Workshop aimed at young parents will help bust the gender myth

Updated: 12 February, 2018 14:58 IST | Snigdha Hasan | Mumbai

In a bid to change the sharply divided pink and blue worlds that children inhabit, a workshop challenges the stereotypes we take for granted. If you are a young parent, sign your kid up

graphic/ravi jadhav
Graphic/Ravi Jadhav

In a modern, urban Indian set-up, it may not be wrong to say that we have moved on from the times when gender divide bordered on discrimination. Parents celebrate the birth of a girl child, and give her the best of opportunities to lead a worthy life. But as the more obvious markers of gender disparity fade away, the supposed differences between girls and boys are surfacing in ways that are far subtler.

Be it the rampant pink versus blue colour coding of children's merchandise, or seemingly innocuous utterances at school or home, both factors end up having a limiting impact on young minds. In her 2010 book, Pink Brain Blue Brain, which presents extensive research on the limited role biological differences play in how men and women turn out, neuroscientist Lise Eliot writes, "The differences between the brain functions of boys and girls begin as tiny seeds planted by evolution and nourished by hormones but blossoming only under the hot sun of our highly gendered society."

Timira Gupta at a workshop
Timira Gupta at a workshop

In reinforcing the Venus-Mars chasms, traditional fairy tales and other forms of literature for children, too, have played a significant role. This Sunday, a workshop titled, Boys Like Blue, Girls Love Pink. Really? will highlight the stereotypes that we often fail to recognise, through storytelling and reading of books that are consciously moving away from such narratives. The workshop is a part of Sunday Oasis, a collaboration between Harkat Studios and Tram Arts Trust to facilitate arts engagement with children.

Princesses in pink, girls in trouble being rescued by a boy, and illustrations of mothers cooking in the kitchen while fathers read newspapers are only some of the ways in which children's literature can give rise to biases, feels educator and arts-based therapist Timira Gupta, who will conduct the workshop for children aged nine years and above. "I am deeply invested in children's books and over the years, have noticed a conscious decision of many authors and publishing houses to make choices to break age-old stereotypes in children's literature. I also noticed many Indian (and international) books, which were choosing to illustrate more responsibly," she says.

The workshop will discuss these books to help children recognise what a stereotype is, "not only in books but also in the media around us that bombards us with archaic and stereotypical ideas all the time," says Gupta, adding, "Once the child is aware of what a stereotype is, they have the power to filter out what they see around them and make choices with an open understanding of the world and the various ways people exist in it."

Gender bias isn't the only focus of the workshop, though. With the aim to nurture more inclusive mindsets, Gupta will seek to expand the definition of what's normal through an array of examples. Authors like Deepa Balsavar have written books themed on adoption in such simple ways that children can grow up appreciating adoption as one more way of becoming a part of a family, she says. "A bilingual book called Nahi-No, shows a father and daughter getting ready to visit the latter's aunt, with no mention of a mother in the house — a simple way of addressing another idea of 'family'." Books that introduce children to death in a sensitive manner are also part of the workshop.

"We have grown up listening to comments like the man has to be the stronger one, and boys don't cry. But it's exhausting to be a prince!" says Karan Talwar, founder and curator at Harkat Studios. "Children are far more open and malleable than adults. All we need to do is let them be."

On: February 11, 11 am to 1 pm
At: Harkat Studios, Bungalow #75, Aram Nagar 2, JP Road, Versova, Andheri West.
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Cost: Rs.500

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