I didn’t realise that I was doing something even remotely controversial when I got BabyA’s hair cut in the same style as mine: a Rihanna-esque fashionable bob. When she got the cut, I felt happy because I thought she looked neat, chic and it would be easy to manage at school.
You hear of all the horror stories about lice breakouts with girls in schools and so I thought a trendy, low maintenance haircut at 3 was a better choice than growing her hair long. Also I’ve never been a huge fan of the matching mommy-baby outfits so I figured this was another variant that suited me better: matching haircuts.
Some people have been very appreciative of her haircut, strangers even stopping me at play areas to ask where she got it. The part that infuriates me is what more commonly occurs: BabyA being repeatedly told she needs to grow her hair. From the maid to her friends’ mums to family, people keep telling her she’ll be “pretty” if she has long hair, so she mustn’t let her mother cut her hair short. Till they said it, she didn’t realize that her hair was such an integral part of who she was. Silly BabyA thought you just cut hair when it grows long, much like nails!
What really bothers me is the importance society puts on girls being pretty. At 3, she already knows that she wants to grow up to be a princess (pretty, taken care of by daddy, then by her prince). Hair is a very crucial part of this image. We try to make some funky hairstyles for her but she refuses; “I want a princess hairstyle Mamma”, and since I don’t want her to undo my 15 minutes of work, I desperately (feminist mums get desperate too) search for Disney princesses with short hair, and I can’t find anyone but Snow White (who doesn’t impress her much).
This idea of lambé, ghané baal isn’t only Western in nature, but deeply ingrained into our Indian psyche too, with all the Goddesses and Rajkumaris having long hair. Short hair makes you less attractive, butch and androgynous!
It really bothers me that she is told, explicitly as well as subtly, that she needs to adhere to a particular stereotype of femininity in order to be received positively in society. Thank God she (as yet) remains untouched from the fairness fervour, being a gorgeous Marwari girl with lovely tan skin. Don’t know how long that will last!
Why do we load our kids with so much gender-biased baggage? Boys are victims too. I have seen how much pressure is put on a little boy to prove his manliness! First is the “Boys don’t cry” nonsense that is filled into their innocent heads which eventually makes them bottled up grown men who find it hard to express, emote and love openly. We also tell them that they must continuously prove that their little boyish hearts only want to play sports; that dolls must strictly be used for inflicting violence (as sisters cry while brothers behead Barbies); that they MUST love guns as if boys are inherently violent and unkind, wanting to break things and hurt people.
“What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails…
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice”
The ‘Bad Boy’ Persona weighs as heavily on our sons as the ‘Good Girl’ syndrome inflicts our daughters. Why are bad boys so exciting to girls while good girls are what every boy should aspire to taking home to Mamma? Is anyone really able to fill these restrictive, one-dimensional roles to begin with? We aren’t TV serial goddesses like Parvati from Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki or Voluptous Vixen Komalika from Kasautii Zindagii Kay – aren’t we all just a little bit of everything?
What if our little boy loves painting, isn’t aggressive, doesn’t tear apart people’s houses when he visits, or likes to whip up all kinds of wonderful for his parents every Sunday morning? When he cries at the drop of a hat (much like all the kids his age), we tell him he can’t as that’s not manly. Why would these beautiful “feminine” traits like being able to emote easily, love openly and share (advice, their hearts?) generously be constantly devalued by society as nonsensical fluff? Why do we call people who don’t cry brave? Doesn’t it take a more secure human to be able to show emotion and be vulnerable?
Why must our girls be pretty rather than intelligent? How long does pretty last anyway? Why can’t we appreciate a little boy with the intelligence that comes from silent observation and from still-focus? Why do we plague them with words like ‘pansy’ and ‘faggot’?
What do we fear so much when we fear an intelligent girl or a creative boy? What’s the ‘worst case scenario’? That the child will grow up to be homosexual? Barring the fact that this notion makes no sense because we witness enough “manly” gay men and vain lesbians, pondering over this subject made me realize that even if my own daughter turned out to be gay, how would it matter? Would I love her less? No. I’d love her just the same, and accept her choices. It would be a paradigm shift in my mind, but there are many paradigm shifts that take place as you grow older, and that’s never a bad thing.
The worst case scenario would be that your child would live his life feeling suffocated; feeling that he can’t be his true self because society (and most importantly, you) think that he isn’t good enough. What good is a “manly” boy who is so bottled up that he manifests his emotions through other ways, perhaps even through verbal or physical violence?
On the other hand, why should intelligent girls feel like they have to hide behind the guise of bimbette-behaviour and survive on celery sticks to be liked by boys (and society)? Why can’t children just be themselves- long hair, short hair, creative, fat, sporty or naughty? Your child being honest and secure enough to live her life, making the choices that are true to her soul- how can that ever be the worst case scenario?