Friday, April 25, 2008
A doll for my daughter
When my daughter was born, like most emancipated modern mothers, I too decided that I would not let her be constrained by gender stereotyping. I resolved not to be a part of that group which believed that dolls and kitchen sets are for girls, and cars and guns for boys.
The new-age child psychology books I turned to for advice pronounced that toys like dolls and kitchen sets subconsciously instill in young girls the belief that their prime role is that of a nurturer. Any other role would be relegated to a secondary place thanks to this kind of conditioning in the childhood the books warned. To ward off any such eventuality, I decided not to buy her dolls and kitchen sets. That many of my colleagues had already started bringing up their daughters on a no-doll regimen added more credibility to the theories.
Soon she had a reasonable collection of toys, but one which did not include a single doll. She seemed quite satisfied with her collection and I was proud of being the intelligent mother who managed to avert role stereotyping of her daughter. It did not matter she was too young to understand anything.
In the flat situated across ours stayed an upper middle class family from Uttar Pradesh. It was a family comprising an old couple, their two sons and daughters-in-law and two grand children _ a boy and a girl. The sight of the daughters-in-law hurriedly covering their head with duppatta on seeing a male member of the family had never ceased to amaze me. I pitied their grand daughter who was more often than not seen with a doll in her hand. Perfect recipe for a doormat existence in later life, I mused.
My relationship with our neighbours never went beyond a few casual encounters. But the same could not be said for my daughter who befriended Chinky, their grand daughter, and started visiting them.
One day, the bombshell dropped. Sruti, my daughter, insisted she wanted a doll, and a kitchen set to boot! The reason: Chinky has them and they are more fun to play with than cars and puzzles. I was aghast. Here I am, trying to mould her into a woman of substance, and there she is, insisting to play with a kitchen set. My husband was equally indignant and declared that his darling would not have a doll. Our daughter that night cried to sleep.
The next day, I checked with my colleagues whether this was a behavioural aberration. To my relief, I was told their daughters too had made several unsuccessful demands for dolls and kitchen sets. Repeatedly turning down such unacceptable requests worked over a period of time, I was told. One of them had bought a doll and a kitchen set for her son to promote gender sensitisation, but had turned down the request of her daughter for the same.
But my daughter turned out to be the more persistent type. Every day as I was back from office she would want to know when she would get her doll. On my daughter’s birthday, to my horror, Chinky gifted her a Nonie (a life-like one-foot doll) and a kitchen set. But, for my daughter, no other gift seemed to matter. My husband and I could not do anything about the presence of the doll and the kitchen set under the circumstances. None of our friends would have made this faux pas. But what could we say to our neighbours?
A few days later, as I was getting ready for office my daughter sat on the bed playing with her doll, by then fondly named ‘Googoo’. She was leaning on the headboard with her legs extended with Googoo on her lap. She was lovingly talking to the ‘baby’ all the time brushing its hair. I was startled. Have I not heard the same words she was telling Googoo? Is not the action very familiar _ something which I do every morning for my daughter? Yes, she was playing mama-Sruti.
On the way to office I kept wondering whether I was doing the right thing by depriving her a toy she loved to have. Is not the act of refusing a girl dolls just because she is a girl as odious as refusing to let her have a car because of her gender? What does she know at this tender age about gender bias and equality of sexes?
Is not the act of her father who always gets up first and makes tea for her mother and serves it on the bed a better education on gender equality for her? Is not the sight of both her parents working together in the kitchen whipping up dinner after coming back from office an image she is going to carry to her adulthood? Will she ever forget these? Aren’t these the best education on gender equality we can ever provide her as compared to the superficial acts of refusing to buy a kitchen set or a doll?
That day I decided I did not want to be part of that group which denied their daughters a doll because of their gender. And that evening my daughter received her first doll from her mama.