This Children’s Book That Breaks Down Gender Stereotyping Is Long Overdue!

Big Hero Size Zero
Big Hero Size Zero

Are sex and gender the same thing? Who makes the ‘rules’ we are all supposed to follow? Does what you wear ‘invite trouble’? Do women need to be ‘controlled for their own good’? Why is being different from the majority such a problem?

The above paragraph is just an example of the kinds of questions a new book titled Gender Talk – Big Hero, Size Zero (Tulika Publishers) is keen to address. We’ve all had certain notions of gender and identity drilled into our minds as we were growing up. But the world is a far more complicated and elaborate construct that cannot always fit into the black-and-white box we repeatedly try to force it into.

The two authors of the book, Sowmya Rajendran and Anusha Hariharan, have used their combined experience—Rajendran has written a few books that introduce children to the concept of gender, Hariharan is a researcher on gender and caste studies—to gently discuss topics that are usually never talked about in front of children and teenagers and are coupled with illustrator Niveditha Subramaniam’s wonderful drawings.

“My publishers, Tulika, felt it was high time a book like this was written for children in India, post-Nirbhaya, and I couldn’t agree more. We wanted to create a book that talks to adolescents directly about sensitive issues like identity, gender, sexuality, violence and so on. That was the premise on which we wrote this book,” says Rajendran, who holds an MA in gender studies.

“Getting anyone to understand gender and how it operates is challenging. I’d say it’s harder to make adults see it because they are already so conditioned and their views about so many things are set. Children are curious and more willing to bend the rules and see things differently. They also appreciate it when someone respects their intelligence and is willing to talk to them about growing up issues with honesty.”

From a very young age, we’re conditioned as to how to think about certain things, especially gender-appropriate behaviour: boys don’t cry; sit like a lady; don’t be such a tomboy; be a man. The list of is never-ending and it happens at such a young age and with such seemingly innocent intentions, few realise that it’s more subconscious brainwashing than anything else.

According to her, the way to successfully cross this hurdle is for all of us to start unlearning what has been ingrained. “Think for yourself and not believe everything that the world around you tells you. We place way too much importance on obedience in our culture and we therefore justify a lot of discrimination in the name of tradition and society. Time to break those rules,” she says.

Most times, even we as adults don’t see how far reaching these ingrained models of gender appropriations and stereotypes go—or how deep they run. At a time when the world is conscientiously attempting to adopt a fairer, more just opinion and perspective towards what is considered ‘gender appropriate’ (and indeed even pushing the envelope and questioning this concept) there has never been a better time, or target audience, for a book of this kind to be released.

Scroll down to see some of the illustrations from the book

You can buy a copy of Gender Talk - Big Hero, Size Zero at Tulika Books and Amazon

If you enjoyed this article we suggest you read: