Modern Mothering – teaching boys to cook and girls to earn – 09 Sep 2009

I am happily amazed at the healthy response to my earlier articles on ‘mothering’. One gentleman wrote he has started subscribing to ‘The Hitavada’ due to my articles. One mother wanted more insights into faulty mothering so that she could improve her skills. Such an honest response was touching and perhaps women can do more often than men. I am extremely honoured and grateful for the affection shown by the readers. I am aware by now that men too read my columns in the women’s world!

There is lots one can write on mothering and here is another thought in the series and then I would go on to other topics henceforth if allowed. During a group discussion a mother asked me why is that in our homes we cannot teach our boys certain things that we teach our girls. Of course I am sure she was not intending to ask me the question and nor was she was expecting an answer. She seemed to be pointing a finger at her husband or the male members of the family. She seemed to be saying why cannot men show more sensitivity to women’s role and duties and why cannot they share some of them with the women. She seemed to be asking for some sort of support and approval from her husband to bring in the changes. But believe me mothers can do wonders even in the face of mighty disapproval of men. Although we believe fathers have a vital role to play in nurturing boy children the mother’s role cannot be sidelined.

A terribly conservative father would either be appalled or displeased at his boys’ doing domestic work like cooking or laying the tables, cleaning them, or serving others. He would be taught other ‘better’ things like earning a living and fighting the world the father would say. An equally conservative mother too would teach her boy and girl child different skills. But modern parents are more sensitive to the changing world and think differently. A modern mother would nurture her kids on a more equal plane and teach them both survival skills. A tiny boy of twelve years of age in one of my personality development programme for school children proudly claimed in his list of positives that he could cook a simple meal and feed his younger sister when mother was away to work! The class cheered him and teased him and invited themselves to his house!

A modern mother can socialise her children according to modern concepts which are essential not only for survival but for good daily living. Indian males when they study abroad or live in hostels in India have to learn the hard way to take care of the domestic front. They have to cook, clean and survive. Once back home they soon slip into the luxury of being men! So conveniently! So it is the culture and the social environment that plays on the minds of people. What will people say? They will laugh and ridicule me as a ‘girl’. Abroad there are no luxuries of servants pampering you and all the chores whether household or of the outside world are shared equally by the men and women. Girls on the other hand must be taught outside work such as money handling, banking, driving, changing a flat tyre, being socially shrewd and smart, training in self defence and so on.

We know now that psychological studies are dumping the myth of the inherent gender differences. Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. They both belong to the same planet earth and live and die here. The psychological studies have focused on the differences between aspects such as cognitive abilities, leadership qualities, communication abilities, intelligence and other important variables and found men and women to be similar on them. They agree that minor differences in motor ability (to throw things), some aspects of sexuality and levels of aggression may vary in men and women. The ability to do maths is also the same.

So this makes the concept clear that biology is not destiny as traditional society led us to believe. This debunks the myth that ‘femininity’ belongs exclusively to women just as ‘masculinity’ belongs exclusivity to men. We know that the definition of these traits of femininity and masculinity are defined by the specific cultures and social norms. In India the concept of ‘Ardhnarishwar’ is a beautiful balanced concept of half female and half male. This means that every human being has both the traits of being half female and male and that is the ideal to be followed. An extreme condition on the scale of femininity and masculinity would lead to an imbalanced personality. In other words both men and women would help to be a good balance of both the traits.

In psychological sciences a similar concept was promoted by the name of ‘androgyny’. An androgynous male and an androgynous female was the ideal but this did not gain much prominence and met the same fate as ‘ardhnarishwar’. This makes us realise how powerful the social and cultural forces are of the current times that would like to dismiss such honourable ideals and instead hold steadfast to traditional roles and stereotypes. Of course the men folk benefit from them as the power balance has always been in their favour. Who would want to give up a superior social position and come down to equality!

Cynics would say that biology cannot be denied as men cannot have babies and women cannot fight battles on the war front. True. But in modern democratic societies where women are shouldering equal responsibilities of earning and feeding families, where women are climbing Himalayan peaks, where women are daring men to compete equally in engineering feats, where women are braving police jobs and defence roles then the nurturing of equal roles and skills gains prominence. In a modern democratic system where equality is the watchword and equality is your fundamental right the mothering of gender roles assumes an all important significance.

Published in Hitavada Women’s World on September 09 2009

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