I lost my husband a few years ago, and am bringing up my son virtually single-handedly. The only constant male presence in his life is an old, trusted domestic help who has been around since before my son’s birth. Other than me, the dominant people in my son’s life are his grandmother and aunt. He is now 10 and goes to an all-boys’ school. I see him referring to girls as “cows” or “sheep”, and I find it disturbing. Am I overreacting? Is it just a passing phase? Or does it indicate a deep-seated attitude towards women? How can I inculcate in my son respect for all genders, and a sense that women are equal?
Perhaps it is a phase, or a current need to dismiss and belittle (big words to use about a little boy, I know) the very people who have nurtured him, minus the presence of a prominent male figure. It could be a way of asserting his emerging male identity. Most boys his age assert “I hate girls, yuk”, or words to that effect! All of this could be aided by the atmosphere of an all-boys’ class, anxious and confused in the extreme about the opposite sex.
However, having said that, I would say that you need to intervene in some way. It doesn’t call for serious lecturing, shouting or sternness. At this stage, perhaps just find ways to laugh him off, or laugh with him, so that he realizes that his statements are absurd and are not taken seriously. Find a way, if you get an opportunity, to indicate that there are some “cow-sheep” kind of girls, and there are “cow-sheep” men too!
Confused: Your son’s disparaging remarks about women might just be a phase. Photo: Thinkstock
If you want to get into a deeper discussion some time, bring up various girls and women you know, and ask him if he would label them cows and sheep. Resist the temptation of overtalking the point—just have casual conversations with him in which you cleverly weave in the “non-cowness” of all the women and girls he knows.
Second, many city and town schools are waking up to the need for gender sensitization. You could speak to his school about doing this through a counsellor or activist who knows how to talk to young boys on the subject. Perhaps you could arrange to have someone come and talk or run a small gender-sensitization programme for the boys at various levels.
The third thing is to literally recruit a male friend or relative, who you think has the right values on this issue, to chat with your son on a regular basis—again, not lecture him, but have conversations where these issues get touched on in a way so that your son feels he does not have to join the herd in his school that calls girls cattle.
An all-woman family may be doing admirably well in bringing up this child, no doubt, but secure, good and responsible males would add a dimension that is missing from his life.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Send your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org