Friday, November 30, 2012

The Journey 334

Read: Luke 10:38-42
    As Christmas time approaches, homes are bombarded with catalogs of Christmas artifacts, gifts, books and toys. One of the toy retailers are creating ruffles not at the kind of toys that are being marketed but by the claims and ads that they are promoting about gender neutral toys. Gender neutral toys? What does that mean?. Remember those first toys that parents or relatives presented?. The boys would normally be presented something like a building blocks, or an electronic car  while the girls would normally be gifted with baby dolls or teddy bears. We all know that a particular socialization process takes place in the life of every child. This socialization process is dependent on the society, the culture and the family background in which the child grows. There are different socialization agencies like family, school, the society that teaches the child how to behave, and to show age appropriate behaviors both as a girl or as a boy. Thus it is common for parents to buy toys like Spiderman, toy soldiers, batman and war kits, toys that is full of adventure  for their boy child, while girl child is  normally given toys like Barbie dolls or toy kitchen and games that are less adventurous. It is this stereotype of toys is what a retail store in Sweden “Toys R Us” have challenged. Thus this month they  have brought into the market toys with the ads and catalog claiming that these toys are gender neutral toys.  Their catalog has photographs of a girl playing with a toy gun while a boy is playing a baby doll. Along with these pictures are also boy and girls using toy kitchen and playing with Barbie dolls. Boys playing with Barbie dolls? . People may think this as weird. But then the according to the toy retailers, the toy manufactures wanted people in Sweden to celebrate Christmas with gifts and toys that are more gender neutral and also in the process reflect values of gender equality that Swedish people appreciate. In fact the whole issue of wanting gender neutral toys started in 2008, when a class of Sweden sixth graders complained to the countries advertisement law  makers, that Christmas catalog of Toys R Us were filled with ads that reflected an outdated gender roles through toys.  The complaint of sixth graders were upheld, and the law authorities called the catalog as degrading to both the genders. Hence the effort of the toy retailers to market gender neutral toy so that both boys and girls are able to see more real life situation even while playing with toys, rather than through toys teach stereotyped roles to each of the genders. The cause behind the toy retailers in publicizing gender neutral images of toys need to be appreciated, but I think we need to look beyond gender neutral toys. It is true that toys can create and reinforce stereotype roles in gender based roles, but we need to go beyond the concept of gender neutral toys to real life situation where not only roles but also the appreciation of gender or sex is seriously considered. In a context like India, where female foeticide is so rampant and increasing in leaps and bounds, appreciating the birth of girl child and empowering the girl child is of utmost importance, if a society needs to move beyond the bounds of stereotyped roles in both girl and boys. One of the major cause of marital discord or family crisis is that spouses often complain the lack of appreciation. You have men complaining that whatever they do in the family is not noticed and they are often considered as an errand boy, while the woman often feels that they have to take multiple roles, doing chores in the kitchen, home maker, professional job and all these goes unnoticed and not appreciated also.  It is heartening to see in families today, roles that are gender free, and hence along with gender neutral roles in the family what is needed today is not only mutual respect and appreciation of each other’s roles but also mutually complementing each other in the varied avenues of professional, family and social life. Let us look into the Word of God as to how Jesus Christ affirms these qualities so that every work done irrespective of ones gender is given due honour and is gender neutral.
                 We are meditating on the theme “Transformed Living” and the  portion that we shall use for our meditation is a very common portion that I have referred a  number of times in this devotional journey itself; Luke 10: 38-42. The home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The home that was a refreshing and resting place for Jesus Christ, because of the warmth and the intimacy that He shared with Mary,  Martha and Lazarus. But even during times of relaxing and having times of table fellowship, Jesus used opportunities to teach valuable lessons. Here we find two ladies taking up roles that seem to be contradictory. Martha takes up the gender stereotyped role-that of the hardworking kitchen woman. One who feels that her life is condemned working 24 hours in the kitchen, one who feels life is all about cooking and feeding the rest of the family members. But on the contrary Mary takes up a position that is in contrast to the gender role that is assigned to her. She does not play the role of a gracious host, taking care of the culinary needs of the host, on the contrary taking time off, and sitting at the feet of Jesus. When Martha complains I feel what she is telling Jesus Christ is not only the hard labour that she has to do alone, but also the fact that Mary is breaking certain gender roles which she is not supposed to do. Thus when Jesus affirms Mary in the presence of Martha, what Jesus is teaching us and Martha is that every work undertaken is worth, not only one that is done in the kitchen, but also one done outdoor. Here is Jesus empowering Mary to embrace roles that are gender neutral at the same time telling Martha also her worth and work is also appreciated. What is needed today in our family and social life is that both men and woman need to appreciate each other, compliment each other in every avenues of their life and work so that  the next generation observes new socialization practices and process where every role and task is not only gender free but also appreciated and there is honour associated in doing those chores and work whether it is in our professional life, social life or family life.

Rev. Dr. Joe Joseph Kuruvilla