Did you see a recent public service ad funded by Vogue that Madhuri Dixit Nene appeared in? It’s here: http://bit.ly/1FiY5Zk.
It shows many scenes of little boys crying and being told not to – since they are boys, not girls. The last of the vignettes shows a man whose eyes are welling up, even as he’s twisting the arm of a woman (wife or girlfriend we presume), whose tear-streaked face has big injury marks. Then Madhuri appears and says that instead of telling boys not to cry, maybe we should tell them not to make girls cry.
When I saw it, it made me sit up. It’s interesting, well made and definitely makes a point. But.
But it made me wonder if it was too simplistic a point. Would just asking boys to never make girls cry solve our problems – domestic abuse and other crimes against women? Or is there a bigger picture that needs to be examined – a picture in which the very way we bring up our children needs to be looked at?
At a very basic level, I’d like to ask why we should be asking boys not to cry? They have tear glands too. And if they feel the emotion that activates those glands, shouldn’t we be telling them how to deal with it well, instead of asking them to stop?
Shouldn’t we be telling them it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be afraid of the dark, it’s okay to be scared of the insect in the bathroom, the lizard on the wall? It’s okay to be fearful – of the pain of an injection, of the sting of the Dettol soaked dab on the bruised knee, or even of that very tall slide in the park, or that strange looking Charlie Chaplin at the party. It’s okay to feel that way first and then find a way to do what’s needed.
It seems to me that we’ve always brought up our boys to suppress their natural emotions and taught them to cover it up with a mask of machismo. Boys must be brave. Boys must be strong. Then boys grow up and are tacitly expected to ‘sow their wild oats’ before settling down. And become the ‘man’ of the house. The ‘lord and master’ who flexes his muscles once in a while to keep his subjects in line.
Meanwhile girls must be pretty, dainty, fragile and ‘ladylike’. Gentle, caring, nurturing and accepting of all that their man might dole out – the good and the bad.
At a time when gender roles were well established and understood, perhaps we could have moulded our children like that. Maybe we even needed to, back in the old days when the bigger built gender of the species was required to hunt and use force to protect his family, his village, his country.
Things have changed so much since the mid-20th century. Women do every kind of work that men do. Might is no longer automatically right in a society with a justice system. Gender stereotypes are getting outdated. A marriage is not always between a man and a woman.
So what’s the upshot?
It’s not about boys don’t cry or boys don’t make girls cry.
It’s about not hurting others. It’s about seeing things from others’ perspectives. It’s about encouraging kindness. Boys who are allowed to cry if they feel like it are being kinder to themselves. And they will be kinder to others too – girls, boys, animals, plants and the planet.