Women Empowerment lessons from movie Dangal

women-empowerment-lessons-from-movie-dangal-1

“Maari chhoriyan  chhoron se kam hai ke”

Translated in english it means – ” Are my girls any less than boys?

What a line. If one line can transform lives, then it has to be this line which summarizes the core of this inspiring story. It is this belief of Mahavir Singh Phogat, the erstwhile wrestler that changes the destiny of phogat daughters and of future generations of women wrestlers. This is such a powerful line and shows through movie the potential of outcomes when girls are believed to be equal to boys. The movie Dangal which is a biopic on women wrestling champions -Geeta and Babita Phogat is special because it depicts an inspiring journey of a father and his girls who dare to dream and make that dream come true even when all adds were stacked up against them.

Odd # 1 Family lives in  socially regressive Haryana infamous for skewed sex ratio, female feticide and khaps.

Odd # 2 Lower middle class family with limited resources and more vulnerable to societal pressure. ” What people will say” matters in that world.

Odd # 3 Choosing a uncoventional career which is unfavorable to women – wrestling. Traditionally wrestling has been a male domain and when you imagine a wrestler, you imagine a man. It was akin to imagining the unimaginable, doing the undoable.

Geeta won gold at commonwealth games and has been the first woman wrestler from India to qualify in Olympics. The legendary story of Mahavir Phogat making wrestling champions out of his daughters is told through a high-profile motion picture – Dangal and has also many lessons for women empowerment. Let’s take a look at them:

Lesson # 1  Children’s(specially girls) destiny lies in hands of parents to a larger extent.

While it is true everywhere and for all children, this is particularly true for Girls in India specially in small towns, in regressive societies and lower socioeconomic families. The eureka moment was when the father realises that his daughters have potential and the gender doesn’t matter in fulfilling his dream of making his child an international wrestling champion. What matters is that parents believe in gender equality and provide girls equal opportunities and choices. It was a girl who was being married off at young age and was unhappy about it makes young Geeta and Babita see that how lucky they are to have a father like Mahavir who has not thrown them into life of early marriage/domesticity and is giving them a shot at life same as any son would have got. Indeed if it was not for a social barriers breaking father like Mahavir Singh Phogat, Geeta and Babita’s destinies would have been same as other girls of their age, place and time. There would have been neither the inspiring story nor the movie to write about.

Lesson# 2 Social Barriers, Stereotypes and glass ceilings have to be broken once and they remain broken for all.

While the movie mainly covered the journey of Geeta’s making into a wrestling champion and it mirrors the life of similar other women wrestlers. Why Geeta’s story is significant because it was she and with her Mahavir Phogat who breaks first time the social barriers  and gender stereotypes.  On every step of the journey , a stereotype or social barrier was broken and prevailing rulebook was challenged :

  • Girls starting physical training to be wrestler.
  • Girls shunning traditional wear for boys clothes – shorts and Tee
  • Girls cutting the long hair for boy cut. Even mother cried here.
  • Cooking non vegetarian food in a vegetarian household. Mother too resisted this.
  • Wrestling with boys in dangal.
  • Mocked by school friends, neighbors, sports officials and who not.

When Babita or other girls would have gone through same path, it must have been somewhat easier for them as the glass ceiling was already broken and rule book already changed. It was now under imagination that a girl can also be a wrestler. That’s why it is so important for any glass ceilings/ barriers/stereotypes to be broken first time as it paves the way for others who would walk the same path. Somebody has to break the social barriers and barriers remain broken for all. It not only serves the person breaking it but indirectly empowers all who come after them and that’s why their stories are celebrated and lauded.

Lesson # 3  Conviction. Focus on goals. Self Belief. Hard work. Sacrifices & trade-offs.

Evergreen recipe for success. Father’s conviction in his own dreams and in turning that dream into reality led to convictions of all around him, mother and daughters themselves. There were also sacrifices made. The phogat girls didn’t have normal childhood or any other regular pleasures of children of their age in pursuit of a larger goal in life.

Lesson # 4 Success changes everyone’s negative attitude into positive

The same society which was mocking the phogat family starts respecting them and welcomes the champion Geeta like a hero and she becomes pride of her village. Even though society and others will discourage girls from pursuing their dreams or any unconventional career but if you achieve success, fame and money, the same people will not only accept you but also respect you. Success changes people’s perspectives and persepctives matter.

23mahavir-singh-phogat1
Real Mahavir Singh Phogat with his girls and medals. Source: Rediff.com

Night before the final bout of commonwealth games, father tells Geeta that this fight is not only with opponent but with the ” mindset” that girls are not equal to boys and this mindset is root cause for gender inequality, denying girls opportunities to life, career and choices. Cheers to Geeta who proved his father’s belief in her right but she couldn’t have done if it had not been for his father, the real hero of this story, Mahavir Singh Phogat- a brave man, an inspiring father and a social barriers shattering figure not only for his daughters but for all young girls and their parents in this country. Salute to him for believing that “maari chhoriyan chhoro se kam hain ke”.

Advertisements

Are we falling into “Gender Trap” when raising children ? PART II

1898-quotes-about-parenting
Source: Quoteaddicts.com

Read more about importance of raising children in gender neutral way in my PART I of this blog series. Here are few more questions we must be asking ourselves as parents to make sure that we are not falling into gender traps in raising our children.

Are we encouraging gender stereotypical behaviours in our children. Girls – feminine. Boys – Masculine?

97c85bbf1bd048f487801d1007495f26
Source: Pinterest

Look at the list here. Are we consciously or unconsciously encouraging behaviours which reinforce gender stereotypes? Do we tell girls to speak softly, be gentle, not to interrupt and wait more for their chance to speak at cost of becoming passive, submissive and fragile.Are we encouraging boys to become manly right from childhood by telling things such as ” boys don’t cry, don’t be weak and encouraging rough and tough behaviour? Have you ever dismissed an inappropriate behaviour of your son by thinking ” boys will be boys”?

Are we setting girls on unending pursuit of beauty and perfection ?

Are we focusing on appearance of our girls and talent of boys?  Does appreciation for our girls focus around them being pretty and beautiful. Do we often tell our boys that they are smart and intelligent? Media messaging is already doing so by tagging beauty and pretty with advertisements targeted at girls. Look at the magazine cover below. As per the magazine, girls life and efforts should be around dream hair, fashion and waking up pretty rather than exploring future and careers as in Boys life cover.

girls-life-boys-life
Source: Huffingtonpost.com

A graphic artist designed her own cover based on the message she thought Girls’ Life should convey as below. Why should a girl’s only worries be about her looks, makeup and fashion.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-1-48-26-pm-e1473886138461
Source:Cateherineyoungcreative.com

Are we promoting different set of rules for girls and boys ?

Do we believe that working or pursuing careers post education is optional for girls and mandatory for boys? This is a key one here, doing as above is one reason for the leadership pipeline leakage of women in corporate and why women voluntarily drop out of organised workforce. There has to be one set of rules. Optional or mandatory whatever you tell them has to apply to both genders. I can not stress the importance of teaching your children especially daughters the significance of being financially independent and carving out an identity for themselves outside of roles of a daughter, wife and mother.

Are we promoting gender specific subjects and careers ?

Are we promoting subjects tagged to genders through misconceptions such as Maths – Boys and Languages – Girls. Most of the time these are prophecies which prove themselves true for simple reason that you are going to do well in anything you believe you can do well and put in the required hard work to master a subject. Are we encouraging indirectly  stereotypical career streams such as Teaching /Medical or Fashion/Design for girls and Engineering/Science/Robotics for boys.

Are we teaching our kids gender equality values in sharing household chores? 

Are we asking our girls to help in kitchen and household chores but not the boys ? This one is also very important. If we need to increase participation of man in sharing household chores in future, we need to expose children to gender equality in kitchen early on. As per a research, on an average, an indian man spends only 19 min on household chores compared to  104 minutes a man in Denmark spends on doing household chores. Indian men have a lot to catch up.

If anytime as a parent, you have a yes as answer to any or many of questions raised above, it is time for you to think deeply, reflect on serious repercussion of your choices as parents will have on future of your children and on what person they are to become in future. You need to quoterealize the subtle and subconscious gender stereotype traps you are falling into. You need to work to break free from gender stereotype shackles set in place by society since mankind evolved.

The best way to make a gender equal world is to raise children in gender equal way. If children would grow up to be adults who understand and believe in gender equality, that is the only way real and sustainable way to make a world which is fair to half of its population.

Recommended Read: google-tell-me-is-my-son-a-genius on nytimes

Are we falling into “Gender Trap” when raising children ? PART I

It is important for parents to evaluate periodically if they are raising their children in most gender neutral way? We should be mindful of not falling into the gender traps set by society since ages. W137039-quotes-about-raising-childrene don’t even realise that as parents we are allowing or sometimes even promoting behavior which is sowing seeds of gender inequality in young impressionable minds of our children. World is gendering little children and as a parent it is our responsibility to protect our children from getting stereotyped. Here are some key pertinent questions which would tell us if we are raising our children in gender neutral way.

Are we drowning our girls in ocean of pink ?

Pink is for girls and blue is for boys. This one has gone too far. There is also a gender discrimination here as you do witness newborn boy babies getting gifts or apparel in blue color and newborn girls in pink but as they grow blue goes away and all colors except pink or peach come in for boys but girls are drowned in pink  for another 7-8 years. At Least it would have been fairer to girls if blue had stuck to boys the way pink stuck to girls but that’s not the reality. I have a 3-year-old daughter and without my ever picking up pink stuff for her or promoting pink as a color , pink is her favorite color. Everything she wants is in only one color and that’s pink. I do not know how to “de-pink” her and bring to her attention the diversity and beauty of all other colors. There is nothing wrong with pink color but then there is nothing special also about pink color which other colors don’t have. Just because she is a  girl, a child’s color palette should not be limited to pink or purple.

gorgeous
Source: Pinterest

Are we choosing extracurricular activities classes for our children through invisible gender tinted glasses? Dance for girls and sports for boys – sounds familiar?

Activities beyond studies are very important as these activities not only shape a child’s personality but also shape his or her point of views and opinions. For children between age 3-8, when there isn’t any preference or particular interest of child, parents choose the activities which sometimes mirror their own interests and sometimes mirror gender stereotypical norms. In Dance classes, you would find more girls than boys and in sports classes, more boys than girls. I would recommend to expose your child to both and then let the child choose. Here also, many girls are kept away from sports & related activities only because  these have been categorised as boys stuff. Imagine what would have happened if Saina Nehwal or PV Sindhu would have not been introduced to badminton. A Sport not only teaches you a skill but also the lessons in teamwork and grit. Sports shape your personality. Let’s not keep our girls away from the amazing world of sports.

Are we choosing gender neutral toys for our children or as gifts for other children?

toys
Source: http://assets.change.org/

Why do we buy LEGO or Thomas & Friends engines for boys but not girls? Why does a girl get to play only with Barbie doll, read princess stories and watch movies such as Frozen. In my daughter’s second birthday, barring few, most of the gifts were either kitchens sets/house plays or Barbie related toys. Why don’t we gift girls Lego sets, cars or engines ? By not doing so, we deny them the exposure to another world itself and thus keep them away from developing multi dimensional interests and personality. Girls like Barbie because that’s what they get to play with- at home, in friend’s house or at birthday parties. Toys Industry is promoting gender stereotyping which contributes to gender inequality in a way. Visit any aisle of girls section in a toy store and you would find plenty of Kitchen sets, house sets, makeup kits, hair dryer kits and scores of barbie and her friends as if the world is getting young girls ready for their future jobs in kitchen and house. This one has serious repercussion in promoting gender inequality in household chores when these children grow up and are playing with real house and kitchen sets. Read my blog on gender inequality in sharing household chores  here.

Read further on gender traps when raising children in concluding PART II of this blog series.