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Rishi Sankhla

IWB Blogger

40 Years Ago, Kamla Bhasin Rewrote Sexist Nursery Rhymes. Today, IWB Takes Her Fight Forward

  • IWB Post
  •  March 7, 2018

Jhonny Jhonny and Humpty Dumpty immediately come to our mind when we think about children’s rhymes. But how many of us have ever given a thought to the inherent sexism that is rampant in most nursery rhymes? Kamla Bhasin did and decided to rectify it by writing her own gender-neutral rhymes. 

Most of the rhymes that we teach our kids feature men going to work and women taking care of household work. Or they talk about young boys playing outside while the girls are being taught to work and help their mothers. These rhymes showcase everyday sexism that is often easy to miss but can leave a long-lasting impact on kids’ minds. Back in the 80s, when Kamla was looking for poems to read to her daughter, she realised that those rhymes were full of sexist stereotypes. She was horrified and did not want her daughter to grow up believing that only men go to work and women take care of the house. So, she wrote her own rhymes.

In her poems, regardless of gender, both men and women do all kinds of work. Inspired by her initiative, we at Indian Women Blog also decided to start a campaign, of rewriting rhymes and breaking sexist stereotypes. So, in collaboration with Kamla Bhasin, we are releasing “Feminist Rhymes”, a series that will feature three creations of Kamla from her book Housework Is Everyone’s Work and three of our original creations.

 

Listen to the rhymes here:

Astronaut Song

Feminist Rhyme: #1 Astronaut Song ( Feminist Nursery Rhymes by IWB )

On #NationalGirlChildDay, we dug deeper into our childhood memories only to find traces of casual #sexism present in the most bittersweet forms. Surprised? Well, so were we! Books are a child’s best friend, right? But these friends can also be a negative influence.

My Mamma

Feminist Rhyme: #2 My Mamma ( Feminist Nursery Rhymes by IWB )

With our second song we continue the campaign we launched on #NationalGirlChildDay, we dug deeper into our childhood memories only to find traces of casual #sexism present in the most bittersweet forms. Surprised? Well, so were we! Books are a child’s best friend, right? But these friends can also be a negative influence.

Rockstar Daddy 

Feminist Rhyme: #3 Rockstar Daddy ( Feminist Nursery Rhymes by IWB )

On #NationalGirlChildWeek, we dug deeper into our childhood memories only to find traces of casual #sexism present in the most bittersweet forms. Surprised? Well, so were we! The rampant sexism in children’s #books, where boys are either brave knights or little Johnnys who want to play while girls are just made of sugar & spice and everything nice, definitely raised concern.

Chug-Chug Train

Feminist Rhymes: Chug-Chug Train

Aimed at promoting #genderjust views in all and confidence in #girlchild, we are releasing the 4th rhyme today: Chug-Chug Train. On #NationalGirlChildWeek, we dug deeper into our childhood memories only to find traces of casual #sexism present in the most bittersweet forms. Surprised? Well, so were we!

Haanji

Feminist Rhymes: Haanji

Aimed at promoting #genderjust views in all and confidence in #girlchild, we are releasing the 5th rhyme today: Haanji On #NationalGirlChildWeek, we dug deeper into our childhood memories only to find traces of casual #sexism present in the most bittersweet forms. Surprised? Well, so were we!

 

Girl in the Mirror

Girl In The Mirror

Aimed at promoting #genderjust views in all and confidence in #girlchild, we are releasing the 6th rhyme today: ‘Girl In The Mirror’. Check the complete collection of rhymes on our YouTube channel here: http://bit.ly/2nBXdQ4 On #NationalGirlChildWeek, we dug deeper into our childhood memories only to find traces of casual #sexism present in the most bittersweet forms. Surprised?

 

Stay tuned as we are releasing more rhymes on our youtube channel, here.

Excerpts from our interview with Kamla:

What is the difference between the mindset of our society in the 80s, when you wrote the poems, and now? 

In the 80s, when I wrote these poems, there were not many families living like that or thinking like that. Today, after almost 40 years, to some extent things may have changed a little bit, because there is much more awareness, that there should be involvement of boys and men in household work. But things have not changed to the expected level, discussions have started and that too because of the efforts of feminists.

My poems are about household work and childcare being done by both the genders. I did not write theory but wrote what was done in my own home. I was a working woman and my partner was a house husband. I wrote these poems because I found that most other children’s rhymes were very sexist. The first thing that can bring a change in this stereotypical mentality of society is education.

Book Cover

Today many women have entered the entrepreneurial world, but even now, not many men are seen taking care of household work. What should be done to change this?

In patriarchy, both boys and girls are pushed into certain kinds of job. Boys are taught to be tough and manly, not to cry and face the world like a warrior. Girls are taught household works and ethics that they need to follow after marriage.

One has to understand that if middle and upper-class women are taking over what is supposed to be men’s work, it requires men to do the women’s work. Men need to realise that and women need to make men realise it because what has happened now is, women are facing a double burden, earning and doing the household work both.

I believe that gender equality cannot come unless household work is redistributed. This is a hurdle in achieving gender equality, we call this fair economy, fair work. Until fair work is not shared, there can be no gender equality.

Should a child be taught about gender equality from the very beginning? 

It is the main responsibility of the parents to teach gender equality to their kids, by setting up examples in front of them in their own houses. But it is also the responsibility of a family, school, educational system, government, media, films, television dramas, and advertisements. It is everybody’s responsibility in all forms of an institution because patriarchy does not exist only within a family. It exists all around and everything influences us as citizens as humans and particularly, education and media. So what children see and learn will definitely affect their mentality also.

Kamla Bhasin

How should the parents start a conversation with their children about sexism?

First of all, parents will be able to teach their children about gender neutrality and sexism, only if they themselves know about it. They teach what they have learnt and they don’t have the courage to challenge the society. This gender stereotyping and telling girls and boys what should be done is perhaps much more in middle class educated families, compared to the poor families. In poor families, children grow up seeing both their parents working and earning but in most of the middle-class families, women don’t work. Children see their mother taking care of household works and father go to earn. They learn that the one who earns money is the powerful and stronger one.

Changes will come not only by changing books and educational system but by changing social-economic realities. For girls, one of the big things that needs to be changed is, don’t give dowry and do not make the daughter realise that she is someone else’s property. I have not only written these children rhymes, but I have been working for gender equality at all levels.

What reactions did you face from society when you were the breadwinner and your partner was a house-husband?

People criticised and it happens when you are breaking the set laws of society that man earns and woman take care of household and children. But many of them also appreciated it. I believe that if people do things, which are more just and more equal, they get both. They get rewards and they get punishments. We cant, and we should not’, give up hope just because people are criticising it. When we begin to change, we have to be ready to accept both criticism and appreciation. The biggest hurdle to bring about change in society is our own fear. We have to overcome this fear if we want to challenge patriarchy.

 

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