Beyond Gender Stereotypes: Perspectives from a Father of Two Young Girls
Women’s Day musings
A friend of mine was having a friendly talk with a young executive outside work. The conversation veered towards finding life partners. The young executive casually mentioned to my friend, “If I had to choose between beauty and brains, I will choose brains any day.”
When she repeated the young executives statement to me over a coffee, I was dumbstruck, shocked and perplexed. Who said beauty and brains had to be mutually exclusive? It smacks of egotism and poor reference stereotypes.
If you step back and think about it, beauty and brains are independent variables. The very notion that they are inversely related in the populace is a symptom to root out.
A great well wisher of mine would always share, “get upset only with things that really matter and not innocuous ones.” Some of you may wonder, the example above may be an innocuous one. I beg to differ. Here is why.
Why care for innocuous symptoms? Tipping Point Example
An example from Malcolm Galdwell’s book, Tipping Point stands out in my memory. New York subway train system had a major problem in late 1980s. They were considered unsafe. Rather than trying to stop the carnage on the subways head-on, NY authorities focused on the environment: the walls were painted every night to remove graffiti and focus was on the fare beaters. The clean trains and holding commuters accountable for fare brought about a dramatic drop in the crime rates!
The parallels with gender parity for women are striking.
The preposterous notion that brains and beauty are inversely related is like the graffiti in the trains — staring in our eyes and yet part of the background.
The first obvious question is: Can we paint over the graffiti? Irony of learning is that unlearning is the hardest part. We can always course correct the societal edifice, but the scar marks are always there. So, the better question is: when do these graffiti get created and what can we do about it?
Moments when the graffiti gets etched
A scene from the stirring movie 42, the jersey that was retired across major league football, comes to mind.
A father and son are seated at the baseball park. The father is yelling slurs at Jackie Robinson. The boy is initially jolted, perplexed and confused. Then the stress in his brows gives way and he joins his dad and mirrors his screaming. In those fleeting moments the graffiti was etched.
By today’s prevailing wisdom, this is uncouth behavior. At that point in time, it was the prevailing thought among the majority. Similarly, by tomorrow’s standards, what the young executive said to my lady friend could be a moot point.
For that to happen, we need to be self aware when such graffiti’s get painted in the minds of generation next. The challenge — just like the situation for the dad at the park, these graffiti are socially common place today. It takes contrarian thought and astute observation powers to stem the symptoms. Here is an example from my younger days. Very proud of mom for doing that in my life.
Growing up in India, there was a movie director — a doyen of South Indian Cinema who weaved wonderful tales on human relationships with very inspiring and very laudable messages. The state populace loved his craftsmanship. She would share this contrarian thought –
“His movies may be epitome of story telling with great messages. Yet, many of his movies use one man in relationship with two women in the background. That I do not approve.” That made an impression on my supple mind.
2016 Parting thoughts: Positioning for future
“Where you stand depends on where you sit?” Great words by Nelson Mandela, very apt for me from where I sit. Seated between two delightful daughters, I wonder what their future beholds for them.
Gender should be celebrated for who they are, not for what they do.
That nuance, seems like a big wedge now.
My hope is that when my daughters step out into this world to make it their own, they are looked at as bright, well-groomed human beings first. It takes generations to change first impressions and many of that take root in our own homes — what each one of us share with our kids.
That is my aspiration as a father of two daughters — seems tangential, but the power of progress lay in the foundation built on small, yet strong bricks in every home.