28 August, 2013

Don't feed The Rape Culture - Teach children the importance of consent, empathy and respect !!

(Pic courtesy : addictinginfo.org via Google)

Yet another gang rape, yet another spate of protests and furore and now people are busy discussing and arguing whether Mumbai is going the Delhi way.  To begin with, where does this question even come from ?  Is one city safer than the other ?  In India, there have been reports of tourists being gang raped in places like Manali – so then, all of a sudden, does that make Manali more unsafe than Delhi and Bombay put together ?  My question is “does it matter which part of the country it takes place in ?”  The main issue here is the rapes that are still taking place with impunity. 

There will be more protests, people will clamor, there will be demands for chemical castration or even the death penalty.   Are these really the solutions to a problem that is as prevalent and endemic, as widespread as sexual abuse and rape ?  Not quite.  What one really has to ask oneself is “what can be done to educate our children in this regard ?”.  The one irrefutable thing that all of us need to bear in mind is the fact that children are the future.  So, if there is no attempt made to educate the future generations about issues like sexual abuse, rape, being sensitive towards the needs and feelings of others, understanding that a NO means a NO and that a NO does not mean a MAYBE or a YES, what foundations do we hope to build ?  If this does not start at the family level, especially in a country as populous as India, how can we even begin to hope for a safer, more secure country for the future generations to grow up in ?

I’ve noticed this tendency among the children at the school I teach in.  When kids hit their pre-teen years, there is a natural curiosity about the bodies of the opposite sex.  Bodies undergo changes and many of those changes are visible – especially in the case of girls, since girls mature earlier than boys.  Now this has led to a situation at school where the boys think it is perfectly alright to go ahead and tease the girls about their physical attributes.  The girls who are more than aware of the changes taking place in their bodies only retreat further into their shells because I guess no one has ever talked to them about these changes.  No one has actually put it into words and told them that it is a natural part of growing up – for a girl to grow breasts as her body starts releasing hormones during the teen years.  No one has actually spoken to them, I guess, that having a period is a normal part of the growing up process.  More than all these, I guess no one has ever spoken to the boys at school about how girls too have feelings and sentiments and that they ought to be respected.  The boys have to be educated about this.  Just because a girl is growing breasts does not automatically make her a ready target for their catcalls and their wisecracks.  Nor does having a penis make them superior to the girls in any way or give them a right to behave boorishly. 

Whether we like it or not, we live in a society that is evolving by the minute.  The pace of change affects children even more so because they, at this age, have minds that are more gullible than ours.  We are bringing up our kids in a society in which peer pressure has more of a push now than it did when we were children.  What peers say, matters.  What peers think about them, matters to them a great deal.  We are bringing up our kids in times when information is there for the taking.  Newspapers, the internet, magazines or social media websites – are all open fields, waiting for information to be sought and gleaned.

Take movies or TV serials, for instance.   There is no denying the fact that as things stand now, girls and women are still viewed as a conquest of sorts in many movies or serials.  Falling in love or being sexually active are viewed more as a victory or a triumph, a conquest, if you may, rather than something that is born out of consent, mutual affection and desire.  There are books like “Fifty Shades of Grey” where the main protagonist in the book “agrees to take” the female protagonist’s virginity without the two of them “signing an agreement”.   Makes it sound like a favor that the male protagonist is bestowing on the female.  There are scores of youngsters who have ready access to books like these or many of the movies, where male superiority and dominance over females is clearly the underlying theme.

Every single time a child picks up a newspaper or a magazine that asks “what was the women doing out so late at night ?” “Was she drunk ?” “Was she improperly clothed ?” “Did she have a lot of boyfriends ?”  “Was she already sexually active ?” – thought processes are unconsciously being implanted in those susceptible minds.  Their minds are automatically being driven towards associating these notions with the idea that if these conditions were present then it was the woman that was asking for it, that it was the woman that was to blame.  We, as adults, are comprehensive enough to realize that no woman ever asks to be sexually assaulted or raped.  No woman ever asks to be violated.  How about the younger generation ?  Who’s going to teach them to read between the lines here and get the point across that if it has happened, it is not the woman who is the instigator, as the media and people rather conveniently seem to deem and assume.

The Indian society gives boys a lot many more concessions than it does the girls.  Things like sensitivity and empathy are not a “requirement” in a boy’s psyche as per the Indian society of yore, simply because they are males.  Boys need to be educated, they have to be taught about consent, they have to be taught about respecting others’ feelings and sentiments, they have to be educated about the evils of peer pressure.  They have to be taught that there are lines which are not meant to be crossed.  I do know, as my own son grows up, that this is easier said than done.  When those teen hormones are raging through them, it takes very little to drown out the parents’ voices and replace them with those of other teens who are equally testosterone driven.  But that is no excuse for not trying to educate them in the first place.  It is a parental responsibility and one that needs to be taken just as seriously as we take their education and the many other aspects of their lives that we deem important.

Many of the outraged responses to the Mumbai gang rape have been on the lines of “how could parents have raised such monsters ?”.   We should not be viewing this as an isolated incident, should we ? Fact remains that it is not.  It is a culmination of all the inputs, albeit indirect, that society and the media have been shoving into their heads ever since the time they could read or see something and comprehend the same.  It is a sum total, it is a result of never having been taught to respect consent.

We, as parents, have a parental responsibility in believing and carrying forward on the premise that we need to actively do our bit in raising our children to be more responsible citizens and more importantly, more caring and empathetic human beings.  We, as a collective, as parents, need to make serious changes in the manner in which we talk to and convey to our children the importance of sex, consent, empathy and respect and how they are inextricably interlinked.

1 voice(s) said so:

Tomichan Matheikal said...

Very sane view. Parents have the primary duty to inculcate both knowledge and values in their children. The society in general is going the wrong way. Too much commercialisation. Everything is a commodity now, on sale. Love is also seen as one such commodity. Increasing rape rate is one aspect of that world view. Of course, the issue is not as simple as this. There are other aspects too: quest for pleasure, belief that profit is the only value...