I stepped out for a walk with my elementary school son. He was telling me about a program that seems to be the craze among his friends: Lego, Ninjago.
“Ninjaaaa—goooo!”, said the little fellow and spun around on the spot kicking his legs up in the air. “ I wonder why they need to say Ninjaaaa-gooo before doing spinjitzu, but they always do that.”
“Maybe it is a spell. Why do they spin so much anyway? Is it like ballet?”, I asked.
The horror of my ignorance made him open his eyes wide in disbelief. “Amma! It is not like ballet. It is spin-jit-zu.”
I often prance into these gaffes. It was clear that the Ninjago masters did not appreciate being called ballet dancers, even though their spinjitzu-s looked like ballerinas who had stubbed their toes.
Knowledge is the antidote to ignorance
He set about enlightening me after taking a deep breath. “They do spinjitzu to use their powers. Everyone has a power. Jai has?” he looked at me expectantly.
I knew the answer was somewhere. I had nodded along on several occasions when he explained the powers of Ninja masters. I took a sip of humility and came clean. “Oh! I can never remember these powers. Why don’t you tell me again, and I will do my best to remember them.”
Professors can rarely resist such a humble seeker of knowledge, and so my little Professor launched on his ‘Amazing Superpowers of the Ninjago Masters’ class.
A few minutes of Walk-Walk-Talk-Talk later, “Then, Lord Garmadon was bitten by the Evil sorcerer and Evil coursed through his veins.”
“Oh no! His parents must’ve been so sad!”, I said. “What did his mother do?”
The fellow stopped with a quizzical expression on his face. “Umm…he has no mother. I don’t know why, but he doesn’t.”
Women Ninja time?
It was as we continued toeing the Ninjago-Spinjitzu line that I asked him why there were no Women in the Ninjago world. His face crinkled with thought. “ Nya is there. Cole became a Ninja to save his sister Nya.”
I looked at his sincere face, and took a deep breath. I saw it was time for me to become a female Ninja.
I asked him what he thought of his sister. “Do you love her?”
A look of awe crept into his eyes. His older, taller, wiser sister? She looks after him, plays with him, and tells him the most amazing Greek myths. “Of course I do!” he said, stung by such a blasphemous question.
“How about Amma? Do you like me?”
I kicked it up a notch. I asked about his friends. There were a few girls in the list. I asked him about his teachers, grandmothers and aunts? Duh! He laughed and said that he liked them all.
“Now”, I said, “I want you to imagine how you will feel without any of these girls in your life! “
“What?! Why?”, he said.
“Because that is what those poor Ninjago master-fellows seem to be going through. Don’t you see? “
His face dawned, and then he gave a sheepish smile.
Research shows that our attitudes regarding genders are formed between the ages of 5 & 6. Maybe this is the time to look at all our entertainment choices with a critical eye. If Superman does everything by himself, why do we think our sons will discuss their problems with us? If in most shows Men save the world by going to War, how can we hope for future peace and diplomacy? Every evening, homes are flooded with soap operas that glorify women who suffer at the hands of those who should be their intellectual partners and friends.
The effect spirals over time as well. If you look at the average amount of time spent in unpaid housework, women spend a significantly greater amount of time than men do. In some countries, they spend almost double the time doing unpaid housework as men.
- In the United States, men spend around 144 minutes a day as opposed to women who spend 244 minutes a day.
- India ranks especially poorly as women spend 350 minutes a day on unpaid household work as opposed to men who spent 50.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes the extent of the problem and has dedicated $1Billion in 2018 towards empowering Women. They recognize that every aspect of life (lower poverty rates, increased health care & life expectancy), improves when women are empowered. In the introductory chapter of the book, Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates writes: “Sometimes all it takes to lift women up, is to stop pulling them down.”
International Women’s Month is here and we will be celebrating all the great achievements of Women in Science, Literature, and Leadership; instead of stopping and acknowledging the Women in our lives. The ones who make life what it is with their friendship, camaraderie and companionship.
Biases sneak in sometimes without our knowledge, and setting it right may start with the simple step of recognizing its existence.
“Wait!”, said the little fellow. “Nya also became a Ninja later in the series. She is a girl-Ninja now.”
“Good!” I said, and peace was restored in our world.
Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.