Raising your sons

How does he grow up into someone who respects women. Someone who doesn’t think it’s his right to force his unwanted attention on a woman simply because he happens to be male.

It’s an image stuck in my head from a long time ago. My friend, 19, is helping her mother roll out chapattis in the kitchen. Nothing wrong with that, except that her brother is comfortably slouched on the sofa, yelling for water. She yells back that he should get it himself and the mother adds lovingly but in all seriousness: Bhai ko paani de do, usko aadat nahi hai lene ki (Give a glass of water to your brother, he isn’t in the habit of fetching it himself).

The recent discussions in the light of the tragic gang rape case in Delhi reminded me of my friend’s brother and his misguided mom. I was reminded because among my friends, acquaintances and bloggers I regularly read, the point of discussion often was how to raise your son to grow up into someone who respects women. Someone who doesn’t think it’s his right to force his unwanted attention on a woman simply because he happens to be male. A type of male our country is sadly only too familiar with.

Pic: Meera K

Like the boy who couldn’t fetch his own water, many boys in India are brought up to believe they are superior to girls. Superior enough to be brought water to; superior enough to get the first priority when family finances are being set aside for education – there are examples galore. This is often so deeply rooted that people are not even aware that there is discrimination between the boy and the girl. If it’s not said to them overtly, then it is expressed, intentionally or unintentionally through actions or words. Many grow up emulating fathers who think women come second to men, even if subconsciously. I know someone in whose family the women always eat after the men in the house have eaten. Subconsciously it’s something he expected his wife to do as well.

You can argue that these are small habits and practices that are probably miles away from the gory mindset that beats and rapes. But these also help in perpetuating a superior attitude that can sometimes go horribly wrong and lead to the worst of crimes against women – be it domestic violence or sexual crimes.

"Have the talk with your sons today," said a friend’s status update on Facebook at the height of the protests in Delhi and across India. Another lady took her 15 year old son to Jantar Mantar in Delhi for the peaceful protest. She felt being the age that her son was, he had to know and learn for himself what is right and wrong.

A writer friend in Bangalore whose son is 23 now, says she has never consciously taught him these things. "That’s because as a mother I never discriminated between my son and daughter." What she did was point out, remark and debate on unacceptable behavior when she saw one, even if it was the hero teasing the heroine on TV. "Families should not accept things the way they are. They should talk and debate about it."

Messages in the media can have a strong impact on children and very often movies and ads portray women in a condescending light. Banning television from your son’s life may not work but talking to him and asking him to think about what he says, might.

The onus, feels the writer, should be on the fathers to talk to their sons about respecting women. "The father can tell the son, look you have a sister at home, how will you feel if she was being teased? It’s learning for fathers more than the mothers."

Agrees the lady who took her son to the protests in Delhi. "If he sees equality at home, he will learn to respect equality. If he sees a dad who is dismissive of women or prone to passing comments on their looks or actions, that’s what he will learn and think of as acceptable behaviour."

Many people think women are going overboard with the protests, banning obscene lyrics and panicking about teaching kids the right stuff. Many older people would say that simply doing the right thing and saying the right things would make your children follow suit. But we are living in a very different world than it was even 30 years ago. Bad news outnumbers the good here and there are more chances of being ‘led astray’ to use an old fashioned term, than there ever were. So perhaps it’s time to talk to our boys. Now.


  1. Kathryn Kylee says:

    I agree with the above comments that we need to address society attitudes and behaviors of both our young men and women. What I will also add is that we need to stop separating them in schools. My experience in Government Schools is that most boys and girls are separated in sitting and activities from very early ages. This creates a separateness of “them and us” and takes away from them learning to property communicate, respect, understand, and work with both genders. This separation also creates problems when puberty happens. The boys do not know how to property talk or “flirt” with the girls–so they use inappropriate language and behavior, thereby widening the gap even further. In societies, both genders need to be able to work together to create this harmony. The attitude of separating the girls and “protecting” them is also not a valid reason. First of all, we need to change a society that isn’t safe enough that we have to “hide” and protect our girls. And by isolating the genders, they never learn how to deal with problems, which will present a problem for them when they reach adulthood.

  2. S Srinivasan says:

    We have to train and guide the Girls also how to dress decently without attracting any evil eyes, behaving in the educational institutions, Hotels and in Common places etc. Restrict use of Mobiles in public while walking, move with escorts… not boy friends . be aware of the surroundings and be alert always , carry pepper spray, reduce exposure in Facebook and other networks etc.

  3. Kathryn Kylee says:

    I have to respond to the last comment. While I certainly condone everyone dressing respectfully, the bottom line is that even if a girl doesn’t “appear” to dressed properly—it doesn’t matter. She still has her rights. If boys are taught respect–then No means NO!!! And if mobile phones are to be restricted–then it has to be for everyone. All of this separation and differences is what I feel has contributed to some of the male superiority attitude over the genders!! And It never hurts to carry pepper spray for anyone!!!

  4. Reshmi says:

    I absolutely agree with you Kathryn. It’s the divide that’s at the root of it all. Mr Srinivasan, why do we always talk of asking the girls to “dress decently”‘and stop speaking on their mobiles? Why not start with the boys asking them to behave? teaching them the meaning of consent? Why not start by removing attitudes that expect one gender to conform and the other to run amok?

  5. Palahalli Vishwanath says:

    I agree with the writer of the article and Kathryn Kylee. More than girls, it is boys who need to be ‘trained and guided’.

  6. S Srinivasan says:

    Re M/s. Kathryn’s and others’ views, It is my observation everyday that the women use their mobiles in the public without having an eye around them. I do understand that mobiles should not be banned. My suggestion is to use carefully specially in public places and be aware of prying eyes around them . Secondly, whether a stone hits the glass or the other way round, it is the glass that breaks. Women are like glass. I am always for protection for women at all times, and I do not consider them as weak. They should always be prepared that danger is lurking around the corner. Educating the boys in the present days is just not possible because the parents have no control over them. What they do when they go out and the company they have throughout the day shapes their behaviour. Please go to any coeducation college or in the malls, study the behaviour of both girls and boys and then suggest a workable solution. I would like both genders should be treated as same . Women should be protected by the public when the Govt, Police etc have miserably failed.What is the use of crying when the damage is done and the sufferer is only the woman ? I would like a friendly debate on this issue and try to arrive at workable suggestion as to how to give 200% protection to the glass in the present environment. I have a daughter and a grand daughter with me and I am equally worried everyday.

  7. S Srinivasan says:

    Today, I watched a 1 hour discusion on Violence on Women in the NDTV Channel programme ” We the People ” . I suggest to all to see the retelecast and see for yourself how molestation of women start in one’s own home. Even the present law does not support a hapless woman reporting in a Police Station . The Police commissioner says that an FIR can be registered only when there is an injury !! How do you expect a victim to show proof that she has been abused physically and mentally ? We are seeing everyday in the papers about juvenile delinquents involved in rape and murders. Ours is a male dominated society which needs total change. Simply teaching the boys to behave take us nowhere as they are not bothered about your sermon. It will take a long time for the society to change the way everyone want and provide gender equality and freedom for women in the society.Enacting new laws lead us nowhere as even the existing ones are not enforced by the indifferent Police and Govt.Let us start with simple steps in protecting women in public ourselves.An autowalla threatens a woman in public because the police do not take up the complaint from the woman and he goes scotfree after paying his hafta. I suggest you all to see the NDTV programme and think of ways how to stop violence against women. The mindset that a woman is looked as a sexual object should be changed. The media and films should stop using them for increasing their ratings and box office collections. NIRBHAYA has opened our eyes and it is in our interest and in our hands how we train the new generation with Do’s and Dont’s.

  8. Somashekar Reddy says:

    Even if the girl is not dressed properly, it does not give anyone the right to rape her. If we go by that logic, there should be rape in all american beaches everyday. That does not happen only because the law works in America. Only implementing law can solve the issue, not by advising women.

  9. S Srinivasan says:

    I am sorry my wordings have been misrepresented and misquoted. The women’s dress is one easy item to attract the bullies. What I mean to say is to be careful while in public as the danger of attack is lurking in every corner. Police and Govt. apply law where it is not required immediately and later use it to wriggle out of their responsibilities. By that time another Nirbhaya case is over. The public are also not effective immediately in preventing the crime . The juvenile Law should be changed to include them in such adult crimes and treated as adults instead of by age.
    Prevention is always better than cure. Let us find practical ways to protect women not only from the bullies but also from the moral police. I suggest that my comments may be properly read fully.

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