A recent piece of news making headlines across the globe is the murder of three sons by their mother in Chicago. The mother went on a blood-soaked rampage because her husband chose to give more attention to their sons rather than their daughter.
The motherly instinct within her sparked and she sought to protect her daughter from a lifetime of patriarchal subjugation and castigation, by choosing to eliminate the threat completely.
This incident highlights two important perspectives on the prevalent gender discrimination and the lengths people go through for equality.
Firstly, given that the mother felt strongly about the discrimination against her daughter, killing her sons in order to break the ‘shackles of patriarchy’ was not the answer. In fact, it is the vilest act a human being can commit. Gender discrimination is a sad fact, but the answer does not lie in tilting the blame towards innocent young children who have played no role in exacerbating the situation.
Secondly, gender discrimination is a much deeper issue that cannot, and should not, be resolved by picking an axe, pun intended, with the men in society. It is the psyche and norms within society that need to be changed via education, awareness and open-mindedness, rather than heinous crimes that send shudders down one’s spine.
Unfortunately, we are born and bred in a culture where the chicken pieces and glasses of pure cow’s milk are reserved for the son or the husband, and where good education is a privilege reserved for males. In Pakistan, gender equality is a notion curtailed to textbooks and individuals, termed as ‘westernised, pseudo liberals’. There are tons of typical aunties out there, babbling about their sons’ 2:1 results, but are completely fine with marrying their daughter right after she completes her A’ Levels! Being a male, though no accomplishment in any sense of the word, is a get-out-of-jail-free card, which is used on such a regular basis that we as a society have become immune to.
Sons are given preference, irrespective of whether they are the first born or fifth born. Women, whether from the elite class, educated background or from the lowest socio-economic echelons of society, continue to churn out daughters until their prized possession, i.e. their son, enters into the world. As soon as he roars his manly cry, the entire family swoons over this little trophy who has been born and shall raise the family’s prestige.
Eighteen years down the lane, he still possesses the same limbs and the same mental faculties as his sister. What families don’t realise is that their prodigal son is just as much a hero as their daughter, if only given an iota of a chance to blossom into her potential. Moreover, it is a puzzling fact that we often hear statements such as ‘girls mature faster than boys’ and ‘girls are smarter than boys because they work harder’, yet in most families males are prioritised over females.
A huge part of the patriarchal problem rampant within our society boils down to gender role socialisation, which was waxed eloquent by the sociologist Emile Durkheim. The reason why some mothers place daughters in second place, irrespective of being women themselves, is because that is the culture and social milieu within which they have been raised.
From familial norms to castigating a woman and a man within traditional roles on TV dramas and films, a woman is subconsciously fed to believe that she is biologically inferior. Books such as ‘Peter and Jane’ continue to be taught in kindergartens all across Pakistan, which define stereotypical roles for girls and boys by depicting Jane in a dress playing with her dolls in doors, whilst Peter is in jeans climbing trees and helping his dad wash the car outside.
Despite hailing from an educated background, I grew up watching my friend’s mother give birth to one daughter after another, in the hopes of fulfilling her mother-in-law’s dream of having a grandson. In my own family, restraining the female within the shadows of patriarchy has never been the case. I have grown up with a grandmother who did her PhD despite having four children, a mother who finished her Masters before accepting any proposals and a father who fought tooth and nail with our relatives to treat the son and daughter equally by sending both of them away from home for education.
This is not to wax eloquent about certain families whilst ridiculing others, but to highlight the need for us to move beyond gender discrimination and start treating both the sexes equally. And for this, both men and women have to assist one another; men need to give women the space to perform, whereas women need to stop victimising themselves in the name of gender.
Again, it is important to reiterate that the issue cannot be solved by tilting the blame onto men. It is a psychological problem that influences the way we perceive the world around us; both men and women are equal players within the game of gender discrimination. And taking innocent lives in the name of protection is never the answer to anything.