“I know we are teaching our sons to be respectful to both men and women , but what do I teach and tell my daughter?”

Sharing an email.

Dear IHM

I am a regular reader of your blog , and this is something I wanted to share with you and other readers and see if we are all feeling equally helpless.

So we read and hear everyday , about child sexual abuse, rapes in this country , no country for women and other slogans , candle light campaigns, Justice Verma committee and many more. And honestly , nothing seems to have changed, even after last December’s ghastly incident at Delhi . And this scares me.

I have grown up in a very protective background , a loving family where I and my sister were brought up and well educated , and am now settled in a good job. Most  cases of women abuse according to me were ‘oh this happens to under privileged people only ‘ , ‘nothing can happen in broad day light too many people on the road’ , ‘she knew the rapist !, she should have been careful na ‘  and similar thoughts.  Until sometime last year, when I was blessed with life’s most precious gift to me ,my daughter. And things changed. I started worrying about her safety in this country even before she turned 1 ! My norms and thoughts changed , I panicked. And partly it was this panic, which forced me to think of applying  for Permanent Residency in another country and I did.

Ironic, because for the last 9 years despite having many options to move abroad I had not done so , just to be closer to my parents (absolutely no patriotic reasons!).

Now here is why I feel so helpless , is there really nothing you and I can do ? The law , the judiciary is on one side , but as citizens are we that helpless?  I want us to do something , to lead the way somewhere that can at least help the coming generations to some extent , in learning to respect women. But I do not know how , taking to the streets will help momentarily , beyond that it is the mindset and outlook of most Indian men that needs to change , can we drive that change in any  way , that is the answer I am looking for. I know this blog has a variety of readers , some of them are probably already into something on these lines , but is there a way to translate that into a broader and bigger reform movement . I want to know what the other readers think , their opinion .

I know we are teaching our sons to be respectful to both men and women , but what do I teach and tell my daughter , should I panic every time she steps out of the house , should I put this sense of fear in her this early , and advice her not to trust the opposite gender at all ? And the last thought , are all mothers with daughters equally paranoid , or am I over reacting ?

Thank you for listening to my rant..

Related Posts:

What makes women safe on streets?

Of course it was unsafe to ask for lift, but what exactly were their options?

What’s the best way to fight for your rights and freedoms and to prevent Talibanization of India?

Is stalking of girls and women illegal in India?

Would women be in some ways empowered if they saw no shame in what they could risk being called?

“She was warned several times and was used to unethical practices like friendship with boys.”

I do not like reservation.


35 thoughts on ““I know we are teaching our sons to be respectful to both men and women , but what do I teach and tell my daughter?”

  1. I too have the question i pledge to behave “normaly” with my Dil but will my daughter get that treatment.Finally I thought I will support her always and teach her to ask right questions to choose the write partner.
    Yes I am laso worried like u for the bad environment…Would like genuine answers


  2. I am not a parent but I am a daughter, so I will answer this from that perspective.

    Teach her to take no shit from anyone and to seek out her own safety and happiness even, when it goes against what society and tradition dictates.

    Protect her but don’t restrict her life and personality because that’s ineffective. Teach her to talk about her body and to recognise sexual abuse, encourage openness with her. Most rape and abuse does not happen when girls step out to party, statistically, the home and acquaintances are more dangerous. Teach her to recognise danger and report it.

    Personally, I never reported harassment to my parents when growing up because I found it too embarrassing and didn’t want to over-worry them. I wanted to be strong to shelter them.. and this is how a child can feel if they think sharing with you might lead to too much worry (in my case) or might make you restrict their freedom. So I think a measured response is better than paranoia or over-protectiveness.


    • Excellent advice! I strongly agree with you when you say the dangers are at home.. I was a victim of molestation and that happened in my own house not once but three different times by three different people and they were all bloody “extended family”. The girls should be told what touch is a bad touch and be taught self defense which will give her more confidence to move about in non crowded places


      • Shaming the female anatomy is the first step towards oppression. How is child suppose to tell what was done to them when you as a parent told them never to mention the unmentionable parts of their bodies?

        DG recalls her first year of teaching in a college, one of her student told her she was being followed by this guy and she did not encourage him or say anything to him, he just follows her rickshaw from home to college in the morning and college to home in the evening. He does nothing but follow her and that scares her. What scared her more was if her parents came to know of this they’ll withdraw her from college.
        What a shame, that parents will find fault with her and not confront the oppressor. This is a common story. If the parents especially brothers and father confront the oppressor they go to the extent pf bloody war in either way women suffer. Men find no decent way of dealing with women as humans.

        Yes, the first step will be to teach her the names of her private parts and tell her no one has the right to touch her there, it is her private part and it is her body. If someone ever touches her she can come to mommy and tell her who did what. Rest everything will follow.
        Being a God parent of a five year old girl DG has same fears and anxieties so can commiserate.

        Desi Girl


  3. My sentiments exactly. My daughter just turned three and I was trying to explain the other day about ‘places’ on her body where others are not supposed to touch(inspired by an educational video for kids I came across). My husband was listening to our ‘session’ and teased me telling I am paranoid.

    I don’t know if I am actually paranoid but I am gravely concerned. I don’t want to be a mother who would tell her daughter to ‘dress appropriately’ because she is a girl or who impose a curfew of 6pm on her (like my own parents had done). I want her to be independent and have all freedom and fun while she grows up;but on the same time I can see why my Mother was concerned. Its not a perfect world out there :(.
    I do want her to be ready to face it and to be able to react. I want her to be aware of the dangers and be prepared to defend her self ( may be I will enroll her for some marial arts class…he..he)

    On a separate note, I am currently in US and am hoping to move back to India in the near future.Both myself and my husband works in IT field and hence will return from work only after 6 pm. I am not sure if it is safe to leave my kid with a maid after her school? When I was younger I used to hang out in my neighbor’s place after school till my mother/father returned from work. Is that a safe thing to do in today’s world?
    (Also,I think,its not only girl child that are in danger, sexual abuse among children from both gender is said to be rising and I see a shadow of risk on all the kids.Every mother in today’s world must be concerned)


  4. I came to the States in 2009 for MS and have always planned to move back after a couple of years of working here. But my father has, since some time, started telling me not to come back. He has genuine fears about his only daughter coming back amidst mindless corruption, terrorist threats, disregard for females and overall complete neglect of common man. He feels as a woman, I will not have enough independence and career growth here. I am a mech engineer. I laugh it all off. But every time there is a new story of a sexual assault, I see a new worry line on his face. 😦
    Every time out here, some american gets concerned about my choice of moving back, with regards to crime against women, I defend India. A few days back I defended Mumbai and Pune. And few hours later, read about the gang rape. There are plenty of stories on cnn.com to negate my defense. 😦


    • You’re so right. I came to the US in 2009 for my Masters as well. With both sets of parents in India, my husband and I want to go back to India to be closer to them. However, am I willing to bring my future children into an environment that is so toxic for all women? I don’t know. Every time I read such stories, my heart sinks and tells me to just stay put. At least I don’t have the fear of being called a slut for wearing a summer dress….


    • After hearing such news every other day, I also think you’re better off staying there. There’s more independence to women therr as regards to what they wear and who they roam around with. From what I’ve heard, there’s seems to be no judging of women according to that. But, here in India, everyone seems to think it’s their business to what the girl wears or does. Also, being a mechanical engineer, you’re more likely to face harassment here as it is still a majorly male-dominated field with a very rare female engineer here or there


    • You know, you just said exactly what was on my mind, my dad doesn’t want me to come back at all, the rise in crime against women has sent shivers in him. I stay in a beautiful neighborhood in US, have a great job, have a beautiful daughter and a son. Every time I read any of these news, my wish to come back becomes lesser and lesser..


  5. I think we should teach our sons and daughters the same things. Self respect and respect for other people to make their choices and their privacy as long as they are not trampling your space by doing so.

    We should teach our children to be kind. We should teach them that qualities like courage, altruism, leadership do not prefer one gender over the other. We should teach them to be comfortable with the choices they make even if it is not the most popular choice at that time.

    And we should teach them to seek happiness from within before seeking happiness from others.

    Like I said, we should teach them exactly the same things.


  6. Teach your daughter to love herself, to understand that she has the same right to happiness as everyone else.
    Teach her to dream big. What does she want to be? Help her realize her strengths.

    Regarding safety, teach her what is ‘okay’ and what’s not. Good touch = gentle hug from grandma. Bad touch = lingering hug from uncle. She needs to know which body parts are off limits for other people. She needs to be proud of her body rather than ashamed. Teach her to voice her protest at being touched inappropriately loud and clear. Take her concerns seriously rather than dismissing her as a child – but do not panic – deal with any bad situations calmly and firmly. As she gets older, do not make sex a taboo topic. Teach her that it is a natural biological process that can only be allowed to happen with complete, unequivocal consent. Be openly communicative and be willing to answer questions. Sex education is not yet happening in our schools so it is up to parents to educate. Teach her to be assertive with her body – as she becomes an adult, she needs to understand that nobody is allowed to touch her without her permission.


  7. what do we teach our daughters? that the only thing that can stop them is their own fear. Kiran Bedi said in an interview that as a national level badminton player, she had to get off at stations at 1 in the night and travel on rickshaws. her hair was cut short so that by the time someone could second guess her gender, she was gone. i thought that was practical and empowering.

    As the mother of a son, i worry too. i wrote about it once.

    Above all else, teach your daughter the importance of self respect. teach her the practical stuff – the karate, the self defence classes, the shooting, financial independence, voice modulation. But teach her also that rare thing – the strength of the spirit, which Jyoti Pandey had. She may have died. But she died fighting.

    What empowers men is not the weakness of women. it is the silence of women. Teach your daughter to never be silent.

    I have seen women being silenced at multiple fora, in multiple ways. But that is the exact reason why we must refuse to be silenced. Teach our daughters noise.


    • DG traveled past midnight in the unreserved compartments of trains sitting on her VIP suitcase and roadways buses all through 1990s, she slept in the railway waiting rooms she always had long hair, hair or no hair is not the question but the strength of spirit that matters.

      You rightly said, “What empowers men is not the weakness of women. it is the silence of women.”
      A loud woman is chastised and defamed but it is the loud woman who brings the change silence only bred isolation resulting in oppression.

      Desi Girl


  8. Children should be brought up the same way irrespective of Gender. One should protect them dearly when they are young . When they are at an appropriate age age, they should be given a gradually graded exposure of the outside world . The end game being making them financially independent and well thought out. Additionally on a more personal note, i feel that a child should also be given a strong moral compass and taught a passion for learning/ work ethic as far as possible ( Though it is something that depends from parent to parent to choose)


  9. I know all the stories out there seem scary and bleak, but you need to keep in mind two things-

    -Restricting freedom in the name of safety is actually pointless.
    I understand it will be hard as a parent in India to give the same amount of physical freedom to a girl, as you would give a boy (purely from a safety perspective), but I’m sure you appreciate that sexual harassment is not time or dress or even location dependent. So it’s unhelpful at best, and damaging at worst, to introduce the idea that she needs to be extra careful because of her gender. She is sure to hear this message from other sources, so it’s far better to be a parent who teaches her to live her life fully.

    -The issue here is not your daughter’s safety, but your own paranoia. You need to accept that you cannot control her environment 24/7 because that is next to impossible. And yes, all though the media is full of horrible stories, there are plenty of women who have had free and happy lives in India.There are ups and downs, but the trend is undeniably positive overall.

    If you live life dwelling incessantly on the potential risks to her sexual safety, it will adversely affect you both.


  10. No matter where she is on this planet, your daughter is in danger. That is a fact. I very strongly suggest you get her into martial arts classes as soon as she is able. They teach not only how to protect yourself, but also self-discipline and self-esteem. Of course, you need to check out the school and the teachers carefully; not all are skilled with children, especially girls, and some of the male teachers are not trustworthy. I know many parents think this too extreme, but there is no substitute for being able to take care of yourself.

    All those other things, respect, love, courage and the like are very important, but they don’t count for much if she’s lying dead in a ditch somewhere because she didn’t know how to protect herself.


  11. Teach your daughter that she is worth something. This is the most important thing you can do. As she grows up, she will face rejection, ridicule, and mountains of hurt from people who refuse point blank to see her, and treat her, as a human being. Teach her that she cannot expect people to provide her with self-worth, that she must be aware of this herself. Teach her that self-worth and self-respect come in many, many forms, respective to each human being, and that it is not our place to judge or criticize others for the way they choose to express it, so long as that way is not harmful to others.

    Teach your daughter that respect is earned–not given freely. That things like authority, age, caste, position, job, paycheck, gender, nationality are not things that should generate respect. Respect is given only when people make respectable choices and do respectable things. Only then, no exceptions.

    Teach your daughter that it is okay to be loud and open about injustice. That she does not owe anybody any explanations or apologies for speaking out about things that are wrong with this world. Teach her that she does not owe niceties to the people who actively seek to disenfranchise her. And above all, don’t ever police your daughters choices and her feelings. Don’t tell her that it’s not okay to feel a certain way, or to do a certain thing, if it does not harm other people.

    You can do two things. You can forever be fearful for your daughter and shelter her, when in reality, you’re only depriving her of the life she deserves to live. Or, you can raise her to make informed decisions, to think about things critically, to never stop asking questions, and to break down barriers wherever she sees them. The first choice is the safe option, but you will never make the world a better place. Today, it will be your daughter you fear for. Tomorrow, it will be your granddaughter. And the cycle will go on. The second option is the only one which will ever change the world for the better.


  12. my husband and I came back to India from the US a couple of years ago. I had the same fears for myself and some for future children. when i thought about it I realized two things.

    one, you are not safe anywhere. the extent of sexual abuse may vary but there is a loy of institutionalized sexism and racism in the US as well just as there is everywhere in the world.

    two, if I want to live in India – the country of my origin – but don’t because of fear, then those spreading the fear have won. they could be terrorists or sexual predators or even society in general. whatever it is, they would have won. I personally can’t live like that.


    • Huge respect to you , lady. One of the best comments on this thread so far.

      You know, I could have written the letter in this post. Ever since I had my daughter who just turned one, I have been wondering what kind of a world we have brought her into. I have never felt this bad about stubbornly turning down every opportunity to move out of India all these years just so we could stay close to our parents, when everyone of our peers have made it their life mission to go out of India. Once my daughter was born, and that Delhi incident happened, it just made me start reevaluating a lot of things.
      Your comment gives me hope. Thanks.


  13. Let your daughter grow up to be herself. Never ever instill the thought that she is a girl! Bring her up the same way you bring up your son.

    Girls do not need protection. Neither do they need an aggressive attitude. More than all this, they need to grow up being independent in every possible way. Encourage your daughter to use the public transportation right from 12 years. By 16 years or so she can travel by herself using public transportation. This way she will learn defensiveness and protection. Teaching will never help.. let her learn on her own. I was brought up this way. So was my sister… We have both travelled around the world.. alone .. right from 21 years. The key to it being an independent spirit, courage, presence of mind.

    Let your daughter grow up to be a brave, independent human being. Not as a girl who has been protected from her childhood, or a girl who becomes aggressive at the drop of a hat.


  14. I am not a mom but I get how you feel. And no you are not paranoid. I would not want to come back (there are a multitude of other reasons for not coming back) or have a daughter in India for similar reasons.
    The other commentators have mentioned many good things to teach kids and yes, it should be irrespective of gender. I really loved that comment about teaching our girls to make noise. That is so true. We are shamed into silence. We are taught to put up with anything. Society lives on women’s low self esteem and exploitation of those who can be walked over.


  15. I have taught my daughters to believe their feelings and intuitions, that they have the right to say no and defend themselves, that if something makes them uncomfortable they should feel free to talk about it with an adult they trust (not necessarily the parents)… I have also taught them not to hang out after dark, to be conscious of what they wear, to know that if they are stalked in the street, they should go into a shop to ask for help… I have enrolled them in martial arts classes. The youngest one wears big boots and kicks whoever wants to bully her.

    On the other hand I have taught them to trust people, but also that people can become crazy under the influence of alcohol, drugs, mental illness, strong emotions… but they are not there to solve other people’s problems and should be mainly concerned by their own safety and comfort.

    But of course this only works if as a parent you respect your child’s emotions, you believe what she says, and you accept to be challenged in your own views. This is why I practice meditation and non violent communication ; to be sure what I am telling them is useful to them rather than myself.

    I have never been to India with my children, and I don’t really want to ; I think I could not relax if they were not constantly under my eyes.


  16. If i had a daughter I’d give the same advise ( read lecture…) i give my boys.
    raise them the same way, self assured, happy, confident and humane.

    I tell them, be safe, speak up, don’t do idiotic things you know are wrong just because your friend did it, Take to me or dad in case in doubt, don’t cheat,steal,lie,hurt others , treat other humans as you wish to be treated , go with your gut and most important of all if you see someone in trouble – HELP THEM!!! if you get in trouble for that we will help you, atleast till you can help yourself.
    never leave a scene of injustice without doing whatever little you can to help and never be a silent bystander.
    you are not born to just eat,sleep,earn and get thru life, you need to do your 2bits to improve the planet and give back.


  17. The issues are human. I teach both my children to respect others, work on their empathy, give and show them while giving others, treat others with respect ourselves – waiters, household helpers, drivers. I don’t see why daughters need to be taught anything different. I do think they need to see our empowerment. Then everything else becomes alien. Tougher to be versus teach/lecture. The next time that elder makes an anti-woman joke/comment, do we stand up? Children are watching and learning.

    The more we decide to treat sons and daughters differently, the more this divide gets into their heads. And what’s more, WE put it there in the name of ‘what they will say’!

    Nothing different – why would you have to when both are human?!


  18. Dear LW,
    As a new mother and an Indian woman I completely understand your fears and concerns. Having been abused myself, for quite a period of time and without any support system in place, being a mother was a tough call. I was always vary about hyper-paranoia.
    Moving away from home, the relationship my partner and I share obviously greatly helped matters.
    I know that being assured helps, but only temporarily. What you are probably grappling with the everyday how-to. Intentions, good ones, I think we all do have, but how to go about it is sometimes the problem, and a niggling one at that.
    1. Abuse/ Harassment
    Its never too early to teach our children! I know you have a girl, but this doesn’t change even if you had a boy, probably more needed simply cause we seem to brush aside sexual abuse of boys in our country. Like someone pointed out, its usually the home and someone known to the family/ children who is the perpetrator.
    Teach them the value of NO and the importance of consent. From the get go! How old is your girl now? We always see kids being asked to kiss/ hug someone. Don’t. I think its important to make sure they know that they are in control of their actions and they should always have a choice whether to say bye, kiss goodbye or hug in greeting, if they choose to. The sooner you start and encourage this, it becomes a habit for a lifetime I think.
    My 9 month old isn’t taught to kiss anyone – that is reserved for her circle of trust – mamma and her pabbi. The other circles of trust get what she will choose to, depending on her mood and comfort.
    Teach them that silence isn’t consent. I cannot repeat this enough.

    2. Attire/ Activity
    My fear, if we ever live in India, even if for short spells is that the ‘others’ will say and do things that we may not practice and believe in at home.
    What time to get back? What games to play? Who to befriend? What to wear?

    I think its important to let children be children. Boy or girl does not matter. Bruised knees and shaming one into low self esteem is all the same.
    It all goes back to the first principles – Do what you are comfortable with and about consent. And that they can always come to you with anything that bothers them. Educate them about expressing themselves – to put words to feelings can be really helpful for little ones. Happy and sad, fear and joy are all things they should be able to identify and talk about if need be. Having a safe place they can keep coming back to strengthen themselves and feel safe, without being judged are more important. Damn the rules/ norms about clothes/ running and having male friends.

    3. Self defence
    As they grow I think its probably a good thing to learn some kind of self defence. No I’m not talking about protecting oneself from packs of sexist low lives. As a confidence booster, and for the fact that it can make one highly aware of situations and how to atleast respond in panic situations.

    We will be visiting India for half a year and my girl will be a year old and I completely understand. Writing to you has made me feel a little at peace myself. Find your way, but above all, keep panic, any histrionics and over reaction at bay. Children are so smart and sensitive, they do pick up on how we respond to situations and behave accordingly. A positive atmosphere, and the rock-solid assurance that they have unconditional support from their parents can make or break any situation.

    This has been a long post, I apologize, but this following post really helped me and I felt equipped. Hope it helps you and any other parent on the forum.

    It keeps coming back to consent – respecting individual choices and taking responsibility for one’s actions. No age is too soon or too late to learn/ adopt and practice that.

    Wish you the best with your child.


    • I agree as a mother it’s important not to give in to hyper-paranoia. Maybe it’s the hardest part. Maybe hyper-paranoia is the beginning of clipping the wings of your child, limiting her independance.


      • I read that hyper-paranoia also stems from a abused past. And having your own children can escalate that, understandably.
        Striking that balance, is difficult of course, but of course we strive for it. Its also most important, I think, to make sure that we have a safe environment for them at all times, unconditionally.
        Cause bad things happen yes, but its always what happens after that makes or breaks a person.


  19. “We teach girls shame; close your legs, cover yourself, we make them feel as though by being born female they’re already guilty of something.”
    -Chimamamda Ngozi Adiche at TEDxEuston

    I love this quote. To me it epitomises everything this thread is about. As a girl, right from the start, you have to carry yourself like fragile glass- say or do something that is considered taboo and an image breaks, irreparably. You are not alone in your paranoia. Our society has made it so, but I truly believe the like-minded among us can make a difference.

    I think the solution is to encourage openness but also to treat our boys and girls in a way that their sex does not become their identity. I’m an only child but my mother always said that if there was a boy in the house, she would make him do dishes too, not just me. I have decided I will be a mother like that- someone who raises both her children to be good human beings, not just assembly line products for the moulds we cast for each of the sexes.

    So I’ve decided to raise my children in a way that they can say the words “sex” and “sexual harassment” to me and my husband without turning five shades of red. I will also teach my girls to recognise their worth in society, not to be ashamed of their legs, breasts, bodies, but to embrace womanhood and the joys it brings. Yes, beware of the predators, but don’t let them define you.

    And yes, it is a man’s world. But if you can teach your daughter to never play a role handed down to us women through generations, if you can teach her to never play a devoted wife or daughter-in-law etc for society’s sake but teach her to just do the right thing by those she loves, she will set an example for other women–and young girls–in her life. And the circle will continue.


  20. Hi IHM,

    In view of the recent atrocities carried against women, I would like to tell that even as men needs to be taught to be respect women. I do ponder if there are points that we are missing out on that has actually given rise to these crimes.

    i) lawlessness: I am not sure if anybody has noticed the amount of fights among political parties that has poured to on the streets and how so many instances of such incidents have been shoved off under the carpet like they never happened. For instance, the cop who was slapped by MLA for doing his job.

    Don’t you think when the big fish are going unpunished, the small ones will also try to test their boundaries. I believe that is happening. People do get arrested but then they are left out on bail back on the streets. Until the law ties its noose harder, its real hard to see things changes. I see the situation getting worse. The courts will not fast track each any every such case and one can imagine that the fights for justice almost takes up one’s life.

    ii) Perception of Inequality: The man over women gender is very deeply rooted over in india given the family upbringing, customs, traditions and the societal mentality. I think its going to decades to change that from happening. What does strikes odd that sometimes women themselves think they are inferior. Its not their fault given that its the way they had been bought up. remember watching amir khan’s show where the mother in law a principal of a school tried to push her daughter in law down the stairs when she came to know that she was pregnant with a girl child.

    I used to seriously believe that “education sets you free” which I know stands. We are not the learned ones since we are expert in the art of mugging so instead of being learned people we use those degrees to get work and nothing else. Education can seriously change the inequiality perception and open people minds if they are ready to learn but like I said when these things are taught one only remembers to score marks and not for learning and understanding. We need to change this.

    Self-Defense/Alertness: Women need to learn self defense from a young age, something that I believe in. Understand that most women go through instances of abuse like touch, grope almost everyday on their work/school/college. When such instances are stopped at the first instance itself, crime of greater extent can be reduced. Strongly feel that need to teach self defense techniques as wells as making sure that when going alone somewhere keep someone informed and carry pepper spray as well.

    Its only when news of hitting back spread across, can perverts will actually think twice of carrying out such acts.

    Surely do hope that the situation improves and changes for the better


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