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How an eight-year-old taught me all about shattering stereotypes

I have a super special girl in my life. She is 10 and possesses unicorn-like powers, or so I am made to believe. Just like all other aunts out there, I love my niece a lot. And just like all other 10-year-olds, she loves the Merrell Twins more than her aunt, or so she’d want me to believe. BTW, their names are Veronica Jo and Vanessa Merrell, and they are extremely popular with youngsters on YouTube. My niece likes to go by the name Frida (her current obsession is Frida Kahlo).

Okay, so when she was eight, she taught me something about men and women, but mostly about humans, genders aside. An anecdote that I am reminded of so often, but one that I like to share on days marked to celebrate the ‘he’ or ‘she’.

Her class assignment for the said day in 2016 was on the topic of stereotypes. The sheet of paper was divided into two. The date on the right, classwork written on the centre; you remember those days, right? On the left side, the header read: ‘Things that boys can do, and on the right side, it read, well, things that girls can do.’ Their job was to fill out the blanks.

She spent the 30-minute class in writing what she felt were things that the two genders could do. To help, the teachers and classmates threw in a few ideas as well, ‘My dad plays cricket on weekends; my mum makes amazing pancakes; my brother can jump really high; I host the best tea party…’

When it was time to submit the assignment, she ended up with a blank sheet. At the bottom, she wrote: “I think both boys and girls can do everything.”

When my sister shared an image of her work with me, I was all smiles. Silly giggles too. So was she!

She’d written it all, but gone ahead and erased the words. Her reasons: She had argued with herself over each point and found every answer incorrect. Mum is the world’s best cook. Well, dad is not so good at it, but he can make a decent omelette. And George (Calombaris of MasterChef fame) cooks up a storm on the telly and otherwise. Mum is the best French Plait hairstylist in the world. But dad can make a loose ponytail for me. As a five-year-old, I used to love ballet, though there were more girls in my class. But then, on YouTube, I’ve seen Swan Lake by men.

So yes, boys can do everything that girls can. And the opposite is also true. I learnt so.

It’s only a matter of time when we accept and embrace it all. Whoever thinks otherwise is in for a surprise! Thanks to Anna and Ella, (of Frozen) many birthday parties for little girls are now a shade of blue. Thanks to LEGO, our little ladies are building their dreams block by block. Thanks to Barbie, they’re aspiring to study STEM and be astronauts. Thanks to the women around us, we’re teaching the little girls that it is okay to be different, courageous, and boyish. To wear hair short, to climb mountains. To question, seek and argue. To be themselves.

The world around us is changing. Boys are being told it’s okay to cry. Girls are being told is okay to fight. We’re shattering stereotypes and how. And what better than to start young.

Here’s wishing all the lovely little girls a belated Women’s Day and a toast to education that can free our mind, not control it.

You can (do) be whoever (whatever) you wish to be. This day and all the rest are yours. Carpe Diem!


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