As a mother of two girls when I look at others raising children of different sexes I ponder whether I
would do things differently if mine were of opposite genders.
Let me begin with my experience of having two girls. When my older daughter was a cherubic 5 years
old, I had my second child, another baby girl. While the immediate family was thrilled to have another
baby in the house and we were keen on having same sex siblings the reaction from people around us
was that of, to put it mildly, pity and disappointment. This distress because I had two girls was a bit
unnerving and difficult to digest. One house help even suggested I have a third child soon;
guaranteeing it will be a boy. How? Till date I have no clue. While this article is not about girl / boy
preference it does make me wonder if we as Indians bring our kids up equally.
Often times my help discusses how her parents raised her different from her brother, he was given
many liberties while she wasn’t. When they had financial difficulties and could not educate both, she
was asked to drop out of school. Even today she hands her entire salary to her mother while her
brother keeps his for personal spending. Do her parents love her less? No, and this I have witnessed
first-hand. But they expect her as a girl to make the sacrifices.
Does this also mean that only our daughters are sacrificing, and making adjustments? Not true. Boys
feel equally pressurised. A male friend of mine once remarked, “You women have it easy, you’ll can
do what you want, you’ll are free to pursue any dream. We men are bogged down with expectations
from everyone. Parents want a successful son, and we are constantly compared to the next up-and-
coming around us. If you have sitting next to you a successful woman CEO of a multinational, you
won’t be made to feel inferior about it.”
We Indians attribute a lot of our success to our parents and as a culture have many achievements to
show. Surely we are doing some things right. Yet living in society we get trapped in gender roles and
stereotypes and this trickles down to parenting as well.
So mainly from an urban view point what are the areas where we as parents distinguish between our
girls and boys?
While it is actively encouraged that the son studies and pursues higher education for better job
prospects, the daughter is asked to do something that is easier for her to manage. A female friend
was strongly discouraged from becoming a criminal lawyer as it’s not safe for women to pursue the
criminal field; she is a civil lawyer now.
Family matters –
As a rule when the boy gets older the parents automatically gravitate towards him with financial
matters while any emotional disorder is addressed with the daughter. The general belief is that
women understand emotions better, while men money.
While many parents save for their son’s education or better work scenarios, the prevailing trend for
daughters is to save for their marriage.
Though not very noticeable when they are kids, the distinction in freedom to dress, socialize or
behave in certain manners at social gatherings etc. is easier on sons. As a child, I remember going to a
friend’s house and were laughing loudly at some joke, immediately her aunt commented, “You’ll
shouldn’t laugh so loud, you’ll are women”. After all these years it still comes to mind.
Now years later, I have a friend whose teenage son’s girlfriend visits them regularly and the kids lock
the room for privacy. When questioned, my friend said though he’s not comfortable about it, since
it’s his son he doesn’t say much, but if his daughter did the same he would not tolerate it.
Daughters are pampered more than sons, this I noted mostly in urban areas. Many parents admit to it
openly. To quote a friend, “I’m partial towards my daughter cause at the back of my mind it’s always
there that the Indian world is going to make her feel the gender difference.” They believe that the
daughter will go away, and are not sure how easy the new household she enters into will be.
Some boys find it resentful that their sisters are favoured in this manner and allowed to get away
with things for which they are put to task. One young boy was heard complaining, “Just because she’s
going to get married and go she gets away with everything.”
Indian parents have lot of expectations from their children. The demands are different for sons and
daughters. But many times both feel the pressure to live up to them. Daughters are expected to
behave in a certain manner, it’s ok to have a career but the house should not be neglected. If parents
are not home, the daughter is likely to overlook the son’s needs as she’s the woman. Sons also have a
defined role in the household; they are supposed to keep the family secure and safe. Be the main
bread earner and follow the dreams his parents have for him. Though parents in urban living are
opening up to the idea of their children pursuing their passions, they still feel they should have a say
in their children’s lives. Parents are more accepting of their daughters pursuing interests that don’t
pay well than they are of their sons.
To summarise it especially in India, parents assume they know what’s best for their children and
assign them gender specific roles. The daughter, no matter how capable, is never the front runner in
financial matters. The son on the other hand is asked to stick to the regular and often times get
bogged down by expectations which he finds difficult to fulfil.
While Indians parents are evolving with time and there is more acceptance and less discrimination, it
will be a long time before we blur the gender lines. Here some may argue that we need to preserve
them for a more organised society but, I expect we could do with a little tweaking.