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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The politics of gender

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We should hope for healthy, happy children rather than sons or daughters

women.Indian Link
Recently an Uncle visiting from overseas stayed with us for a few days. He was a pleasant and amiable man, keen to take in the sights and always up for a good yarn.
On one such occasion, as he sat with me chatting over tea, he impressed me with his nonchalant comments about how his life had changed since the passing of his wife.
He mentioned how she was his friend and sounding board, and how lonely he felt after her death. I liked how he spoke of his feelings for his wife and what an impact she had on his life and that of his children.
It came as a surprise then, when he ended this conversation with, ‘I hope you don’t mind an old man saying, I know your parents probably wish this too as you are all sisters, I hope you have a boy soon and make everyone happy.’
I was shocked. While I appreciated the good wishes he was sending my way, how could he – who had just finished speaking about the impact a woman can have on a life – end with a clear gender bias for the future?
I know some men (and even women) have a restricted view on what a woman can accomplish, based on cultural and social politics that have been paraded into our consciousness under the guise of religious guidelines.
I understand that even though we have come so far as a race, men are still seen as the future breadwinners and caregivers and women seen as ‘troublesome’ and ‘a headache’.
What I didn’t understand was how a man, so well read and so well travelled, who had empowered daughters and daughters-in-law and saw my blessed life, could insult me with such gender bias.
I felt injured on behalf of every woman who has ever been subjected to the seemingly innocent and yet profoundly ignorant ‘well meaning’ prayer for a baby boy.
It is not just in developing nations where culture suffers from this.
I know many women in Australia who have had lifelong struggles with their families for failing to produce male offspring, women whose husbands who see girls as ‘a burden’.
Our world overemphasises the importance of male virility and achievement and in doing so undervalues the nurturing encouragement women provide in conjunction with their own achievements.
We live in a time where the TV, radio, phone, alarm clock, calendar and music player all fit into the palm of our hands and yet we still inherently believe that one half of the population is superior to the other.
We live in the age of self-driving cars, and yet we believe that a female child born into a family will not bring the security and affluence of a male child.
The Uncle added, ‘I know your parents feel the same way’. My parents raised four daughters with the rigor and love meted out only by those who firmly believe in raising decent children irrespective of gender.
My father never saw me as a girl, but as someone in whom he could instil good morals and values. My mother’s fears for my tomboyish nature were not because she didn’t want me to be a girl in a man’s world, but because she had lived her life as one.
I know people had things to say about my mother bearing four daughters, but I also know my father is proud as punch of his girls. His confidence, his love and his pride in all of us ensure my mother never feels ‘guilty’.
And why should she? Why should she feel guilty for raising four girls who provide the same love, security and respect a son may have?
Along with long held cultural biases, religion is another flimsy facade behind which misogynists hide.
But it is not religion that builds deep-seated prejudice against women and the female child.
It is people and the long standing history of violence towards women – the mistreatment of mothers, abuse of wives, trading of daughters and burying alive of the girl child.
It is people who perpetuate the linguistics of misogyny, be it through well meaning stereotypes such as ‘the gentler sex’ or the more overt labels we give women who do not conform to the male view of how a woman should act.
What if we teach our children not to be gender biased, instead instilling in them the values and morals that will make them upstanding humane members of society.
Let’s educate them to be the kind people that will take care of their families and their societies.
Let’s teach them to forget to say, ‘I hope you have baby boy’ and replace it with, ‘I hope you have a baby…healthy and capable of changing the world.’

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Shafeen Mustaq
Shafeen is a Sydney based writer

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