Kids Health

‘Don’t cry like a girl’ or ‘act like a lady’: Things you should stop telling kids

Here are some phrases that a girl or a boy is often told by parents, friends and relatives.

By Disha Roy Choudhury

A girl and boy are not just two sexes, but roles a person identifies with, the tenets of which have been predetermined by the patriarchal society. These specific gender roles have not only established a firm distinction between the feminine and the masculine, but also contaminated society with an underlying idea of how masculinity is more powerful and stronger. From an early age, children are taught about the dos and don’ts of being a girl and boy. And each time one tries to subvert these rules or even deviates slightly, he or she is called out.

One is reminded of books such as Aparna Jain’s Like a Girl or Ritu Vaishnav’s Pink and Blue, or even the recent ad campaign titled Ladki Haath Se Nikal Jaegi, among others, which interrogate and thereby subvert our understanding of how a girl or a boy should or should not behave.

If your children are being told how to behave “like a boy” or “like a girl”, here are some phrases you may have come across, which need to be done away with right now:

‘Don’t cry like a girl, be brave’

“One of the lines that always annoys me is when children are told ‘Don’t cry’ when they are hurt emotionally or physically. If the body or mind is any kind of pain, crying is a natural and healthy response. I feel it’s only the discomfort of the adult witnessing the child crying that prompts them to admonish them. When my son was only five years old, he had said a beautiful line when he was asked to stop crying. He said, ‘You’ve got to cry till all the sadness comes out.’ This line has stuck with me! It reminds us of the importance of giving children the space to ‘just be’. It’s important to allow human beings, children and adults alike, to feel their emotions, experience their vulnerability and express it through tears if needed. It keeps your mind clear and your heart light. Crying is a neither a sign of strength or weakness, simply of our humanity.”

-Preeti Vyas, publisher, Funokplease

‘How can you lose to a girl?’

“It’s pretty ironic that people pretend to be gender equal, but still go home and are perpetuators of everyday sexism. Many politicians and leaders make open statements that denounce women. You don’t have to look far. Look at the Sabarimala controversy. I spoke at an ‘elite’ Delhi school some time ago, and the kids from the 7th grade told me that the boys had lost a game to the girls. Their sports teacher admonished them and said, ‘How can you lose to girls?’ If our own supposedly liberal elite schools are unable to install equality, if our own companies who spend money on diversity and gender equality still have employees who don’t, then who will this change begin with?”

-Aparna Jain, author, Like A Girl

‘Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbour’s plant’ (‘Ladki paraya dhan hoti hai’)

In an interview with The Guardian, popular wrestlers Geeta and Babita Phogat referred to an infamous saying in Haryana that they were subjected to: “Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbour’s plant”, which meant that girls are raised only to be married off to someone later.

‘Act like a lady’

Sexism is not just restricted to a particular kind of society. It is an epidemic that has spread across geographical borders. A case in point is a sexist quote that was reportedly painted above the lockers in a school in Texas. The quote read, “The more you act like a lady, the more he’ll act like a gentleman.” The quote, however, was removed later.

Ladki paida hui hai’ (‘A girl has been born’)

According to reports, Saina Nehwal’s grandmother did not see her till a month after she was born. That’s because she had wanted a grandson. The birth of a girl child has long been considered a curse by people, and it is believed in several parts of our country even today.

One has to realise how this constant pressure of living up to one’s assigned gender role or the biased upbringing of a girl or a boy can cripple his or her individuality. It can harm a child’s wellbeing, which is why ousting the deep-rooted sexism from our society is the need of the hour.

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