for crying or acting “like a girl” which can lead to serious mental health issues. Within the prescribed patriarchal roles, should never express their emotions or vulnerability – surely, a horrible thing to condemn a young to.

Similarly, are rewarded for being “cute” or “pretty”. are not “brave”; they are “princesses”. One study revealed that parents are four times more likely to caution their daughters against mishaps that are not life-threatening but entail a visit to the emergency room than they are their sons.

When are not forced to conform to fixed stereotypes, they learn to view the world outside the constrictions of the pink and blue lens. A boy who plays with a kitchen set might just learn to help with household tasks rather than requiring a laundry detergent advert that preaches to men to “share the load” by occasionally operating the washing machine.

More and more young women across the world are writing, painting and creating memes to challenge and subvert the expectations of traditional roles. They are doing this with humour and empathy, but experience abuse from online trolls who resort to ever more vicious attacks to “defend” their male privilege. The onus is on us to talk and write about challenging roles so that someday a little boy wearing a skirt and a little girl who plays with toy soldiers are no longer seen as aberrations.


This article, written by Video Volunteers,was published on Global Voices on July 10, 2017.

First Published: Tue, July 11 2017. 11:32 IST
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