My son is 3 and he loves playing with dolls, feeding them, crooning to them, et al. Neither my husband nor I have an issue with this. But some friends who have kids of the same age group were scandalized when my son began playing with their daughters’ toys—dolls, kitchen sets, etc. Without saying it in as many words, they said he’d grow up gay. Not that we have anything against homosexuality—but, really, how does one reason with such people? Isn’t gender-stereotyping toys passé?
Something being passé or not is not the point here. Getting people to be more “politically correct” about gender stereotyping doesn’t change deep-rooted underlying misconceptions.
Gender bender: Playing with dolls will not make him ‘sissy’.
Moreover, it isn’t really your mandate to reason and debate with them; at least that is not the primary line of action needed here. What is important right away is that a) you are comfortable with your child playing with whatever makes him happy, b) your friends don’t carry over their attitude into treating your son like an oddity.
Once you are clear on the first point, you’ll not feel the need to defend your son or reason with people or change their thinking. You simply live your convictions—walk the walk—and don’t get drawn into protracted arguments over whether it’s right or not for boys to play with dolls.
However, you will have to draw the line with people saying things to him directly such as, “Hey, are you a little girl, playing with dolls?”
A three-year-old playing with dolls and playing housekeeping is fine. It’s only your friends’ homophobia—that too of a rather uninformed and basic kind—that is reading all kinds of things into your child’s interests.
You would be doing a small child a huge disservice if you were to cut him off from the shapes, textures, mechanics and imaginative play that goes into so-called girlish toys. Only good can come from a male child taking on, even in play, the role of a nurturing parent towards the doll. It isn’t just that this will make him a better parent—that’s for much later. In the immediate here-and-now, it makes for more considerateness, and an engagement with household chores as something fun, rather than drudgery to be left to the maid.
There is absolutely no evidence that little boys who are allowed to play with dolls grow up to be “sissies” or gay. In fact, teasing and preventing them from playing with dolls and at “house-house” blocks them off from natural impulses, and forces them to surface later to act in an exaggeratedly masculine way and to despise any appearance of “softness” in other boys. And how this affects their way of dealing with girls, and later with women, is another story!
The same applies to people shoving little girls into stereotypes by never getting them mechanical or sporty toys to play with. A word of caution, though. In our reverse anxiety that we don’t succumb to typecasting, we shouldn’t make a big thing about “breaking the stereotype” and insisting on getting our kids to play with gender-defying toys. That would be horribly artificial, too!
I write to you with some anguish about children’s attitudes to Indian languages. I don’t advocate forcing people to be “proud” of a language, but I was shocked when the kids in my child’s school celebrated the end of their Hindi and local language exams by lighting a bonfire of their text and work books. The syllabus is usually irrelevant. What can we do at home to stop children from detesting language study?
Yes, joyless, context-less, unimaginative and irrelevant content and methods have ensured that “second language” has become a four-letter word for parents and children alike. There is, of course, the snobbery attached to avoiding and rejecting everything that is “verny”, but there is more to this resistance to learning the languages than simple snobbery.
First, as you say, no syllabus writer has taken the time, for the last 50 years at least, to introduce children to the fun of knowing a new language. How can they think of it as fun if you press them hard against the archaic, pedantic and sombre literature of some bygone era?
The only way to draw them in is if they can feel the fun and benefits of the here and now. Knowing Hindi and a local language should translate into understanding songs better, movies better, advertisements better, and from there, communicating better with the people around you—your granny, the shopkeeper, the rickshawallah, or the maid.
While you can’t do much about the syllabus, perhaps you and other parents around you could draw them into more contemporary uses of these languages? Why not, for instance, some of the fun dialogues of the evergreen Sholay? Show them one of the famous scenes first, and then work with this set of dialogues.
“Kitne aadmi the?” Gabbar will thunder. You could then play around with tenses, past and present, saying, “Notice, kids, he is not asking ‘Kitne aadmi hain?’, he is asking ‘the’.”
Then the shivering Kaliya answers, “Do aadmi .”
Gabbar sneers, “Aur tum teen .”
Here you can get the kids to chant: “Ek, do, teen, char, paanch…!”, etc. And there, you’ve slipped them some Hindi numerals, too.
The concept of rhetorical questions can be brought out by Gabbar’s chilling, “Aur tumne samjha sardar bahut khush ho jayega, shabhaasi dega?”
Hindi idioms, instead of being mugged in endless, meaningless lists, can come alive in examples such as Kaliya blubbering, “Sardar maine aapka namak khaya hai, huzoor.”
Repartee can then be taught through that memorable line, “Ab goli kha!”
And so on and so forth.
By concentrating on the language in its popular usage, you may just be able to switch your kids on to the useful aspects of learning a language.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Send your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org