The X and Y Factor…

Bee of jugalbandi.info has written an excellent piece titled ‘Cooking and Chromosomes’। I wrote this piece as a comment to her post, but it turned out to be too long। So, decided to park it here…
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My husband gets a lots of comments like “You are lucky to have a wife who is career-oriented”. These are, as you might guess, from guys who are the sole financial providers for their home. No, I am not saying this is the gender stereotyping of the opposite kind. Not at all. Quite simply, these guys just do not get the jumping through the hoops, the juggling of duties and the whole phletora of syncing we do to carry it off. Through their limited sense of proportion,they envision all things remaining the same, just the wife getting in a salary and doubling the family income. We, and anyone, who is or has been in our place, know the adjustments, the lifestyle changes and the sacrifices that we and the kids have had to make. However, these are things they will learn and come to terms with, once their spouses start their professional lives. For me, a comment like that opens a whole new can of worms. Are you not belittling everything that your wife is doing now, when you utter words like that? What does that speak about your relationship?
I am left with the same set of questions when I hear comments like the one’s Bee is talking about. How much are you belittling your husband when you tell your friend that she is lucky to have a husband who shares the household duties? Sit back and think about it and observe for a couple of days, what your partner is doing around the house? Maybe, you will realise you are lucky,too (and maybe, you will stop eyeing my husband so much 😀 )
Here is the other end of the spectrum. How many times have you waited at the office water cooler, for your male colleague to show up, so that he can replace the now emptied water bucket? How many times have you walked to that same cooler with your male colleague, and calmly waited till he replaced the bucket? That is gender stereotyping.
Here is what I think, is not gender-stereotyping. Making puran-polis with your MIL. My points above may seem like women-bashing, but they are not. They are just commonsense, as far as I concerned. No, I am definitely not the kind of woman who feels satisfied just by feeding and taking care of her family. No one can accuse me of being a consummate homemaker. Yes, I have had my share of bump-rides with my MIL. Through the ride, I have learned a few things. My two cents. It is never easy to get along with someone who is twice your age and not your parent, and suddenly thrust into that role. Any other person from that age-group, you would probably pay your respectful greetings and move on. There is no moving away from your in-laws, is there? By the same token, it is also not easy to get along with someone who is half your age and not your child, and suddenly thrust into that role. Yes, I have had a lot of teach-alongs with my MIL. Some I have enjoyed, some not-so-much. Some, I never saw the point of. Over the years, I have realised that just like I felt the age/experience/generation-gap, she must have, too. Yet, we had to find a common path. For her, these teach-alongs were that path. It was her way of saying “you are a part of the family”. Much as I admire Jyothsna, for standing up to that idiot with the empty coffee pot and her not-so-kosher-reply, I think by refusing to go to that puran poli teach-along, she let go of an excellent oppurtunity to find common ground with her MIL. All my instincts and my experience with relationships so far, tell me, she is going to regret that one day.
Examples of personal relationship aside, I completely see Bee’s point and it hits a really raw nerve in both me and my husband. We pride ourselves on raising our kids (a son and a daughter) to be themselves and not what someone else percieves they should be. Some things though still prick me. I never gave a second thought to the fact that my son helps me unload the dishwasher and arrange folded laundry while my daughter shows no interest in them until a visiting aunt pointed it out to me. To be fair, she was totally amused and more than a little proud of Anoushka. I still don’t see any big deal with this. I don’t see this as a plus for Anoushka niether do I see this as a minus for Aayush. The comment,though, had me thinking of other stuff. How on a recent toy buying spree, the proud daddy bought Aayush a racing car and a very cute doll for Anoushka. How I love to dress up Anoushka in a girly-girly way while with Aayush I just make sure he looks neat.How I do her hair with matching ribbons and all? Are we, subconciously, enforcing them into a sterotype when we do that? If we are, what should we be doing different?
There are two options I see. I should stop fussing with Anoushka, get her a crew cut like her brother, and stop buying dresses for her and start buying cars for her. The other option is start fussing with Aayush, let him grow his hair and start buying dresses and dolls for him . Both have their own set of problems, the main being it does not get us away from molding them into a stereotype. The former option has her fit neatly into the ‘tomboy’ mold and the second has him in the ‘sissy’ mold. They are still gender related stereotypes, aren’t they? So, how does one go about raising their kids to be ‘not gender-specific’? Even if I find a way to do that, how beneficial would it be? Yes, my son probably wouldn’t expect the female colleague to make coffee for him, but most probably, he won’t hold the door open for her, too. My daughter won’t be expected to refill the coffee pot but she,probably, would have to refill the water cooler herself. What happens when puberty hits and it becomes obvious they really aren’t that similar either?
If, by some miracle, despite all that, I end up successfully raising them gender-impartial, wouldn’t I, as a parent, still have made the greatest disservice of all to them, by not letting them be who they really are? Him, a boy and her, a girl.
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10 thoughts on “The X and Y Factor…

  1. great points, vee. here’s my 2 cents.

    re: jyotsna, if you have a MIL who tries to respect you as a person and accepts you for who you are, and invites you to a venture like making puran poli, she will gracefully accept no for an answer. she will not make an irate phone call and make demands. she will show her son how to do it, and not push him out of the kitchen.

    if she has made an attempt to foster a relationship, she can expect some reciprocity. if she expects the DIL to simply fit into her image of what her family should be (and forget that her son and DIL have started their own family unit and traditions), it’s a different ball game. my question is this:

    why is her husband not expected to go and spend an afternoon doing something he doesn’t like with his ILs? if he says, ‘no, i’m sure they’ll shrug it off, and life will go an as usual. he won’t get an irate phone call.

    i’ll tell you why. we, as women are conditioned to try and please others all the time. a guy can tell someone ‘no’, and it’s no big deal. if a girl does the same, it’s not okay.

    jyotsna doesn’t like making puran polis. that’s all that matters. maybe if her MIL asked her to do something else together, she will go, if it is something she likes.

    her MIL’s sense of entitlement over how she can dictate what her DIL “ought to do” is problematic.

    guys don’t have to face this kind of entitlement.

  2. Bee,
    Consider this, if her mother had asked to join her in the same venture and she had refused, would have mother minded? no, not so much. Same can be said about the son and the MIL.
    I do not know Jyotsna and I do not know her personal circumstances and I definitely do not know her MIL. My opinion about it is completely based upon my relationship with my MIL. My point regarding the whole Jyotsna thing was that it is not valid example of gender-profiling.

    I completely agree with the ‘entitlement’ bit especially that guys don’t have to face it.
    I am not questioning the existence of such a social order. I am just
    wondering how I can raise my kids to not be a part of it without taking the other extreme. But then, nobody ever said parenting is easy.

  3. Vee, why not take cues from the children’s individual personalities?

    I have a friend whose then 4 year old son would love to play with the little girls when they played with their little kitchens. He loved to slurp the pretend food and help wash up. His mother had ‘given up’ on him and her husband used to give her a rough time about it because she was letting him become a ‘sissy’. I encouraged her to buy him a little kitchen set and let him play to his heart’s content. My sister had done that for her 3 year old – she bought him a ‘bhathukli’ set and he spent hours playing with it. The child is 15 today and nothing about him is sissy-like.

    That bhathukli set was passed on to my daughter who is not interested in it. She likes worms. But she also likes everything that is a hair accessory. She is no longer into dolls but dolls with long hair or a doll head with hair is hours of pleasure.

    The best part is that children know nothing about gender roles. They are merely exploring and exhibiting their interests. As a parent, you try to walk a path that seems right for you and your child. They may turn around later in life and blame you for all their problems – but that’s a risk a parent has to take.

  4. “I am just
    wondering how I can raise my kids to not be a part of it without taking the other extreme.”

    as manisha said, let them be themselves, and let them learn that it is okay to say ‘no’ politely and firmly.

  5. Manisha, I agree and quite frankly, there is no other way than to let them be who they are. I know of a lot of boys who play with utensils and spoons when they are kids. Believe me, they grow up to be more or less as chauvinistic as other males. 🙂
    ‘bhatukli’ brought back a lot of childhood memories. My set which was passed to my sister and hordes of other cousins is now with my brother’s daughter.

    Bee,I intend to teach them to think things through, weigh the outcome before saying ‘No’. Accept that there are different ways at looking at things. What Jyotsna discerns as an ‘attempt to control’, I view as an ‘attempt to pass control’ to Jyotsna. I think this difference of opinion stems because our definition, of what a family unit is, differs. My family unit is us, my kids, my parents and my in-laws. I have spent as many weekly days off apprenticing for my MIL just as the spouse has spent many a weekends satiating my parents travel bug. I do it for him, he does it for me. We are ‘lucky’ to have each other. 🙂

  6. Vee, I loved this one. Why? It did hit the spot for me.
    Genders are genders but gender roles need not be fixed. I think kids will figure out their personality when they are not pressured to be any particular way.
    While growing up my neighbors were quick to remind me of the ways in which a girl should be brought up but my parents never told me how a ‘girl’ should behave. They taught me how to behave as a person.
    So I say, let them be, teach them to dress but I wouldn’t dictate what to wear. Am I even making sense?

  7. Vee, I think you have nothing to worry about! You are obviously doing it right!

    And boys will be boys, and girls will be girls. As long as there is no problem if they want to differ from the stereotypes…Let them be them, as you said.

    For all the encouraging I did as my two-year old son rolled chapaties, he’s loathe to help me in the kitchen today! He used to love playing with some play kitchen equipment, till my friend pointed out it was the battery operated mixer!!

    He makes a great Maggie though! 🙂

    We figured out what was right for us. So will our kids. And we can guide them only with the set of values we have acquired. Perspectives change as we grow older. It seems hard to believe at 20 that we will be smarter at 30, and still wiser at 40. But it is so true – I can almost guess how old people are by reading the responses!

  8. Gini,
    >teach them to dress but I wouldn’t dictate what to wear

    That makes a lot of sense believe me. My son, all of 2 years old, chooses his clothes that he wants to wear. After he chooses what he wants to wear , I dress him in it. 🙂

    Anita, And I thought my son was going to help me with laundry and dishes for ever. Tch…
    btw, how old do you think I am? On second thoughts, I don’t want to know.

  9. Hi Vee,
    Great post….I have recently been introduced to food blogs and normally just ead the recipe posts.But today out of curiousity started reading your non food posts and I must say you write beautifully.All that you have said in here , touches a chord in me as I think exactly like you do on these issues but unfortunately cannot pen down my thoughts in the fab way you have done. Iam not a mum yet, but can still understand the fine balance every parent has to strike,with their kids to make them into good , responsible and stable adults. From what I read, I reckon that if you think the way you write and if all you say is, what you believe in,then I think you will make a wonderful parent and have nothing to worry about.
    Please keep these non food posts coming !
    Regards,
    Renuka

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