I witnessed a group of boys, mostly eight to ten year olds, in the play area singing a movie ‘soup’ song to a girl. The lyrics of the song meant, “Hit her; kick her; leave her; you just don’t need her.”
(If you are not aware of what a ‘soup’ song is, here it is: The hero approaches the heroine in love. If she rejects, the hero creates a break-up ‘soup’ song to express his dejection and hatred toward her, and women in general. This song in particular goes beyond and calls for hurting a woman physically if she is not in favour of a guy’s moves).
And guess what, these little boys in the park picked up a fight with a little girl of their age and used this song in chorus on her!
The director of this movie had asked for a public apology for the song lyrics, but he certainly cannot undo the damages it had already done to the society. Of course, they are little children and may not understand the implication of the song. But there have been cases of women being stalked for rejection in love in the recent years. Though not a direct line can be drawn, the emotional influence of such misogynist media on teenage male lovers cannot be denied.
Movies and TV serials can be realistic depictions of the society out there. Children come to know of how poor people live, how affluents misuse their poverty, how men treat women, how status quo and ego can ruin families and lives, and several such social situations through media. Media is almost the only way children get to know things that can happen outside their homes. That is, in fact, the good side of media because I believe that children need to be exposed to the good and ugly sides of the society.
However, adults have a far greater responsibility today in curating the media content that children are exposed to.
Let’s talk about it in the context of social equality!
M – Media: The power in books & screens to nurture social equality in children
Post #13 of the series: Instilling Social Equality in Children
Coming straight to the point, does it mean that children should not be allowed to watch movies? While it is common in Indian movies to have elements that can be anti-social and let me call some ‘anti-equality’, most Indian families would not want to forego movies and other television programmes because they have become an integral part of their family lives. Let’s acknowledge this truth to agree that this post cannot be practical if it asked parents to shut the televisions off.
What do we do then?
When they are still little, be sensitive to what’s being played in the living room
When they are watching an item song where a girl is dancing amidst a group of drunk males who all seem to enjoy the partying, not to mention that the family does enjoy the partying as well, can we even predict who among the little boys watching the song would grow up visualizing that some women out in the society are properties to be partied with, even if they are not going to see anyone in their own family dancing like that? Can we predict who among the little girls watching the song would grow up visualizing herself like that dancer on the screen being sought after and admired by crores of people?
We certainly cannot!
But what we can certainly do is be responsible and sensible about what’s being played on the screen when they are around. Make a list of objectionable things for your children to watch. For some it could be scenes or dialogues that objectify or derogate women. For some it could be about a caste, religion, or social class. I leave it open to the families because I’ve seen in some families a four-year-old lipsing and and making adult kind of moves and expressions for a highly sexist song can be absolutely normal, while in some families little children making fun of another caste or religion can be just normal.
Choose your ‘No’s early in their development and come to a family consensus to avoid exposing your children to such stuff.
When they are a little older, take every opportunity to ‘explain’
If you are watching a scene with your child where people from the so-called lower rung of the society are ostracized, take the opportunity to explain them that such practices were done years ago but were and never will be an acceptable social or humane thing to do now or ever.
If you are watching a communal riot in the news channel, show them how religious intolerance can lead to violence and death. You wouldn’t be doing any good to your child in glorifying one side and saying how the other religion deserves humiliation and death.
If you are watching a woman being raped or teased, express the right kind of emotions to emphasize the necessity to respect women. More than your words, your emotions about a subject are what will stay in their hearts as they grow.
Don’t miss to show your objection in the usage of derogatory remarks or abusive words against anyone that’s broadcasted in the media irrespective of who it is used against.
Show them media content that promotes social equality
Now here is the positive, and the most powerful side of media!
Have you ever felt inspired while watching a movie scene or hearing a dialogue? Had it got you motivated to do something better in life? Had it cleared some prejudices off your mind?
Would you prefer your children to watch such kinds of media content over the by-default stuff that keeps running in the TV 24/7? The choice is yours!
Make a list of such documentaries or movies. Take time periodically to watch together with the family to instill the right mind set in your children. For instance, show how some children can have different abilities during development like the little boy in Tare Zameen Par. Watch movies that have strong women characters, that normalize widow remarriage, single parenting, LGBT, that break unnecessary stereotypes – to widen the perspectives of the next generation.
Introduce literature that can make children see beyond the smaller circle
A book that I read as a child that had had a strong impact in me about how human lives are far more valuable beyond the hundreds of discriminations is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Her story about world war II moved me to that extent that NL is one place I wish to travel even today to visit the Anne Frank House and the Secret Annex.
Literature is powerful! As adults tap that resource to give profound inspiration to the upcoming generation to make this world a better place!
Accounts on world wars is one as I’ve mentioned that can transcend our limited regional existence to a much wider, global existence. Recently if you had noticed, those people who were against a particular religious practice in schools in a small part of the country were on the same lines with everybody else in the world when the Ukraine war was signaled. When wars are declared, everything becomes a matter of life or death. The war stories have the potential to make us humble for we come very close to the end of lives of ordinary people like you and me.
The next I would recommend is literature on evolution. As a biologist, one subject I like to get deeply involved is evolution. When you understand the bigger picture of how species have evolved over millions of years, the divisions over caste, religion, and languages that came up in just the last centuries would seem small and silly. As a matter of fact, according to the laws of evolution, the kind of progeny that would continue to survive and make healthy progenies are those that have a wide mix of gene pools, in contradiction to the same-caste marriages that the traditional people of our country value highly.
We are currently reading The Story of Life (A first book on evolution for little children) to our five-year old. She now understands how humans are similar to chimps and even farther down to fishes. Tell me, how trivial would it be for a child to know that a species that has evolved so very much is now unhappy with races and colours!