Girls are weighed down by restrictions, boys with demands – two equally harmful disciplines. (1000-1200 words)

I. Introduction

Societal norms, crafted over millennia, have often placed girls and boys in restrictive boxes, outlining their roles, expectations, and paths in life. While girls are often shackled by multiple constraints, boys are burdened with a unique set of demands. The narrative that “girls should be seen and not heard” contrasts sharply with “boys will be boys,” each reinforcing stereotypes that harm individual growth and society at large. This essay will delve into the underlying premise that the limitations set upon girls and the obligations thrust upon boys, though different in nature, are equally detrimental to personal growth and societal advancement.

II. Historical Context of Gender Roles in India

Ancient India revered women, often placing them on pedestals of worship, with goddesses like Saraswati and Durga symbolizing wisdom and strength, respectively. Historical records from the Vedic period suggest that women had equal participation in social, educational, and even political realms. For instance, the Rigveda mentions women sages and scholars. However, over time, with the emergence of new societal structures and the establishment of certain dynasties, the status of women began to decline.

As India evolved, the status of women and men altered, largely influenced by a combination of factors like political changes, invasions, and foreign rule. The Mughal era and subsequent British colonialism played a significant role in shaping gender norms. The Victorian ideals of the British propagated the “cult of domesticity” for women, pushing them further into private spheres. On the other hand, the warrior ethic from the Mughal era left a lasting impact on the perception of masculinity in India. Over time, these influences embedded patriarchal norms into the very fabric of Indian society.

III. The Burden of Restrictions on Girls

A. Physical Restrictions

Dress codes in India have always been a topic of discussion and debate. From the saree to the salwar kameez, girls and women are often told what is “appropriate” for them to wear. This imposition isn’t just about cloth; it’s about controlling a woman’s autonomy and her right to express herself.

Mobility too is a significant constraint. “Don’t go out after dark,” “avoid certain areas,” or “always have a male companion” are commonly heard advisories for girls. These limitations hinder their independence and keep them under a perpetual canopy of fear.

Additionally, girls are often dissuaded from participating in physical activities like sports. Notions that they are “too delicate” or that “sports aren’t for girls” not only hamper their physical health but also their aspirations in athletic fields.

B. Emotional and Social Restrictions

Emphasizing modesty and decency, society often polices a girl’s behavior more than her counterparts. This social scrutiny is especially acute when it comes to friendships and relationships, with many families frowning upon their daughters befriending the opposite sex.

Girls are also traditionally taught to be soft-spoken and submissive, creating an environment where they often feel their opinions are secondary or even invalid compared to those of men.

C. Educational and Career Restrictions

Stereotypes continue to shape girls’ academic choices. Fields like Engineering or Physics, categorized under STEM, are subtly and sometimes overtly recommended to boys over girls. On the other hand, Arts and Humanities are considered more “suitable” for girls.

The professional arena too isn’t free from bias. Women are often discouraged from pursuing professions that demand long hours or those that are deemed “too challenging” for them. There’s also an unsaid expectation for many women to prioritize family over career, leading many to abandon their professional ambitions for domestic responsibilities.

IV. The Burden of Demands on Boys

A. Physical Demands

From a young age, boys are conditioned to believe that they must embody strength and resilience. The adage “Boys don’t cry” isn’t just a saying; it’s a stringent societal command that suppresses emotional vulnerability. This demand for physical strength isn’t limited to emotional resilience. Boys are also encouraged, sometimes forced, to partake in physical activities and sports, even if their interests lie elsewhere.

B. Emotional and Social Demands

The social expectation that boys must remain stoic and emotionally reserved perpetuates a culture where they struggle to express their feelings. This emotional bottling not only leads to mental health issues but also fosters a society where understanding and emotional intelligence become secondary virtues.

Boys are further burdened with the expectation of becoming the primary breadwinners for their families. This not only limits their career choices but also places an undue strain on them from a young age. They’re also subjected to peer pressures that emphasize being ‘macho’ or dominant, pushing them towards aggressive behaviors and deterring them from embracing more compassionate roles.

C. Educational and Career Demands

Educational stereotypes dictate that boys are naturally better at subjects like Math and Science, pushing them towards STEM fields even if their passion lies elsewhere. This stereotype also belittles boys who excel in Arts, leading them to face mockery from peers.

In the professional world, boys face pressure to opt for traditionally ‘male’ professions, those that are considered more stable or lucrative. Consequently, careers perceived as ‘feminine’ or those that might not align with the stereotype of male-dominated roles, such as nursing or primary education, are often looked down upon, dissuading many talented males from pursuing them.

V. Socio-Cultural Influences and Their Role

A. Media and Representation

Media plays an enormous role in shaping societal perceptions. Indian movies, advertisements, and television shows often portray regressive gender roles. Men are typically represented as strong, dominant figures, while women are often depicted as submissive or as mere accessories to their male counterparts. Such representation not only reinforces stereotypes but also denies the younger generation the opportunity to witness diverse gender roles.

B. Religion and Traditions

Religious texts and their interpretations have, over time, been used to reinforce traditional gender roles. Although many ancient texts celebrated the power and intelligence of women, over time, selective interpretations have curtailed their significance.

Furthermore, cultural festivals and rituals in India often have predefined roles for men and women. For instance, in many traditions, men are the primary participants, with women playing passive or supportive roles, reflecting and reinforcing societal hierarchies.

C. Economic Factors

Economic disparities between genders can’t be ignored. The wage gap, where women earn less than men for the same job, perpetuates the notion that men are superior or more valuable. This economic structure not only diminishes women’s role in society but also pressures men to adhere to their roles as primary earners.

VI. Consequences of These Gender-specific Disciplines

A. Mental Health Consequences

The restraints on girls and the pressure on boys don’t exist in isolation; they lead to significant repercussions on mental health. Girls, constantly belittled and restricted, often develop issues like low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Simultaneously, the societal pressure for boys to be stoic results in suppressed emotions, leading to stress, depression, and in extreme cases, even substance abuse.

B. Impact on Relationships

The internalized gender roles and expectations play out in personal relationships as well. Many marriages and partnerships suffer because of unrealistic expectations — men feeling the strain of being the sole providers and women grappling with the challenge of managing home and aspirations. Additionally, friendships too are affected. The deeply entrenched idea that boys and girls can’t be “just friends” limits the depth and nature of cross-gender friendships.

C. Economic and Social Impact

By limiting the opportunities and aspirations of half the population through gender-specific disciplines, societies inadvertently stifle their growth. For instance, by discouraging women from pursuing careers in STEM or leadership roles, a vast pool of potential talent goes untapped. Similarly, by pressuring men into specific careers, we miss out on potentially great caregivers, educators, and artists.

Moreover, when a society is deeply divided by gender norms, it fails to harness diverse perspectives, leading to a monolithic view that can hinder innovation, creativity, and holistic progress.

VII. Solutions and Ways Forward

A. Educational Interventions

One of the primary solutions lies in education. Schools should incorporate gender studies and equality lessons early on, fostering a sense of equality and mutual respect. Co-ed schools and activities can also play a significant role in breaking barriers, promoting understanding, and reducing gender biases.

B. Policy Changes

Governments and institutions have the power to enact and promote policies that challenge and change the status quo. Implementing stricter laws against gender discrimination in workplaces and offering parental leaves for both genders can go a long way in leveling the playing field.

C. Media and Awareness Campaigns

The media, given its vast reach, can play a transformative role. By promoting movies, series, and advertisements that break away from traditional gender stereotypes, it can influence societal perceptions positively. Concurrently, awareness campaigns emphasizing mental health’s importance, especially regarding societal pressures, can create a more compassionate environment.

VIII. Conclusion

In the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.” As we reflect upon the restrictions placed on girls and the demands on boys, it becomes evident that for society to truly progress, these shackles must be broken. Only by freeing both genders from the weight of age-old conventions can we pave the way for an egalitarian, inclusive, and thriving society. The journey ahead may be long and fraught with challenges, but with collective resolve, change is not just possible; it is inevitable.

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Neha Singh


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