My daughter came home from her pre-school sometime early this year with the notion that boys make great doctors and girls make great nurses. Her statement was blasphemous in our Feminist, Atheist, ultra-Liberal household. The belligerent monster in me was roused, and I approached the school. That wasn’t the intent of the school, to teach her this garbage, they clarified. They merely created a skit where they chose a boy and a girl to perform and assigned the role of the doctor to the boy and that of the nurse to the girl. *Little girls look cute in little nurse outfits! How could the boy play the nurse?* I preached for the next fifteen minutes to a bored principal and an annoyed class-teacher about stereotypical gender roles. They provided me this assurance in return – my daughter will never have to play nurse again. I didn’t have the patience to clarify that I was not there to assign a value to the duty of a nurse at all. I would be a proud mother if my daughter decides to nurse for a profession, as much as I will cherish it if she chooses to be an artist. This was a modern, new-age school, with posh infrastructure and air-conditioned rooms. But I guess the cobwebs of the mind take more than money to clear out. That’s when I decided my daughter’s feminist training would probably need to happen out of syllabus.
The Book we Found
The first thing I did was to scathe through her books and eliminate content that feeds the notion of gender roles. All the fairy tales and many of the moralistic stories did not make the cut. I decided not to remove them from her shelf, but to read them with the side note of how things can be different in current times. So, the next time I read Rapunzel to her, I asked her how she thought Rapunzel could have helped herself. She did mention that Rapunzel could have made a rope out of her clothes. But, she also added that Rapunzel thought the witch was her mom and therefore didn’t disobey her. You got me there, smarty pants!
The next thing I did was to scan for better reads for my little one. The book that felt like the best for the moment was Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. It is a collection of short biographies of the world’s most courageous, rebellious and outstanding women. From Mary Angelou to Malala, it features women of all time and ages, who have gone against a million obstacles to achieve brilliance. And, best of all, it showed my daughter how women could do everything they wanted to, even be a pirate! Of course, I have also kept her tuned to some of the best content out there for the responsible adults of tomorrow. See this list here for more details.
We are at a better place now, five months down the line. My daughter now knows that women can be everything they set their eyes at. She can’t wait to read about one more superwoman every night. I hope that over time, she is able to hold her own in discussions about women’s capabilities and rights. I also hope through this out of the syllabus grooming, she is able to influence mainstream education to embrace shattering the gender role boxes.