My father often recalls the stories of the three joyous days in the hospital, many moons ago that marked the birth of his three children. On the birth of his son, the entire hospital staff joined in the celebrations, patting my father on the back and distributing sweets and cheerful banter. However, it was a little different when my sister and I were born. While my parents were thrilled, the hospital staff didn’t quite share the same elation they had felt when my brother was born. The pats on the back were hardly zealous, the banter barely whispers.
These moments date back to the late eighties – early nineties, but sadly, across a large part of the Indian subcontinent, the story still remains the same in many educated households.
The boy syndrome! The preference of a male child and the shunning of a girl – an archaic custom that gave birth to practices like sati, child marriage and even large-scale abortions that still exist in rural and urban parts of a country like India.
This, by no means, indicates that other countries are free of gender bias. The world today is witnessing a monumental seismic shift, pivoting on the male-dominated gender narrative across countries, industries and cultures. The internet and social media have provided incredible platforms for anonymous voices to raise their voices – a luxury only enjoyed by journalists and eminent writers in print newspapers and magazines in the old days.
These new voices have powered campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp that have sparked a worldwide, unified awakening against sexual harassment and the might of dubious men in power.
Unlike a few decades ago when sexual assault at home and in the workplace, was conveniently brushed under the carpet, today, a perilous fate awaits if you are a Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey or simply, a male sexual predator. Women are no longer willing to stay quiet, emboldened by the courage of others around them.
From Varnika Kundu in India to the hordes of women in Hollywood, 2017 marked the end of a tumultuous era for a large section of women all over the world. There is of course, still a large section of women yet to find their voice and follow suit.
Never has it been more important to raise our boys with a hard-wired understanding of gender equality and treating women with respect – right from birth. It is my firm belief that the narrative surrounding men and the worldwide phenomenon of feminism and gender equality can be turned on its head if those of us who are parents to boys invest a large part of their upbringing in educating them about the importance of the gender balance and why respect and equality need to go hand in hand with their gender counterparts.
My husband and I are expecting a baby boy soon. While excitedly discussing the many new things we will teach our son and the many things we will learn from him, I was quick to point out this important lesson that we must impart to him from day one. A lesson that must continue throughout his life: treat women with the utmost respect by creating and mirroring a gender-neutral environment. Only when we impart this very important education at home can we hope to see it bear fruit in the schools he attends, the offices and social haunts that he frequents and the marital journey that he will eventually embark.
By doing our bit to raise boys who will go on to become good husbands, fathers, brothers and colleagues, we can contribute to lending the #Metoo campaign a whole new meaning.