Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Conditioned thinking -- How to break away from it?

[This post was submitted by a blogger who wants to remain anonymous.]

Recently I met a friend of mine from college days after a long gap. We had been rather close and used to spend a lot of time talking about whatever came to our minds. Gender inequality we faced was on of our favourite topics. We discussed it with passion. We were unanimous on one thing: we were NOT going to discriminate between our son and daughter when we married and had children of our own. Oh no sir!

Destiny did not put me to the test. It gave me sons, a pair of them. I was disappointed at not having daughters for the simple reason that I couldn’t prove to the world how those daughters were going to be brought up without discrimination unlike how I had been. I had been waiting to thumb my nose at the world in general and at remarks people were wont to make and to stand steadfast by my daughter(s). I consoled myself that I could prove my point when the time came by doing the same for my daughters-in-law. In the meantime, I tried to inculcate the right values in my sons.

My friend on the other hand was blessed with a son and a daughter. She had ample opportunity to put into practice what we so passionately believed in and discussed during college days. But as the evening wore on, I felt restless. Was this the same girl I knew back in college? Her conversation was peppered with a lot of ‘I was telling my daughter, men will always be men. Women have to adjust…....and more of such juvenile thought process” I was horrified. Where was that firebrand I knew back in the old days?? And what did she mean putting such regressive ideas into the head of her daughter, the new generation?? I was totally disappointed. And yet she claimed to have brought up her children as equals. Hmm…

Visiting her I noticed that she called her daughter to serve the guests a cold drink or for help in the kitchen. In my own house, my boys would serve cold drinks to the guests. Was it because I did not have a daughter, I asked myself. I admitted, perhaps out of habit, that “conditioning,” even I would have been tempted to call my daughter, if I had one, for help. But then breaking that “conditioning” is what we had talked about so passionately. I knew that even if such “conditioned” thoughts came unbidden to my mind, I would brush them aside consciously and do the right thing. Well that was me. Apparently my friend had succumbed ‘unconsciously to social pressure.

One day while relaxing over a cup of tea and pakodas, husbands in tow, she started laughing and told me of a conversation she had with her children earlier in the day over the phone. It seems that her 'lazy' son had appointed his sister to wash his undies on the weekends she visited him from her college hostel as they now stayed in the same city. His other clothes were given to the dhobhi. Till then he had washed them himself. Now that he was employed he gave the duty to his sister dangling the carrot of pocket money. The daughter who is still a student agreed. My friend was laughing at her son’s evident laziness and ‘smartness’ for finding a way out of doing some work. My husband and hers were laughing away too. I did not find it funny.

I wondered if the daughter had been older, and the brother younger, would the son wash his sister’s undies for her?? Would the parents have allowed it?? I could just imagine the horror on her face and that of her husband, in fact my husband too if I asked that question. So I kept mum. I wondered how they could see the funny side of it and not the less funny and discriminatory side of it. The father was even suggesting that the daughter should have held out for some more pocket money, as the son was earning well enough.

Am I over reacting?? I don’t know. But it revolts me that we should be “conditioned” enough to think that a brother washing clothes for his sister is a no-no but its merely a laughing matter (and the done thing) the other way round. I laid the matter before my sons later in the day. The elder son was merely amazed that such a thing was happening. The younger one flatly refused, saying, “I wouldn’t do that for him (elder bro) even if he offered me good money. (he washes his own undies by the way) But both of them were unanimous on one thing, the boy should not make his sister do something that he wouldn’t do for her. Ok, that is fair enough. That is exactly my point. But would he?? Would the parents allow it??

How difficult it is to come out of ‘conditioned’ thinking? Washing, cooking, laying the table, serving guests, sweeping, mopping are all woman’s work! I really don’t know how much I have succeeded in impressing my own children about gender equality. After all they live in the same society and see the difference in treatment meted out to women all around them. But I can say that I have tried my best and on occasions have argued my point with vehemence when they have unconsciously repeated ‘conditioned’ remarks heard elsewhere. I hope when the time comes, they treat their spouses the right way. But no matter, if they don’t, they have me to reckon with!


Anonymous said...

no you are not over reacting.. definitely not..

but over years we just have become so toned.. and so accustomed to certain things we just accept them without thinking about them...

i m not justifying anyone just telling you what is happening... !!

Anonymous said...

wish you hadn't stayed anon. I would have loved to read ur blog.
The only thing I can say is, a lot of people are these days breaking away from tradition when it comes to their daughters. If I who witnessed subtle discrimination in all walks of life can know for sure than I am equal, I am sure the girls of the next generation will do irrespective of their mothers doting on their and taking pride in their sons cringe worthy behavior. But we need more men who are comfortable around women who know they are equal.Because that's one thing that can stop women who were brought up as equal to be themselves, thats one thing that can make them adapt to the norms. So I am glad you have sons. You can achieve more in terms of bringing change if you bring up men the right way.

N said...

Sad but true.
Conditioned thinking exists..
Thats the easy way out..
But why and when does that spark to be different, to rebel, to stand up for what you believe in ..why and when does it die and why do we let it die
Agree with tearsndreams, that there is a change that is happening .. but there are so many things that are yet to change, some subtle and some not so subtle.
Each generation is one step ahead. But should we accept that things are better or should we fight till they are perfect?
we still have a long way to go.

Things are so different when its done out of choice or interest rather than "thats the way it has been" For instance on HGTV - they show these house hunters and quite often its the men who gravitate towards kitchen. And when the agent asks,"ok so whos the Chef amongst you" the men take so much pride in it.
Serving a guest is not demeaning but when its accompanied by "you are supposed to do it, as thats the way its been" then it does become.

Anrosh said...

if the mothers engage in stereotypical male chauvinistic conditioning, sisters can rise to the occassion to correct the situation.

Let's NOT leave it all to the mothers because they can be weak, have low self esteem , insecure and confused.

Anrosh said...

- when I go to my grandmothers house I have instructions from my mother to help my grandmothr - sweep the floor. cut the vegetables and wash the clothes.

There are 2 cousins of mine ( both boys ) 9 and 13.

they don't do anything because that is the house rules - boys don't do house hold work. well, their father who is now no more have never done anything at home -never even made chai when their mother was sick.

I can be polite and refuse. But my mother would give me a lecture saying that I was rude and one has to help the grandmother.
And can't I help my grandmother for a day ?

But the irony is - her 2 grandsons ( 9 and 13) would not even pick up the plate and put in the sink.

Better to be rude and disobedient, then encourage stereotypical male conditioning at home.

Social change happens because of a few bold women who do not uphold male chauvinistic norms and mores of society. These woman steer the wheel for a progressive society.

American Woman are a great example.

Anonymous said...

Anyone attempting to come out of conditioned thinking is promptly labelled.It is's a man he is a JKG (Joru Ka Gulam), if it's a woman she is a bra burning feminist. They are reminded that rules were made for a 'some good reasons', by our ancestors, and can not be changed by us ordinary folks.

I am glad you noticed the discrimination in such an attitude. I think we can change this by bringing up our children without discrimination, and when we are not able to do that, we can at least let them see (make them aware) of the discrimination.

Loved this post, glad you blogged about this!

I also agree with Anrosh and Tearsndreams.

Smitha said...

Social conditioning certainly exists. And the sad thing is that so many of us do not even realize that it exists.

If each of us do our bit and try and break away from it - things will surely change - it might take a while - but it will change for sure. You are certainly doing your bit!

SS said...

O, your daughters-in-law will bless you!
Just curious...
You said you brought up the issue with your sons. Did you raise it with your husband later? What did he have to say?
And your friend...will you discuss it with her later ever?

This is so common. I have always felt that it is for the mothers to raise their sons this way and not spoil them. You seem to have done a great job!!

Annie said...

I could kiss the anon wroter right now!

This thing is such an issue. I cant believe we are still fighting it. Like people just can't accept something as basic and as rational as gender equality.

I hope by the time my kids come around its nothing but talk of the past.

mummyjaan said...

I'm disgusted. I don't believe anyone should be washing anyone else's underwear. What's stopping that guy from doing his own laundry?

However, I think this type of conditioning will change. It'll change slowly, but it will. If we're lucky in 1 or 2 generations. If not, then a few more.

state of mind? said...

well thats true...the conditioning part....
n its easy to give in to the societal norms as breaking away requires effort, facing bricks and bats from the family and standing up for giving in is the escape route and the easier way out.....n dats what ur friend has done....

but i do feel if u could have actually taken her back to those days n reminded her of her strong feelings which have gone lost somewhere, reminded her of discrimination u n she faced( all of us face it some way or the other) and shown her how unfair is she being to her own daughter.....

she needs to be jolted......

n yeah washing undies was ridiculous....that was sick... n doing it for money makes me feel like poking in the ***** of those parents who had the balls to laugh over it.