Some years ago , a poll in Iran that found that 44% of Iranian girls wished that they had been born as boys. Not surprising because opportunities for girls/ women in post Khomeini Iran and in most Muslim nations are severely limited. But what about other societies? Do females everywhere feel a sense of deprivation ?
I started to think about this topic because of a newspaper column by a British woman whose three year old daughter , Vera, complained that she was tired of being a girl. Watching her six year old brother play with Star Wars, pirates, football and other action games,( while she was stuck with Hello Kitty) , Vera declared ” Girls are boring. I want to do boys things.” The mother’s response was to promise Vera some cake and take her on a women’s walking tour of London that emphasised women’s achievements. “Would you like to come and find out what lots of important ladies did, and then we’ll have cake?” Of course, put that way, the child said yes but a three year old isn’t interested in statues and a lecture about famous women. Vera soon burst into tears and they cut short their tour to adjourn to the cake-shop.
As several readers pointed out, a better idea would have been to buy Vera the things that she might really want and let her do the fun stuff with her brother. Vera’s mom could also stress the point that girls can do anything they want to do . In today’s world,there’s no such thing as boys things and girls things . Girls don’t have to play with dolls and dollhouses unless they want to; they can play with erector sets or ray guns or Cops and Robbers if that is what they prefer. With that knowledge, I hope that role models are not restricted to those of one’s own gender. We are people first, male or female only afterwards.I loved the story of the four-year old boy who , when his grandfather told him that his shoes were ” girly“, responded ” Shoes are for people.” What wisdom for a four year old ! That kid will go far; he’s already smarter than his grandfather !
In a perfect world, girls and boys would have the same freedom to do what they want and , while we are some ways off, there is no doubt that things have changed , however slowly , for the better.
A hundred years ago, in India, my grandmother was married off to my grandfather as soon as she completed high school. Even though she was a very clever girl, college was not an option ; neither was a career or any sort of a job. As soon as a girl reached marriageable age, a match was arranged for her. Seventy five years ago, my mother was able to complete two years of college before her wedding . Even in the India of those days , few women worked in jobs outside the home. Almost forty years ago, my wife completed her undergraduate degree and worked in the family concern for a few months before she married me. By that time , the notion of women having careers of their own was spreading, albeit slowly. Since then , of course, the idea is commonplace and, often because of economic necessity, most women today have their own careers even after they are married.
Our daughter, born and brought up in America, did her Masters degree and is a career woman. When she was growing up , we never felt that she should be given any less opportunities than her brother. I don’t think that we , as her parents, thought of her differently because she was a girl. I’m sure that’s true today both in India and America at least among educated , middle class families who can afford an education for their children. In the poorer sections of society everywhere, girls lives are more circumscribed and there is still a long way to go for any semblance of gender equality.
Shortly after I read the article about Iranian girls and their dissatisfaction with their lot, I was walking to office when I saw a mother and her six -year old daughter happily walking hand -in- hand down the street. As I got closer , I noticed both mother and child had a message on the fronts of their dresses. ” HAPPY TO BE A GIRL ” it said.
One day I hope that it will be true for all girls, all women.