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Help! He's Playing With Dolls!

15/09/2016 12:09 PM IST | Updated 28/09/2016 8:38 AM IST
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I don't think it is in my nature to be confrontational. Unless it is with my parents or people who I know very well, I don't usually pick fights or arguments, even if there's a difference of opinion. Many people call it "sitting on the fence." I don't honestly care what it's called, as long as I don't have to unnecessarily get into a zone of conflict. But sometimes, even I snap and give in to the heat of the moment. Even more rarely, I react in the moment. Like at the playground, a few weeks ago.

Now, I am always somewhat reluctant to accompany my son to the playground. Mostly because stay-at-home dads aren't looked upon too fondly by the mothers there. While it is often a thoroughly enjoyable experience for my son, it is at times a very traumatic experience for me. It rarely ever goes as planned, and I end up taking a lot of bruising -- physically, emotionally and sometimes even to my ego. But sometimes, I have to. The reason? I call her Karma -- and she's a ...well...you know the phrase.

I heard the parent say, "Go and ride your bikes. Or bring down your trucks and cars. That's what boys play with. Not with kitchen sets and dolls."

Anyway, on this particular playground adventure, I came across a parent having a heated discussion (or more accurately, a telling-off session) with a bunch of kids. The person was addressing two young boys, perhaps between the ages of five and eight, and berating them about something. Naturally curious, I leaned in to find out why while pretending to fiddle with my phone. What I heard both shocked and amused me.

The two little boys had been playing with a group of girls. Initially, I thought it was the "playing with girls" thing that had gotten them scolded. But, soon it was evident that the reason was something else. In fact, the parent seemed to be telling them off for having played with the toys that the girls had brought -- dolls and a kitchen tea set. From what I gathered, they were all role-playing together and having a "high-tea party". Which I suppose is a fancier version of "House", a game that I played as a child.

So, what's the problem I hear you ask? Exactly. That's what was going through my mind as well. I'm sure this parent too had played games such as "House" with cousins, friends and the rest of the gang. While I was pondering over this, the parent continued their diatribe and it became clear they were agitated that the boys had continued with the game even after the girls disappeared. I heard the parent say, "Go and ride your bikes. Or bring down your trucks and cars. That's what boys play with. Not with kitchen sets and dolls."

And at that moment, I reacted. I chuckled. Not one of those discreet ones, but almost a guffaw. I think I even snorted. It was loud enough for this parent to turn around and see me laughing away. As their eyes met mine, I stopped laughing and stood up. Before the parent could react, I pointed towards another end of the playground, where two girls were racing remote-controlled monster trucks with a bunch of boys. I mustered all the courage I could gather, looked the parent in the eye and said, "Stop stereotyping!"

I mustered all the courage I could gather, looked the parent in the eye and said, "Stop stereotyping!"

Now, if this scene were in a movie, this would be the point where I walked in slow motion, holding my son's hand while a kick-ass theme song played in the background. At least, I like to picture it that way. But it isn't. What really happened was that I held on tightly to my son's hand and walked away, pink sandpail and multicoloured plastic animals in hand, completely conscious of the fact that the parent was giving me a stinkeye that threatened to curse me back to whatever land I had come from. If they hadn't been so shocked by the mini-lesson in gender parity from a strange man, they would have probably asked me to sod off and poke my chubby nose in someone else's business.

Of course, if they'd known that I'm a stay-at-home dad, they would have probably shook their head, shrugged their shoulders and said, "See! This is what happens when boys play with dolls." Agreed that I'm assuming this, but based on the general reactions that I often get when I introduce myself as a SAHD, I don't think I'm way off the mark.

It will do all of us some good to realize that the quest for gender equality always begins at home.

The other day, my son insisted on getting a play kitchen set. He said he wanted to cook like those "uncles" on TV (for the uninitiated, he was referring to Masterchef Australia). We went to a shop nearby to buy it, and the salesman tried his hardest to distract him from buying the set and entice him with a remote-controlled helicopter. A stare from me put him back in his place. But that's the thing -- we shouldn't have to get into arguments for things like these in the first place.

Pink is for girls. Blue is for boys. Women can't be the primary wage earner in a family. Men can't do household work. A working mother is evil for choosing career over her kids. A stay-at-home father is a loser. A single-parent isn't enough. A divorced woman is a shame to the family. A woman must want to have kids.... The list just goes on and on. The ugly truth remains that we are still miles away from breaking these silly stereotypes and unwritten rules that our minds seem to be stuck on.

It will do all of us some good to realize that the quest for gender equality always begins at home.

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