Do fathers feel more comfortable expressing emotions in front of daughters than their sons?

Do fathers treat sons and daughters differently Three brother-sister pairs share their storiesImage for representation
Features Family Thursday, June 01, 2017 - 18:10

Barbie dolls and monster trucks, pretty pink dresses and collared t-shirts, school teachers and army officers. Innocent things perhaps, but juxtaposed, they denote just how gendered everything is. The same holds true for language too, even within our homes.

A recent study conducted by Emory University sought to research the differences and patterns in how fathers interacted with their sons and daughters. It surveyed 69 men between the ages of 21 and 55, who had at least one son and daughter each. And it put forward some interesting findings too.

For example, with their sons, fathers used words like 'win' and 'top' more frequently to encourage competition and achievement. They also engaged more in rough, physical play. But with their daughters, men found it easier to sing and whistle around them. They were also found to be more emotive while interacting with daughters, even when it came to expressing sadness.

Closer home, are things any different? We asked three brother-sister pairs to reflect on their childhood to see if their fathers interacted with them differently. While conditioning into gender roles was blurred in many places, it was more pronounced in others. Here’s what we found.

Srilekha and Yeswanth

Srilekha and Yeswant Golla are both engineers based in Bengaluru. Srilekha tells TNM that their father never pressurized her into doing anything. “He said he’d be happy with whatever decision I took,” the 22-year-old says. But for Yeswanth, things were slightly different. “He’d always tell me try something before giving up… that I shouldn’t leave a task incomplete and face it head on,” he says.

But the pressure reverses when it comes to expectations from their future. Though Yeswanth is only a year older than Srilekha, he says his father is not worried about his marriage. “My father is now looking for me to get a promotion,” he states. Things are different in Srilekha’s case. “My father is worried that they’re getting old and want me to get married soon. He would also prefer if after having children, I don’t work so as to avoid straining myself,” she says.

They both reminisce about the way they spent time with their father as children. While Yeshwant remembers how their father never shared his emotions easily with him, Srilekha’s experience is the opposite. “He’s really emotional with me, especially when I visit home after a long time. He cries openly then,” she says.

Both Srilekha and Yeswanth insist that their father never chose one over the other. But Yeswanth says he does feel that their father is a little more affectionate towards Srilekha than him.

Melvin and Merlyn 

Unlike Srilekha and Yeswanth, Melvin and Merlyn Sam’s relationship with their father did not vary much.

Founding Director at Couch Potato Productions, 24-year-old Melvyn recalls how his father always pushed him forward with tough advice. “He told me, ‘You need to work hard for whatever you want in life. Go, get it. No one is going to give it to you on a platter. Speak your mind,’ he’d say.”

His younger sister, 21-year-old Merlyn, says that their father had a similar approach with her. “His best advice was that I should never let anyone put me down,” she tells TNM.

Both remember being pampered as children and being showered with their favourite toys. While Merlyn was into all things quintessentially ‘girly’ (Barbies, stuffed toys, teddy bears) Melvin says he had everything “from hot wheels to a PlayStation to the coolest remote control cars”. While heavily gendered, the demarcated toys seem to have been a choice for each of them too.

The one difference in how their father behaved with each of them would manifest himself in how he emoted. “My father is not really emotional but quite affectionate towards me. He’d tell lots of stories about his life. I would rarely get yelled at and he would never hit me”, remembers Merlyn. When it came to Melvin, their father wasn’t as vocal with his anecdotes. “The only stories he did share were to motivate me to run and get fit,” Melvin says.

Like Yeswanth, Melvin too feels that his father is a tad bit more affectionate towards his little sister.

Sankalita and Sowmya

Sankalita and Sowma Dey say they were both given equal importance by their father as they grew up. “He wants me to be independent and take care of myself properly,” 21-year-old Sankalita says. “Although sometimes, I do feel that he is a little too concerned about my safety”, she adds as an afterthought.

Her brother, 25-year-old Sowmya, says, “My father wants me to be successful in whichever field I choose.” Like the other men quoted here, Sowmya too feels that Sankalita gets more attention than him. “But that’s because she is younger,” he argues.

While he engaged both them in plenty of sports like cricket and Badminton, when it came to emotions Sankalita and Sowmya’s father was much freer with the former. “He wasn’t very open with his emotions with me as a kid, maybe because I was not mature enough at the time”, says Sowmya. 

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