Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Breaking the Male Stereotype

In my son's school, 10th grade boys said they were as much victims of stereo-typing by sex as girls, and felt the stress of having to live up to norms of what it means to be male. Their class teacher asked me to deliver a talk on the subject to an assembly of grades 6 to 12. This is it:

A stereotype was a plate made for printing a page of a book. These plates made sure that every copy of that page was the same - whether the book was printed a hundred times or several million.

Imagine a stereotype on a printing press turning out men - Man 1, Man 2, Man 3 - all the same - 500 million Indian men, all 6’5” tall, with big, long noses, all wearing kurta-pyjamas.

Oops - wrong stereotype! Throw the plate away.

Maybe this is the right one. 5’9” tall, slight paunch, leather briefcase, job in a bank, a wife, 2 kids. 
Hmm - Sounds right. Start printing. 1 million, 2 million, 3 million………...STOP! That’s getting boring.

Stereotypes are boring!!  Even more important, nature doesn’t use stereotypes - people are tall and short; thin and fat; fast and slow.

Some men are gentle, some, er, not quite so. The same for women - they said Indira Gandhi was the only man in her Cabinet - which tells you a lot about stereotypes.

Instead of stereotypes, let’s talk about LIFE.

Life is about being a person. Life is about loving, life is about learning, life is about playing..

Let’s begin with love - the love that all of you know best, the love between parent and child.

For a parent, to have a child is to know a flood of love, to want to hold, and protect, and bring joy. Why should this love know any lines between male and female? Such lines would lessen my joy, and my child’s.....
And so, full of this new love, I washed my child’s nappies; bathed him in a warm tub by the fireplace.
I built a pool for him, and taught him to swim in the Himalayan summer;
I rocked him to sleep - but in my own way -  dancing to Dave Matthews blasting from 4 foot high speakers.
When he woke, I fed him his favourite cashews; and, one September, strapped him on my back, and we walked him up to Pindari glacier for his 2nd birthday.

Where was I male, and where female? I was too busy enjoying being a parent to figure it out.

And then there’s learning

I was a pretty good student in school. All Dads say that - don’t they? But the one subject I consistently failed at was Art. So when we moved to the mountains, and Kedar would play in the garden all day, I decided to teach myself how to draw. I would spend hours at my stone bench, trying to make the squiggles of my pencil look like the tree trunk in front of me.

“The villagers must be wondering what to make of this rich old guy doing what schoolgirls do”,  my wife remarked. I’ll still probably fail at Art, but I learned a lot. Most of all, I deeply enjoyed those two years of sketching and water-colouring. And you know what, when we go back to our little cottage in the forest, I’m going to start sketching again.

Learning should be like love - it should know no boundaries. Certainly not the boundaries between commerce stream and science stream, and arts stream. I’m not knocking schools - Institutions need those boundaries to function efficiently.

But people don’t.

And the world - including the world of learning - is becoming more and more free. The IB curriculum breaks many of those walls down. The Liberal Arts colleges of the west allow you to flit from course to course.

For an adult learner, there is the whole wonderworld of online learning. MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, allow you to pick subjects, levels and teachers from all over the world. Over the last year-and-a-half, I have taken on-line courses in
  • The Physiology of the Athlete.
  • Pricing of Financial Assets
  • Coding for Dummies, and
  • Irrational Behaviour

And Live courses in meditative dancing and tai chi.

Break the Stereotype.

And finally, Playing

Benjamin Franklin said “Most people die at 25, but aren’t buried till they’re 75”.

He was probably exaggerating a bit, but I think he had a point - at a certain age, people fall into a rut, a comfortable one. Even if it’s not too comfortable, you tell yourself - "Sure, I hate this rut, but the others may be even worse, so maybe I should just bump along in this one, and become what Pink Floyd called ‘Comfortably Numb'"

For most people, this rut is - work, family, TV, dinner, sleep. Rinse and repeat.

And what about play? Most adults forget the joy of play. And when their doctor tells them at age 40 that they need to lose weight, the gym becomes this daily torture required to survive.

What a shame! Play is joy - as much a part of life as loving and learning.

Question: When do we become too old to play?

Answer: Never!

Some of you may have heard of this race called the Iron Man. It begins with a 3.8 km swim (that’s about 150 lengths of your school pool), followed by 180 km. of cycling (from here to Jaipur, roughly), and a 42 km. run. You begin at 7 a.m., and If you’re not done by midnight - 17 hours - you’re out. My star Iron athlete is an 84 year-old Christian nun. You heard me right, an 84 year-old nun, called Sister Madonna, who last year became the oldest person ever to complete an Ironman.

So much for the Man in the name, Ironman, So much for stereotypes.

In all of this, I am not saying there are no stereotypes. There are.
But if you want to be happy, be yourself.
Live outside the stereotypes.
Live outside the box.

Remember - each of us is Unique. Each of us - Male or Female -  is Special.
Happiness is found in being ourselves.
More and More of  ourselves each day.

Every day, say “I will be true to myself”
That way lies honesty; that way lies happiness. 
Maybe even Greatness.

Thank You.


  1. Babajee good one, but the draft you sent me earlier was better about "partners" ect.. ?. cant find it here..that was better and will needs to be in your blog. Mo

  2. The end piece was notes for an adult version - didn't really belong in a piece for school kids. I will work on that, too.

  3. Hi Mohit uncle! Just came across this. Really amazing and interesting article!