India is a country where a boy or a man is treated superior. It is not a great thing to admit and many would also disagree but by and large I think it is true..
There could be many reasons for it ranging from a patriarchal set-up to pure misogyny, but the point remains that this eco system is wired a certain way. Of course it is changing, especially in the the urban class but very very slowly and definitely much slowly than I would like.
In such a climate, how do you then raise a gender sensitive boy and more importantly how do you ensure an agnostic parenting style at home ?
The most obvious thing would seem like equal footing, non stereotypical behavior etc. However it is easier said than done with so much of social, peer and even family influence, who may not all think the same way as you. Here are some things that I try and believe in.
1. Teach your boys to express their feeling. Use the words, as they say. Many times we don't have conversations with young boys and discount stuff saying, "he is cranky", "he is in a mood", "he is hyper". But there are genuine feelings under everything kids do and while girls are articulate enough to talk about it, boys are not encouraged to. Take to your boys with emphasis on what is making them happy, sad, angry, excited, scared etc. Use the words
2. Try and get rid of stereotypical articles around them. No blues for boys, no action figures, no black tees, no cricket bats. If you give them choices with no influence in those choices, you will find that they will pick stuff that they like. My boy loves yellow and Oranges.. There was a time when he would want to be surrounded by only those colors, but it made for an interesting array of sunshine in my house :) Same goes for what we think is typical toys or play things for boys.. orient them towards no violent games/toys (which in my house means no Guns) and orient them towards more interactive games such as board games, puzzles, tracks.. These also teaches them to play in a mixed group
3. Get the boys to help you in your chores. This is where I think a Montessori education system triumphs. It teaches kids to be independent, attempt things for themselves and inculcates an innate want to learn and help. My boy loves to make chapatis with me since they teach them as a group to do that at school to develop motor skills. They teach them to fold clothes or put away things from shopping bags. All extremely important and interesting things to do with you boy at home to keep them engaged and get them to be independent.
4. Equality is less about what you say and more about what you do. If you are teaching them that girls are same as boys and anyone can do anything, demonstrate the same. Stop asking husband to change bulbs, take out those spanners and fix stuff that is broken. Similarly a home where the father is constantly seen in the kitchen and cooking for the family, encourages the boys to grow up believing it is natural.
5. Talk to your son to understand if there are conflicting messages coming from teachers or peers and handle those situations. Many a times it helps to nip the problem at its roots rather than let it fester and take a shape of its own. E.g. if your son says "X said boys should play only with boys", "Y said boys don't cry, only girls do", "Z said pink is for girls". Time to have a conversation, take examples, talk from experience and negate those statements rightaway.
6. Be direct with family and make your stance clear with regards to what environment you want to raise your son in. This is very important if you have extended family around most of whom may not see eye to eye on this issue. Be clear about what you want to do and why and hold your ground.
7. Last but not the least- Practice what you preach. Parents need to watch their actions and statements coz that is forms a hard baseline for what the child sees and believes. You may keep saying Pink is not only for girls but end up wearing the same color on most days. Or insist that your little boy helps around the kitchen but the husband stays far away from it. None of that will help in the long run. Children are smart to recognize words that do not translate to actions or what is not practised at home.