I always wondered what would be like to be a boy and to be in a world, where the freedom and choices seemed to be limitless. Where the deadline-free timings left one free to do whatever one wished at all kinds of crazy hours. Where the clothes one wore or the decibel of one’s laughter or prolonged eye-contact with a stranger of the opposite sex, was not something by which one’s morals were judged.
When I was growing up, 30 years ago, a conservative upbringing was the norm.
There were always rules and deadlines to whatever we did.
“Be home by seven.”
“Should you be wearing that?
“Whose home are you visiting? Who else will be there?”
And so on.
Now that I have a son, one mystery at least, has been solved. I know that boys DO have more fun. They play games with more rough and tumble physicality, have more fights, make up just as swiftly, laugh louder, keep odd hours and have no compunctions about what they wear or how little.
Girls, (unfortunately I have not been blessed with one), also have more choices, than they did 30 years ago. The careers they follow, the clothes they wear, the timings they can adhere to, the places they can visit, are different from what they used to be.
But the events of the past few days have made parents more fearful about their child. I can sense the phobia of letting girls travel at a late hour. I can sense a rolling back of time, and the “be back by seven” dictum making a comeback, if not in their statements, then, at least in their minds. So, are we back where we started, to a point 30 years ago? Will this be another generation of girls growing up with deadlines to dictate their lives and a wistful envy of their male counterparts in a corner of their minds?
I also sense a feeling of smugness in parents who have sons, that they have ‘nothing’ to worry about, on that front at least. Does the responsibility end with confining your daughters and freeing your sons? Does having a male child make you free of social responsibility?
On reflection, I realise that conservative upbringing not withstanding, we did grow up with a strong sense of self, of feeling in no way inferior to the other sex, because the males in our family gave us all the respect and the space that was due to us. I was fortunate that my colleagues at work treat me as an equal and I have never been subject to harassment in any form. In my family, I was lucky to have a father (and uncles) who helped with the household chores, supported our choices of careers and partners and just listened to us, when we spoke.
Something, that I hope I have passed on to my son. He is 20 years old and is his own man. But I hope that our upbringing has instilled in him a respect for women as equals. And, that he treats the female friend, wife, daughter, boss, colleague, junior, bystander, sales-girl, vegetable-vendor or maid-servant with the same consideration. That for a female, being in his company creates a sense of safety and reassurance. Because, gender-sensitivity is not just a word to be learned or lecture to be taught. It is something that has to be felt with every fibre of your being.
Ujwala Shenoy Karmarkar is a practicing Anaesthesiologist working in Mumbai. She loves conversations, meeting people, reading and listening to Hindi film songs. She writes about anything that moves her.