It’s always a pleasure to write about the Singapore International Film Festival. Apart from the stalwarts who continue to enthral, there are new narratives to enjoy, and new talents to watch out for. But what I find the most fascinating about these festivals is that they give us an opportunity to trace the similarities, the commonalities and the common sensibilities of the region. Observing the thread of a common South East Asian identity is a beautiful experience.
We live in a strange society where boys and girls are treated differently. Agreed, biologically they have differences but unfortunately, the biggest difference lies not in the genetic or the biological make up of the gender, but in the minds of the people. The difference lies in the way we stereotype and in the way we form our biases. May be it’s time to re-look at the archaic rules and update them a bit. There are too many examples of gender bias rampant in the society. It’s in the way the teachers treat their students, in the way the mothers bring up their children, in the way universities enroll their students, in the way media portrays its images and in the way relationships are formed. It would take forever to talk about them all so I am going to talk about children.
That’s the point where it all starts and that’s where we corrupt young minds and brain wash them with display rules and societal pressure. That’s when we force them to confirm to established stereotypes. I am specially concerned about little girls and boys, the ones who are steadily fed on the trite gender- based rules of our ancestors, the ones who are constantly told that pink is for the girls and blue is for the boys, barbies are for the girls and the cars are for the boys, the pretend- nurse is for girls and the doctor is for the boys. It needs to stop somewhere.
The constant reminder that boys don’t cry bothers me. Why can’t they cry? I am still trying to figure out what is so heroic or manly about not crying since neither a boy’s biological development, nor his cognitive development indicate in any way that he does not feel emotions and if he does feel it, then why are we preventing him from expressing it? Why are we forcing him to bottle it up? Who is the villain in this story? Our stereotypes? Emotions and its balanced expressions are perfectly humane and in fact, they are a must for any child to eventually grow up as a secure individual, capable of forming healthy relationships. Why then, are we teaching our boys to hide their feelings, to stop their emotions and to bury their tears? Why are we messing with something that is perfectly natural and normal?
Next comes the strong stereotyping against the girls. Let us see these real life examples and labels of people pitted against each other: the strong vs the weak; the mathematician vs the make-up artist and the sportsperson vs the dancer. Most of you would assume that the first word in each pair refers to a boy. Well, it doesn’t. In these examples, Lara is strong and Edward is weak; Anushka is the mathematician and Sam Green is the make-up artist; Ayesha is the sportsperson and George is the dancer. A Stereotype threat refers to a situational predicament in which people feel the need to confirm to negative stereotypes about their social group. So, let’s be done and over with stereotyping. It’s not helping anyone anyway. In fact Psychologist Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson warn that stereotyping threat can erode a child’s self- confidence to the extent of altering the IQ scores. Now that’s the damage we are doing by labelling.
Here are some examples of gender bias that we see around us. Some are blatant and some are subtle but they are all united in their effort of falling back on age- old perceptions of gender roles.
Whatever happened to fresh thinking? Please allow our boys and girls to be individuals who are free to be whatever they want to be and whatever they are capable of. That’s fair and that’s right. Support equality, individuality and fair treatment.That’s what makes the world a better place.
Here’s a refreshing video on stereotyping. Get thinking….