Memories of my childhood are pleasant. Unlike the tough times I had as a teenager. There are soothing associations. Like trees and butterflies and romping in open space and wild bushes.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t born in any valley full of pine trees and flowing streams. But very much here. The hot, humid city with no mountains and only the sea which was far away; it wasn’t a forest. But Karachi was no concrete jungle either when I was a kid. Some twenty years ago.
The houses were few and far apart. There were wild creepers, thorny bushes, cacti, jasmine and guava trees. The kids were numerous. It was a joint family.
My cousin sister and I loved to catch butterflies with bare hands, watch with fascination their dazzling patterns and hold them till our fingers were tainted with the colours of their wings. And then we would set them free.
One of my cousin brothers made a wooden frame and fixed it up with a net. It looked like a small cage. He caught butterflies with a dupatta which he stole from his mother’s wardrobe. He would lock the butterflies in the box and feel very happy and proud.
Though he did free the exhausted butterflies at the end of the hunting expedition, we thought it was cruel. He thought we were silly.
The boys climbed the trees, plucked guavas. They could get down and run before the owner of the house would come out. We couldn’t do that. They thought they were brave and we cowards.
Later, when I grew up and reflected at little girls’ behaviour I wondered why being different meant being silly or a coward?
I was told boys are by nature more aggressive and task-oriented. Girls are docile and sentimental and it’s because of their chemistry. And I knew all along that aggression and task orientation were the qualities people considered superior, and docility, sentimentality, were scoffed at. I came across researches and studies which only affirmed the male interpretation of girls’ behavior.
Now there is a wind of change in the realm of social sciences: if little girls don’t feel like capturing butterflies, climbing trees, stealing fruits, playing video games, it means they value things differently.
Finally there is somebody out there who is studying the little girls and who speaks about the “differential access of the genders to certain kinds of understanding, not the superiority of one gender over the other”.
Her name is Carol Gilligan. She is a professor at Harvard and she thinks little girls are the key to the future.
Girls seem less energetic and are labelled as ‘having a problem with aggression’ because they don’t let their energy out. “What if instead you took these seemingly peace-loving souls and before you so readily attribute their behaviour to biology you asked in all seriousness, “What is it about the way women deal with conflict that makes it less likely to erupt in violence?” asks Gilligan..
“Our notions of winning and losing have been rendered obsolete by nuclear technology, so we need a new set of rules, and you in fact have this microcosm of little girls who’ve been saying that they don’t like to play games where people win and lose and get their feelings hurt and feel bad—I mean, instead of ignoring them or thinking there’s something wrong with them, why aren’t we out there studying them?”
Her book In a Different Voice, published in 1982 a study of contrasting ways of defining and developing morality, is predicated on the finding that men tend to see the world in terms of their autonomy (and are over-threatened by intimacy), whereas women tend to see the world in terms of connectedness (and are over-threatened by isolation).
Little girls view things differently. Their outlook is holistic, global. Because male values are considered the norm, when they are about twelve, girls begin to see their own experience disappear from the representation of human experience. Thus begins the self-effacement typical of girls from puberty onward.
“Girls begin to become aware that bringing in their own values is going to make trouble. So they start waiting and watching for other people to give them their cues as to what their values should be. And of course, the irony is that since they’ve very tuned in to other people, they’re very good at this.”
The girls give up their own ethical perspective at 11. They retain the female view of connectedness of humanity but they begin to regard that view as appropriate only within the “interpersonal sphere” — not the big world.