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“Don’t worry if you have an American boyfriend. So and so is Egyptian too.”

October 17, 2013

Usually I am a really optimistic person, and I wish this attitude of mine could sometimes get reflected in my writings. I try to write something cheerful and pleasant, but yet again I feel the need to write about things I’m bothered by. In the past couple of weeks, I haven’t had time to vent out properly, so forgive me for yet again writing on a depressing subject matter. But trust me it’s important!

Though the issues that got me mad this whole week were all different, they had some underlying similarities in them. One of them being some Nepalese people’s racist attitude towards Americans, or rather white people. When we think of racism, we often think of racism against people of color, but I have seen it happen both ways. I’ve had multiple occasions of other people being racist against me for being brown, which I will discuss in my future posts. However, contrary to the commonly held belief, I’ve also seen even more cases of people from eastern civilizations being racist to or holding racial prejudices against white people. One of the main incidents that made me think of this issue was reading an opinion article published in a popular Nepali newspaper written by a Nepali woman living in the US.

Her article was titled “depressing American life”. Her article basically talks about the stories of her American colleagues and their “uncivilized” lives. She starts out with a story about her friend, who supposedly is a single mother in her early twenties. Every information she provides of her friends, are filled with blatant criticism of their romantic relationships and familial relationships. She even quite candidly writes that her American friends wish that they were born in Nepal, where parents are obligated to take care of their kids no matter how old they are. Seeing this, I couldn’t even figure out how exactly to proceed criticizing this particular piece of mindless writing. I would really give no value to the opinion of people like the author, had it not been published in a proper newspaper. What got me really infuriated was that the article actually passed through the editorial board, and got several likes and encouraging comments from other Nepalese readers.

Firstly, I don’t even know if anyone should completely believe the stories she shared about her friends. I don’t even have trust in her ability to open up, communicate and listen to others given her narrow minded attitude towards people of other cultures. Secondly, the stories that she portrays in her article are one dimensional depiction of the subjects, whose life choices are being publicly discussed with so much criticism. She criticizes one of her friend’s relationship with her sister by mentioning that the friend needs to pay her own sister for baby sitting. From the way the writer writes, it is quite obvious that she is attempting to contrast western families as being more superficial and selfish compared to eastern families. Additionally, the writer also criticizes her friend’s relationship with her ex-boyfriend for its transient nature. Then the parents of the friends are also mentioned in the article for not taking care of their adult daughter. Through similar stories of few other additional colleagues working at the same office, she then embarks into drawing conclusion about American culture or rather their lack of culture, family values and love between partners. Her stories say nothing about the point of view of other people involved in her friends’ lives. How and why are we supposed to believe that her friends’ family and relatives were being selfish and why are we supposed to believe that such nature is innate to Americans she never justifies. Perhaps, she couldn’t have justified because there is absolutely no rationale behind such racial generalizations. Yet her article got a huge applaud from a large portion of Nepali readers. I was angered, but not totally surprised, because I’ve seen a lot of Nepalese holding these  kind of prejudices in the past as well.

While attempting to understand why some of us act that way, my only guess is that we Nepalese are tired of seeing our country go downhill in terms of economic and political development. Perhaps most of us feel inferior to the people from west, which is usually very closely associated with the US and with the white race. Most people perhaps feel like we only have these cultural, religious and social values to be proud of; hence they held onto these values so tightly. Most polite individuals from another culture don’t criticize us for adhering to these values because at current age there is so much emphasis placed on being politically correct especially in the west. Hence, if any change has to be made, it has to come from people within the country. However, if anyone from our own country raises voice against any of these “values”, they will be vehemently criticized, ridiculed and outcasted for being “treacherous”. Therefore, regardless of whether some of the values are completely sexist, inhumane, or nonsense, the values only keep on getting stronger. As an example, currently we Nepalese are observing unarguably our biggest festival called Dashain. This festival is one of the very few festivals that I like quite a lot. There are not too many sexist traditions associated with it. Even during a festival like this, currently I’m seeing an ever increasing trend of women touching the feet of their husbands with their head. This is not an entirely new trend, but with an increase in education among women and awareness on gender equality, I had noticed that this trend was declining when I was growing up. However, recently I’m noticing that a large number of Nepalese population, including considerable number of younger generation, are still giving continuity to such traditions. What is more bothersome is their denial to even listen to any positive criticism of any of these religious or cultural practices.

It is reasonable to some extent to be politically correct because there is no absolute gauge to measure the “rightness” or “wrongness” of one’s opinion. However, I sometimes wonder if the subjects such as culture, tradition and religion should be considered so delicate that it’s considered almost a taboo to even question one about their cultural or religious beliefs let alone have a discussion on those topics. Like anything that is complex, social rules, cultural values, and religious views can never be perfect. Even if they are quite good at a particular time, they need to be updated and modified from time to time. Also, I don’t believe that there is one culture that is superior over the other, whether it be “Western culture” or “Eastern culture”. Each of these cultures have their pros and their cons, and additionally, every individual belonging to these cultures is different. We can not generalize what we learn from the behaviors of five or six people to millions and millions of people. It simply is not scientific. And, without engaging in a healthy discussion about the practices in these cultures, the process of bettering the culture and, in extension ourselves, becomes quite difficult to achieve.

In a slightly separate story, I’ve been so sick and tired of some of my Nepalese friends/relatives in the US telling me “कुइरे यस्ता हुन्छन, कुइरे उस्ता हुन्छन” – white people are like this, white people are like that. At times like that, I want to confess to them that I have a white boyfriend, and that he is nothing like what they tell me he is like. Not all relationships between/with white people end with divorce. Even when they do, most often than not, there are reasons for relationships ending. Not all parents in the US, throw their children out of their home by the time they reach 18. Mostly they leave their house for education, and they leave the house spontaneously as they get independent. Not always are the old parents discarded in the US. My boyfriend’s mom took care not only of her dying mother, and dying father but also took care of her single aunt in her old age. Similarly, unlike how we like to believe, not all Nepalese are selfless, altruistic and saintly. There are corrupted politicians among us. There are parents among us, who even discriminate between their own sons and daughters. There are abusive husbands between us, and there are children among us, who take care of their parents only because they have to not because they want to. Any reasonable individual would perhaps say “…but there are also good people among us”. If so, then why would there be no good (and most importantly unique) individuals among white people? Why is this so difficult for some people to understand this?

I have two facebook accounts. I created these two accounts to keep my relatives and my friends (which includes a lot of American friends) separate. Everyone in my facebook with friends knows about my relationship. However, I haven’t told anything about my relationship to the relatives in my other facebook. I am not embarrassed about my relationship. My boyfriend is intelligent, feminist, loving, intelligent and everything that I want in a guy. There is absolutely no reason for me to not be proud of him. Yet one might wonder why I don’t  tell my relatives about him. It’s because in a weird way, I’m protecting my boyfriend and my relationship from this unnecessary criticism and scrutiny. I know not everyone in my relatives circle is a racist bigot. There are people among them that I absolutely respect and love. Also, I very well know not to generalize the behavior of one of them to all my relatives. However, I also didn’t know how else I’d keep my relationship a secret from so many of the unfairly judgmental people in my relatives circle. It is actually through the experiences of some of these older relatives of mine, who’ve have been in relationships with foreigners, that I learnt some lessons. I have had some people in my rather huge relative circle, who are married to foreigners. However, when they were not married yet, and were simply dating, I used to hear so many gossips about these people from our common relatives. Everyone would always be interested about the sexual lives of the girls and their foreign boyfriends. I say girls because people didn’t care much even if boys were known to be sexually active before getting married. Foreigners are expected to be sexually liberated (in a negative sense) whereas all Nepali people are expected to be “pure” unless of course in a relationship with a foreigner.

Needless to say, even the above perception about the sexuality of foreigners vs sexuality of Nepalese people, I found to be rather wrong through my limited interaction with few people from both the countries. Perhaps, Nepalese people need to interact with conservative catholic people more often to understand how conservative Americans or white people can be in terms of sex. Also, there is something called individual choice. However, it doesn’t matter to a lot of Nepalese people, how different they themselves are than me, they still think I’m more similar to them than any other white people. It is bizarre, and when it comes of as a racist remark, it becomes quite infuriating. One of my relatives tried consoling me one time for having a white boyfriend. That is when I firmly decided that I’m not going to tell any more relatives about my relationship. No I hadn’t broken up, and no I was not in pain. But she somehow assumed that having a foreign boyfriend was something that was painful. She kept on telling me, “don’t worry, don’t worry, so and so (taking a name of one of our other relatives) also got married to Egyptian (I changed the country’s name for anonymity)”. The funny part about all this is, my boyfriend is not even from the same country as that particular relative. My boyfriend is American. He is in grad school for physics just like I am, and he perhaps is nothing like the “Egyptian” husband of my other relative, who is something else by profession. I can’t even begin to tell you, how similar me and my boyfriend are in our general beliefs about social, political, religious, economic (you name it) issues. So it’s surprising hearing people, who don’t even know him personally, project him as an entirely different individual than how I KNOW he is.

Talking about prejudices and generalizations against foreign partners, I also keep on hearing unfavorable assumptions about this other “Egyptian” relative in discussion and his Nepali wife (my relative) through people that are close to her. I don’t know much about him, but I have my reasons to believe that he is a rather good man too. I am sure that most of these information that people state as facts are merely assumptions based on his cultural background. Some relatives don’t make an effort to connect to him at an individual level because they jump to conclusion about his assumed anti-social nature, and yet expect for him to somehow connect to them magically. I’m thankful that most of the foreign relatives have had good relationships with their Nepalese partners so far. However, if for some unfortunate reason, one of them turns out to be similar to the stereotypes that Nepalese have of westerners, I know that my boyfriend will be judged unfairly too. I would not give a damn about what others think about me, but perhaps because this is directed at someone I love, it somehow troubles me. Ironically, not all these spouses of my relatives are Americans – they are just non-Nepali. But somehow not being Nepali makes everyone “cultureless” and “valueless”- even more so if you have a white skin.

The prospect of social change amidst the growing nationalism in a country like Nepal

August 30, 2013

I particularly dislike two Nepali festivals: Teej and Rishipanchami, and I have my reasons. I recently posted a facebook post about why perhaps people should, if not completely abandon these festivals, at least modify the former one so that the sexism quotient in it doesn’t exist. However, it will be clear further down the post, why I believe that the latter festival perhaps shouldn’t even be bothered preserving. To start off, let me first quote the mini-article I posted on facebook, and I will attempt to translate it sentence by sentence in English so that the interpretation of the comment remains intact even though the content may not flow smoothly.

 

Here it goes:

“तीज नजिकिंदै आएको छ । यस अवसरमा सम्पूर्ण नेपाली महिला तथा पुरुषलाई पनि मेरो केहि सुझाब छ । सर्बप्रथम त मलाई तीज सार्है नै मन नपर्ने चाड हो र मलाई यसको शुभकामना नदिनु होला । म धर्ममा विश्वास गर्दिन र कुनै पनि धर्मले बयान गरेको खालको भगवानमा पनि विश्वास गर्दिन । मेरो बिचारमा श्रीमतीले या अविवाहिता महिलाले मात्रै राम्रो बर पाइयोस भनेर बर्त बस्ने संस्कृति पुरै परित्याग गर्न नसके पनि परिमार्जित गर्नु पर्ने बेला यो २१ सौ सताब्दी नै हो । तपाइलाई यो चाड त्यस्तो धेरै नै मन पर्छ भने आफ्नो दिर्गायुकोलागि आफ्नो श्रीमान् अथवा प्रेमीलाई पनि बर्त बस्न प्रेरित गर्न सक्नु हुन्छ । तर सोच्न लायक कुरा के छ भने, बर्त बसेर तपाईंको श्रीमान पहिले देखिने खत्तम छ, आर्की श्रीमती बिहे गरेको छ, तपाईलाई हेला गर्छ, घरमा काम गर्दैन, तपाई भन्दा ठुलो हुँ भन्ने सोच्छ इत्यादी भने, तपाईंको बर्तले केहि पनि लछारपाटो लाग्दैन । तपाईंको जीवन जस्ताको तस्तै रहन्छ । यदि लछारपाटो लाग्ने नै भए पनि किन आफुंलाई रार्मो नगर्ने श्रीमानको लागि तपाई एकलै बर्त बस्नु हुन्छ ? अरुले आफ्नुलाई कस्तो ब्यबहार गर्छन त्यो तपाईको हातमा छैन, तर तपाई आफुलाई कस्तो ब्यबहार गर्नु हुन्छ त्यो आफ्नो हातमा छ र आफुंलाई नराम्रो गर्ने मानिस परित्याग गरेर राम्रो गर्ने छान्ने छुट पनि तपाई आफुँले आफुंलाई दिनु जरुरि छ । यदि राम्रो श्रीमानको चाहना ठिक अर्थमा हुने हो भने आझको जमानामा श्रीमानसंग खुलेर कुरा गर्नु होस्, उसमा मन नपरेका कुरा सुधार्नका लागि भन्नु होस्, सुधार नगरे ऊ बिना बाच्न सक्ने हुनुहोस् । हो साना साना कुराका लागि बिवाह तोड्नु ठिक होइन, तर श्रीमतीलाई अपमान गर्नु भनेको सानो कुरा होईन । यो कुरा सबैले बुझ्न जरुरि छ । अनि अबिबाहित नारिले त झनै राम्रो बर पाउने नपाउने धेरै आफ्नो हातमा नै हुन्छ, बर्त बस्नुको साटो आफुंलाई राम्रो पति पाउन योग्य पो बनाउने हो की, अनि नराम्रो परि हालेमा उसको सति नगई आफ्नो जीवन सुधार पो गर्ने हो की ? आजको युगमा बर्तको भन्दा श्रीमान-श्रीमती बिचमा सम्मान, प्रेम, समझदारी र सबभन्दा महत्वपुर्ण कुरा त राम्रो कुराकानी हुन जरुरि छ । भगवानले राम्रो देलान र बिहे गरुँला भन्दा भन्दै AIDS र नाना थरिको STD लागेको श्रीमान पर्ला विचार गर्नु होस् । यो समय मान्छे चिन्ने हो न कि भगवानमा अन्धो विश्वास गरेर आश गरेर बस्ने ।

 

तिजको दुई दिन पछि ऋषि पंचमीको बर्त पनि धेरै बस्छन् । यो बर्तको पछाडीको तुक भनेको के हो भने, आईमाईको महिनाबारी भए बापत पाप पखाल्नु हो। महिनाबारी हुनु प्राकृतिक नियम हो, कुनै पाप हैन । परापुर्व कालका ऋषिले भनेको कुरा पत्याएर आफ्नुमा हुने प्राकृतिक कुरालाई पाप भन्नु कत्तिको ठिक कुरा हो ? आफ्ना छोरीलाई उनीहरुको जिउमा अस्तित्वमा लाज मान्ने बनाउनु कत्तिको उचित कुरा हो विचार गर्नु होला । यदि महिनाबारी पाप हो भने, दिनदिनै दिशा पिसाप गरे बापत सबै लोग्नेमान्छे र आईमाई मिलेर बर्षै भरि धर्म कर्म गर्ने हो की मान्छे भएर जन्मे बापत ?

 

मेरा कुरा कसैले मान्न जरुरि छैन, कसैलाई force गर्न खोजेको हैन, आफ्नो विचार राखेकी मात्र हुँ । तर पनि आफ्नो जीवनमा आत्मसम्मान लागु गर्न सक्नु हुन्न भने मेरो post बिना सित्तिमा like नगर्नु होला । मलाई तपाई देखेर हाँसो मात्र उठ्ने छ । धन्यबाद !”

Now the translation:

“Teej is nearing. On this occasion, I have some message to Nepali men and women. First of all, I do not like teej at all, and please do not give me greetings for this festival. I do not believe in religion, and god as described by any religion. In my opinion, the tradition that requires only wives or unmarried women to fast in order to get good husband, should be modified in this 21st century even if one cannot completely discard them. If you like this festival to that extent, you could perhaps inspire your husband or boyfriend to do the same for your wellbeing. However, what is worth thinking is that even if you take the fasting, if your husband is already bad to you from the beginning, if he has another wife, if he disrespects you, doesn’t do household works, thinks he is better than you by virtue of being a man etc., then your fasting is not going to have any impact in your relationship. Even if the fasting would have any impact, why would you go to such lengths to wish well for someone that doesn’t treat you well? How others treat you is not in your hand, but how you treat yourself is, and you should give yourself permission to leave the person that doesn’t treat you well. If you really hope for a good life partner, at today’s date, you should probably be candid about your opinions with your partner, ask him to change the behaviors you don’t like in him, and if he doesn’t change then you should make yourself able to live independently of him. Yes, it’s not a good thing to break relationships in petty matters, but disrespecting wife is not a petty matter. This is something everyone needs to understand. Moreover for unmarried women, it’s even more reliant on the women themselves whether or not they eventually get good men. Instead of fasting in hopes of getting good husband, maybe one should make themselves capable, and incase they land with someone that’s not good, perhaps they should be independent enough to bid goodbye to such relationships. In today’s date, more than a fasting, respect, love, understanding, and most importantly communication between the couples is vital. While you are waiting for god to give you good husband without actually participating in knowing the person, be wary that you might end up with a guy with AIDS or different kinds of STDs. This is a time for action, rather than having blind faith in god.

 

Two days after Teej, more women fast for Rishipanchami. The main motive behind this fasting is to purify themselves after having gone through “sin” of getting periods every months. Getting periods is a natural process, it’s not a sin. How wise is it to call something that’s natural to being a woman a sin, just because some Rishis (literal translation wise men, but I wonder how wise they were) from medieval times said so? How good is it to make your own daughters feel ashamed of their own bodies and existence? If getting periods is sin, then perhaps all of us men and women should get engaged in religious activities throughout the year to absolve us from all the sins we have done by taking dump every single day.

 

No one is required to follow my words. I’m not trying to compel anyone, I’m just expressing my opinion. Even so, if you cannot implement self-respect in your life, please do not press like button for my post, it will simply make me laugh at you. Thank you!”

 

A lot of people liked the post, and I don’t want to discredit their sentiments by simply mentioning the few others that had problem with my article. There were in particular, two Nepalese males that had problem with my article. While I understand that not everyone is going to come with similar backgrounds and similar opinions on this topic, there is something off-putting about educated individuals, who have closely seen the grim status of Nepalese women in our society to belittle my sentiments without providing proper reasoning. I ended up blocking one of the people because he had in the past been unfairly judgemental of my personal life and decisions I had made. While I would not normally share information of my private life in a public sphere, just for the heck of making it clear to everyone why I chose to censor his opinions, let me share it anyway.

 

I had just gotten out of my teenage relationship with my ex-boyfriend. This guy at hand is neither a close friend of mine nor my ex-bf’s. However, this guy, who knew nothing about my personal matter, decided that it certainly was my fault that I had broken up with my ex. I tried avoiding to answer a lot of his pointed questions, but he wouldn’t stop lecturing me about how it is crucial to compromise in a relationship, and how eastern women sacrificing to keep a relationship alive is actually a good thing. He accused me of being “americanized” or “westernized” simply because me and my ex-bf had broken up for reasons he had no idea about. One particular occasion, he posted sexist joke on his facebook wall, to which I had commented, “would you laugh off and be cool about such jokes if they were pointed towards Nepalese people?” He said he wouldn’t, he agreed that calling Nepalese people porter wouldn’t be a good joke. Yet, he failed to understand why calling women names wouldn’t make a good joke for some people either. Not only did he fail to keep up his promise to take the material off of his wall, he also continued to pry into my personal life on several occasions. For these reasons, I didn’t even entertain in any intellectual discourse when it came to his accusation about how looking at teej from my perspective is a western way of looking at things and taking away from the actual meaning behind these festivals. He had also mentioned that teej can be thought of as an opportunity that a lot of women look forward to where they celebrate their sacrifices for their loved ones etc.

 

The latter point he made about “celebrating the sacrifices of Nepalese women” is a point that has been put forth a numerous times by a number of supporters of this festival. It is true that it is impossible and rather inappropriate to look at the experiences of diverse group of women from all over the world with similar lenses. However, him calling it a western perspective is rather offensive to me – someone who has had first hand experiences of the gender asymmetric expectations, the blatant sexist remarks of relatives and friends, the sexist legal system while growing up in Nepal for the first 18 years of my life. Despite his and the other guy (who had problem with my article) ‘s implication that I’m being less Nepali by disliking certain cultural and traditional rituals of Nepal, as long as I carry Nepali passport, I will remain just as Nepali as they are irrespective of how critical I am about the practices there. At present, more and more Nepalese are leaving Nepal-some temporarily and some permanently-because of the unwanted changes more than two decades of political instability has brought in Nepal. Both the men that disagreed with me and attacked me of being less-Nepali also study in the United States just as I do. However, as the country is losing more and more people, there is a simultaneous growth of trend among Nepalese to prove themselves as being more Nepali than the others. I’ve seen this trend unfold on numerous occasions in the past especially when one runs out of logic and reasonings to back up their claim. However, it can’t take away anything from the fact that I’ve spent 18 years out of my 26 years of life in Nepal. I am an individual that has been shaped by Nepal’s cultural and social elements for the most part, even though I can’t deny global influence in my life. During the 18 years of my life in Nepal, I never fasted during teej, and rishipanchami even amidst much social pressure to do so. I still recall the fuss that was made by my dad at my house for me denying to take early shower on the day of rishipanchami that would apparently “purify” me of my sins. What sins I still cannot fathom. Sins of being born as a woman? If my opinions were simply a result of “americanization”, I would have perhaps engaged in fasting at least until I came to the US, but I didn’t, which means that these opinions are just as eastern as they are western. Perhaps, these opinions are not much common in Nepal, because women have learnt to compromise, and women there have learnt to live their lives for other’s happiness. Me, a woman pursuing her PhD degree in the US in 2013- a well aware feminist individual, has to go through so much just so that I can justify to my fellow Nepali peers my dislike of a particular traditional or cultural practice of Nepal. Then it’s worth thinking, what kind of backlash would arise if an unprivileged woman from Nepal with much lesser standing chooses to discard these practices. We like to talk about free choices, but are these free choices really free? Are they called “free choices” as long as someone is not pointing gun at our head and physically forcing us to do something or can there be cultural, social and even personal expectations that are laid out to you that disable you from making free choices?

 

Whether one likes it or not, things do change all the time, nothing remains stagnant. Cultures evolve, traditions are often discarded or modified, and that’s the way of life. If an educated woman like me is not in a forefront for making such changes, who will bring about these changes that are imperative to our Nepalese society and especially to our Nepalese women? These traditions that we hold onto so tightly at present times, themselves have gone through numerous such changes throughout the history of time. It is simply foolish to put the cultural and traditional practices in such a pedestal that one is blind to its implications on half of the population. It was not too long ago (20th century), that women burning themselves to death (often voluntarily and sometimes forcefully) by jumping into the pyre of their dead husband during cremation (sati pratha) was finally abolished legally in Nepal. It was afterall a western influence on a powerful Nepali leader that finally enabled such change, which in retrospect, only looks reasonable to perhaps even the most misogynist person ever. Having internalized the gender bias through constant exposure to biased social, political and religious ideas, a lot of women then saw this as a rite of passage that leads one’s soul to heaven. Does the fact that they volunteered for such activity, make it any less sexist? If it doesn’t, why does the modern day Nepali women relishing extreme fasting in a name of archaic tradition that only demands one sided loyalty, love, and respect deserve any different treatment than the sati pratha does?

 

In my opinion, it is rather futile to defend such archaic tradition that does nothing to bolster the status of women in an already deeply patriarchal culture of Nepal. We are talking about a country where women didn’t have legal right to maternal/paternal property until just a decade ago (now women can inherit only as long as they are unmarried), whereas men inherit the property by default. We are talking about a country where child marriages especially for girls is still quite common. We are talking about a country where it is common for a teacher to suggest a little girl to ask her parents to give her baby brother since male child are not only valued by parents but are equally valued by siblings, grandparents and the whole society. We are talking about a country where it’s forbidden for women to laugh a lot (there is a derogatory term called “uttauli”  similar to western word “slut” for women that laugh a lot). We are talking about a country where little girls are locked in a dark room without much human contact for days and days during their first period in the name of religion, I was locked “only for three days” because my parents are so “modern and educated” compared to rest of the country. We are talking about a country where a woman’s worth is still measured by how many sons she can give even until today. We are talking about a country where it is okay for parents to give more food/more money to male child compared to female child. We are talking about a country where knowing the sex of an infant before birth is still not common since it poses risk of large increase in female infanticide. We are talking about a country where women have to legally get either husband’s or dad’s permission to apply for a passport. We are talking about a country where it is a common practice for parents to arrange a marriage between their young daughters and men that are double their age. I can provide countless other examples of how women are deprived and disadvantaged in my beloved country.

 

I can bet my bottom dollar that the very same men that speak for the preservation of Nepali culture and tradition at the cost of women’s value in the society, criticize muslim women for covering their heads, or tradition of polygamy that exist in several different communities even at present times, or suicide bombings by religious fundamentalists. Perhaps, our outdated practice of fasting to absolve the “sin” of getting periods or fasting “to get good husbands” or “for the long lives of the husbands” would appear different when the vantage point is shifted slightly. It is rather unfortunate when one submerges themselves so deep into the traditions and culture and value towards nationalistic feelings that even a logical argument is dismissed without further evaluation. I do not deny that there can be some positive outcomes of some of these traditional practices. Women do gather together, dance and have fun during teej. Women do get opportunities to visit their relatives and engage in fun activities that they usually aren’t able to. However, the fact that women rejoicing and having fun is made such a big deal is itself an indication of how their usual life differs starkly from the one day of teej. Rather than focusing on the positives of one such day, perhaps the society should focus on making their lives comparable to that of men throughout the year. Then and then only, teej can ever be celebrated in a gender neutral fashion. To understand what kind of news are common during the time of teej, you can view this news article.

 

The need for political correctness, and polite conversation doesn’t/shouldn’t justify the complete denial of an existing social problem just because it makes us look/feel good as Nepalese in the global platform. The second guy that criticized me for my opinion didn’t have much rationale behind his support of the above mentioned festivals. He had initially read my article wrong before he embarked to calling it “bullshit” and telling me “reading your (my) article makes me (him) sick”. He claimed that he fasted for his girlfriend, to which I showed nothing but praise. I told him that if he really did fast for his girlfriend, he should rather be happy that I’m inviting other people to be like him, and modify the culture so that the sexist element in the festival is eliminated. His major issue seemed to be regarding me being “anti-Nepali culture and traditions”. To a large number of people, their identities are closely related to their traditions, culture, religion and their feelings of nationalism. To me my identity as a woman, as a human being is the one that supersedes any of these aforementioned aspects to my being. To have a respectable life as a human being, I can give up any of this baseless rudimentary cultural practices, and I invite everyone to do the same. What happens in my body is not a sin, my life goal is not to find a good husband, it’s not my sole responsibility to work for my relationship. If anyone cannot agree with that, in my book they are sexist and misogynist.

Don’t see much in marriage. Big deal?

June 27, 2013

I will be turning 26 in a month. While my age in number doesn’t mean much to me, it certainly means a lot to the people that know me. Ironically it seems to mean more to the people that don’t know me well, rather than to those that actually mean a lot to me. Being an international student from Nepal who has lived in the US for 7 adult years of my life, social structures of both countries inevitably affect me somewhat equally. While I still maintain that the stereotypes about what constitutes being an American or being a Nepali person is highly inaccurate or often misleading when you are talking about an individual, some stereotypes are actually warranted when you are talking about the structure and norms of a particular society. For instance, generally speaking the topic of my marriage is not of concern to most of the Americans I’ve met. While some generally assume that I’ll get married pretty soon, or pass comments that imply that they expect marriage to be an ultimate goal for everyone, I’ve often found people being quite wary about coming as intrusive to other’s private matters. On the other hand, parents and relatives arranging marriage of their kids is still pretty common in Nepal, though that is not the only accepted way of getting married. Perhaps it is because of this nature of arranged marriage that a lot of people, especially relatives and friends, seem to be quite interested in matchmaking. I don’t know how much do other young people living in Nepal like the unasked advices and intrusion in their private matters, or how they deal with them, but I surely don’t enjoy them much.

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Just last year, I wrote an article in my facebook directed at those relatives that come to my parents to discuss marriage with the guys they know. This, in and of itself, may not be that bothersome to those people, who have insinuated that they want to get married or whose parents have asked the relatives to look up for a groom for them. However, this is highly annoying to me for couple of reasons. These matchmakers often being very old and traditional have very different line of thought than I do. It seems to me that to them a perfect match is always between a guy in his late thirties and a girl in her early twenties. While I may not care so much about the age gap if the couples happened to fall in love that way, but taking this kind of old-guy and young-girl match as a norm, makes me really annoyed. Furthermore, my parents themselves find it rather humiliating that most of the relatives that come to them with the relationships don’t have any idea of me and my sister’s professional, educational, emotional and social accomplishments and aspirations. Hence, most of the people come with ridiculous matches. When these kind of things happen once or twice, it’s rather funny and you can laugh it off, but when it happens multiple times, one starts to get rather angry at the patriarchal mindset that allows for people to only see the looks and behavior of a woman and remain completely oblivious to their abilities and aspirations. Thankfully, my parents are understanding enough to respond to those people saying that even them (the parents) don’t have ability to completely understand what we want out of relationships and that even if they did perhaps they’d never be able to find a right match.

Another aspect of this kind of matchmaking that I dislike is the expectation that a person (specifically woman) has to get married by a certain age. Though this kind of expectation is portrayed less or imposed less upon women in the west, this kind of mindset is still quite prevalent even here. Any woman that has had a boyfriend for couple of years, is expected to be secretly desiring to be proposed. I can not speak for others, but having been in a long term relationship myself for quite some time now, I find that idea to be quite stupid. I personally do not believe in the institution of marriage. Don’t get me wrong here, I believe in love, I believe in relationships, I believe in commitment, but I don’t believe that all this can be achieved only through marriage. In fact, marriage doesn’t even stop one from being disloyal or unloving or uncommitted to a relationship. My ideas on marriage aside, even those that believe in the institution of marriage, I assume or at least hope, make their decision after careful planning and thorough discussion with each other rather than woman secretly wishing and man suddenly surprising her one day with a ring. While I wouldn’t mind following traditions that are not particularly demeaning to women, the culture that I’m most attached to i.e. Nepali culture is full of rituals that accept women as the lower of the sexes. Take for example the practice of a woman touching the feet of her husband during a marriage ceremony; the ritual of parents washing the feet of the bride and groom termed as “kanya daan” – literally translating to virgin donation; the unspoken understanding that bride gets married off to the groom’s family’s house, where she will have to cook, clean and take care of her in-laws; the tradition that warrants asymmetric respect both in words and action from the bride’s side of family to everyone from the groom’s side of the family etc. Sure, changes can be made to these traditions and rituals, and that’s exactly what I hope, in vain, everytime I see one more of my relative or friend getting married under much religious and traditional hoopla. Nevertheless, the combination of being atheist, independent and feminist sometimes make me wonder what is there in a marriage ceremony itself that is to embrace especially after being stripped off of its religious or cultural aspect. If ever I find any motivation to get married, I surely will, but I can’t see it in the horizon yet.

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I’ve never identified myself with any particular culture, tradition and religion. Although I can’t deny that I must have had influences from various cultures, traditions and religions that I’ve encountered through my first or even second hand experiences in making me who I am today. Perhaps this is why I found it quite easy to adjust myself in the USA. I don’t have much Nepalese friends here, not because I have a dislike or apathy for Nepalese tradition or culture in general, but simply because who I am and what I believe in is so much influenced by other areas of my lives. To write it simply, I don’t associate with Nepalese people simply because we grew up with similar cultural and social backgrounds. To me, sharing similar political, religious, scientific, social views are more important than having been raised under similar social background. This puts a serious constraint on number of people that I closely associate with and hence, I haven’t been able to make too many close Nepalese friends besides my own sister. While this is how I feel, there is also a degree of unspoken expectation among Nepalese living abroad or in Nepal that all Nepalese people identify equally with the Nepalese culture, religion and traditions otherwise they are almost looked upon as being treacherous. People often talk about religious tolerance, yet being an agnostic or being a nonbeliever is not even considered a choice no matter how good reasons you have for your lack of belief or no matter how strongly you identify with it. To a certain extent, this is true even in the USA, and perhaps in other parts of the world as well. Though statistics has suggested time and again that non-believers are among one of the most charitable groups of people, atheists are still largely associated with immorality.

As an example, I’ve had various interactions with people in the past concerning subjects like abortion where my being an atheist has been just randomly dropped in the picture as though that has much to do with the logical aspect of the topic at hand. I have been tried to be shamed into stop talking about abortion simply because I am a woman. This particular incident happened with a relative when I was arguing against his opinion that all abortions should be illegal. During the course of discussion, a sentence that I spoke in regards to contraceptive was misconstrued to imply that I had been using contraceptive; hence having sex. I understand that this kind of twisting of words and actions to try shaming women is not only prevalent in Nepalese society. The so called advanced societies are equally adept at being extremely unjust and unfair to women and often using their sexuality as a tool to shame them. Even so, in the south asian societies, where women don’t practice as much social equality as the women in the west, these kind of dealings with women are even more rampant. During my discussion with my relative in regards to abortion I was yet again reminded of how regressive Nepalese society is in regards to women. First of all, what  an adult woman that lives away from her parents’ home does and doesn’t do in regards to her sexlife should be of no concern to anyone but the people that she gives permission to question. Secondly, during the course of discussion, I hadn’t even remotely insinuated anything about my personal life or choices, I was simply talking of contraceptive and abortion from a standpoint of a regular human being with some opinion.

Sexism exists globally, but the dynamics that I have with two different cultures in the World often exposes me to the different kinds and degrees of sexism at different times. I understand that I am in a much better position than a lot of women in the World, who have no choice but to remain a silent victim of social crimes against them or worst even – who have normalized sexism to such an extent that they themselves perpetuate such practices. However, I still find the intrusion into my private life specially in regards to my sexuality, of which marriage is also an extension, rather offensive. You can call me treacherous to my culture, you can call me immoral for not being religious, or you can call me arrogant for not going out of the way to befriend you, but I stand by what I believe in.

We need more female scientists – Why is this even controversial?

June 3, 2013

I was just randomly looking through some group in Facebook, which had the following picture posted. Like any other Facebook posts on women, this had also somehow attracted so many unwarranted negative comments on women. How ironic that the very people that are often found shouting that there is no sexism, there is no patriarchy, patriarchy doesn’t harm women etc. are the epitome of everything that is wrong with patriarchy. I do acknowledge people trying to have discussion on topics involving women even if they don’t share my opinion as long as their opinion are founded on logic and rationale rather than unfounded claims. However, there were so many people that had commented on this post with statements such as, “there is something called choice.”, “how dumb statement to be spoken by a guy with PhD”, “women are majority” yada yada yada. Following is the comment that I posted:

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“It’s rather tragic that people are attacking a sentence that should have been completely uncontroversial. When Bill Nye said; “one half of the humans are female, so one half of the scientists should be female”, he is not talking in absolutes. Neither are there exactly same number of male and females, nor there should be exact same number of male and female scientists. However, given similar social-cultural background, there should be a comparable number of female scientists as male scientists. While some of you will vehemently argue saying how male brain differs from female etc. etc., you should also note that African brain differs from Asian, Asian brain differs from White brain, and most importantly each brain differs from one another. Even among the current scientists, if you were to study their brains individually, I’m pretty sure that you will find a lot of variation.

Also, scores on standardized tests aren’t always the best tool to judge one’s intelligence. On top of that, like I mentioned before, standardized tests also say that certain races always score lesser than the others. Yet, why are we not perpetuating the stereotypes against these races? If you think social or cultural privilege is not at all relevant, how do you explain the fact that even though Asians typically have higher scores in maths and science than whites, large number of the popular scientists, who’ve made significant contribution to science, have been white males? I’m a south asian woman doing PhD in Physics, and I know from my personal experience that scientists come in different levels of expertise and intelligence. Even though their scores in certain standardized scores, in average, maybe more than that of average people, there is no one top score that every scientist has to obtain to be a scientist. This means that a white male, who didn’t have as good scores in GRE maths as an Asian male, can still dream to be a scientist. And also a white female, who maynot have as good score as a white male in GRE math can still be a scientist. Also, the scores on these standardized tests themselves aren’t reflective of one’s potential because they are also influenced by the structure of our society that gives more importance to men’s skills and qualification, whereas giving more importance to women’s looks and attractiveness.

One another extremely important thing that one needs to know is that average people usually don’t know of so many female scientists who have made significant contribution to the science in the past.  Their works are often so specialized that unless they are hyped by the media or because of sheer luck (like in the case of some male scientists), an average layperson would neither hear their names, know about their gender or even have capability to understand their contribution. I was completely astounded myself when so many of the great works in physics that we only got to study in our graduate course were actually done by females. Patriarchy is to be blamed in a lot of ways for why these female scientists weren’t acknowledged as much as their male counterparts. Even the famous Nobel Prize has been in controversy a number of times for selectively acknowledging only certain people in a collaborative work. Because of all this, present generation of females feel like science is not for women, they don’t have proper role models among several other societal influences that negatively shape their choices. In a superficial level, sure women are making more independent choices than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that their choices aren’t adulterated. “

What happens when the pursuits of “skinny” and “strong” collide?

May 22, 2013

astrojeeta:

Nicely written. Couldn’t say it better, that’s why had to reblog.

Originally posted on Fit and Feminist:

By now I’m sure most of you are familiar with the saying “Strong is the new skinny.”  It shows up fairly regularly on fitspo images and in fitness circles as a way of promoting a new standard of female beauty, one that is focused on strength and physical power instead of weight loss and restriction.  The words are often accompanied by photos of women showing off glistening muscles while they pose with weights or perform feats of bodyweight strength.  If you have spent any time at all in the fit-o-sphere, you’ve seen what I’m talking about.

Now, I support the general idea behind the phrase.  I would prefer that women – and men, really – work to cultivate their bodies’ abilities rather than fight against them in an attempt to meet our culture’s incredibly fickle beauty standards.  But I also have some issues with the execution, which, as I…

View original 1,546 more words

March 21, 2013

astrojeeta:

I am not one of those deny that sexism exists. Yet, this post made me realize once again how worse the World is for women even in privileged communities than we often tend to think.

Originally posted on Rant Against the Random:

TRIGGER WARNING:

The following includes descriptions, photos, and video that may serve as a trigger for victims of sexual violence.
Please be advised. 

Someone asked me today, “What is ‘rape culture’ anyway? I’m tired of hearing about it.”

Yeah, I hear ya. I’m tired of talking about it. But I’m going to keep talking about it because people like you keep asking that question.

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and though there are dozens of witnesses, no one says, “Stop.”

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and though there are dozens of witnesses, they can’t get anyone to come forward.

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and adults are informed of it, but no consequences are doled out because the boys “said nothing happened.”

Rape culture is when a group…

View original 1,124 more words

On women that don’t believe in feminism

March 9, 2013

Once in a while I come across articles like this that claim how much they know about feminists and the feminist ideologies, and surprisingly they don’t anger me, but make me feel pity on them. I would have commented on the post itself, but didn’t do so for the fear of her either not approving my candid comments or modifying them using the edit tool that allows the blogger to change the words of the commenter. The first and foremost irony in her article is when she makes a comment that she believes “that a woman can be and do whatever she pleases and should have the same rights as everyone else to do so … ” and yet she thinks that feminism has gone too far. The truth of the matter is this aforementioned “same right” that she speaks of hasn’t been achieved yet, and feminists are doing nothing but making sure that these rights will be achieved as soon as possible. Among these rights is included this author’s right to express her opinion and her views to matter or count.

She speaks of how “women in the past spoke of equal voting rights for women, but modern feminists often talk of how women can do jobs better than men not only equal to them”. Personally, I am yet to find a single feminist that makes a claim that women are actually better than men.  I’ve often heard men and women, who don’t align themselves with feminist movement, speaking of women’s loving, nurturing and sacrificing qualities as if they are natural to every woman, and how that makes women better than men in certain ways. I’ve heard average men and women call women an epitome of beauty. However, I have rarely heard feminists talk of three or four billion women as though they are one single person. Whether it be a category based on beauty, or loving nature or anything, every individual is different, and I think most feminists know of this and agree with this. Feminists do not claim that women are better than men, feminists only talk of the potential in women to be what they want to be.

She mentions that feminists these days are veering towards proving women superior to men by awarding “more skillful, more advanced, higher classed women”, which I find completely ridiculous. For every such magazine that award such women, there are literally thousand others that do so exclusively for men. Also, if you have to talk about media representation of women, how many other examples you can find where women are not only tacitly objectified but also blatantly mocked and ridiculed in the name of entertainment and joke? Furthermore, what is wrong with awarding women that are really skilled, and advanced?

She further goes on to talk about pro-women campaign and questions what would happen if there were pro-men campaign. I would like to encourage her and anyone who seems to agree with her to think of racism for a second. When Martin Luther King spoke of rights for African American, how stupid it would have been if we asked, “What about the rights of whites?” What kind of right are we talking about? If we are talking about right to be privileged and always remain as a privileged group, then one must understand that there is no such right. However, if we are talking about genuine rights, then men can, of course, form pro-men campaign by all means. I am not at all oblivious to all the different ways in which men too can become a victim of gender discrimination and stereotyping. One that stands out to me is the financial burden that is placed on men by the society to provide for their family. If there are men, who choose to speak on these issues, I’m sure most feminists will come out as an ally to them rather than enemies for the simple fact that equality benefits both parties. Women being financially independent is not only good for themselves, but for the men involved in their lives too. By the same token, for anything else that feminists stand up for, it can be argued that men benefit equally.

The author also talks about the “fundamental distinction between men and women”. What she forgets is that all humans are different from one another. Though it’s not right to talk about how one race differs from other, it is an inevitable fact that there are some ailments that people from certain race are more susceptible to than people from certain other race. Does that imply though that one race is superior to the other? NO. By the same rationale, yes there are certain differences between one sex and the other. However, there are much more differences between us as individuals than how much differences we have as people from different sex or race or caste or color or sexuality. Sure, men have more testosterone than women in general, but the truth of the matter is that there are also women, who have higher level of testosterone than average women, and there are also men that have higher level of estrogen than others. These deviations that she speaks of are really not so much of a deviation. These are statistically natural. In any statistical group, there is a large population that falls in the middle; however, there are also others that are not completely in the middle. Variations within a population is completely natural phenomena. Just because they do not embody what a statistically average man or woman would embody, doesn’t make them less of a man or a woman. Also, it’s important to note that these statistically average characteristics are also very largely affected by the societal rules, regulations, and expectations out of people belonging to different gender.

The author also talks about how men are better than women in games, strength, sports etc. While doing so, she perfectly chooses to forget the history of human civilization throughout which women have really never gotten chance to show their potential when it comes to a lot of things. We (both men and women) can increase our stamina, our strength, our endurance etc. by staggering amount in barely one year if we undergo good physical training accompanied by good diet. Also, evolution is real, irrespective of what people believe. How can one deny that generation and generation of women being confined to household chores didn’t seriously debilitate them physically? Furthermore, the author remembers to point out, “…not to say that there aren’t women out there who would be better soldiers than your local male hairdresser, but these are the exceptions…” When some men are better than some women, she calls it norm, and when there are some women better than some men, then she calls it exception. How freaking sexist?

Also, she claims that the wage difference is largely due to women choosing to enter lower paid jobs than men irrespective of equal opportunities available to them. She also tries to prove how she is educated, and was encouraged to pursue any career she wanted to. She happened to choose a degree based on Economics, and was discriminated during her degree. While I don’t completely disagree with her first statement about women choosing to enter lower paid jobs than men, I completely disagree about her claim of equal opportunities. She starts writing this post with her completely narrow one dimensional view of the world, where she sees all women from diverse socio-economic and political background to have had same kind of privilege as herself. Feminists don’t deny that there are women out there that perhaps have had more privileged lives than even some men had; however, these few instances aren’t enough to deny the grave social injustice that still exists in much of the world. Most women are not as lucky as herself. There are women in this world, whose opinions are not given as much value as her views, there are women out there that irrespective of their interest are not allowed to even go to school, there are women out there that became victims of hate crimes against women. We can’t simply deny their right to be happy simply because some privileged women don’t see any good in feminism.

The very fact that a lot of women choose lower paid jobs speaks volumes about our social construct where women’s career are not given equal importance as men. Right from the small age, women are made to think about their beauty, their prospect of getting a right man, their future kids whereas men are moulded to think about themselves, their career etc. Not only women grow up internalizing different gender roles, they are often even discouraged to join certain career paths citing what they think is apparent inability in women. Take for example this author herself. She claims that she could have chosen any career she wanted. How do I buy her claim, when she is the one who initially mentioned how women are worse than men in sports and physically demanding jobs? Even if she did really gain outside support to pursue any career she wanted to, the differences in gender role that she internalized perhaps played a big role in her choice of career. It’s not too difficult to imagine that someone that doesn’t believe in women’s ability to excel in physically demanding jobs perhaps didn’t even give herself an opportunity to pursue a career in anything that was physically demanding. Had she considered being an athlete or a soldier as a career option, perhaps she would have had more fulfilling life. Who knows?

It is pretty ironic that after reading this author’s post I got even more convinced that feminism is absolutely necessary. Feminism is necessary especially because even during today’s date there are women like this author present in the most developed of nations and even amongst the circles of educated people. These people think they are just so positive people that whatever evidence of sexism is thrown at them, they will deny it and turn it into something positive. She claims of having been discriminated during her degree and her career, but she somehow thinks that those incidences of discriminations by themselves are not good enough reasons to make her believe in feminism.

Hating anyone based on the group they belong to is wrong, whether it is hating men, women, people of certain race, caste, creed etc. If there are any feminists that hate men in general simply because they were born as men but not because of their actions, or their beliefs then those feminists are to be blamed. However, trying to defame entire feminist group and what they stand for simply on the basis of (well) nothing (given that she had absolutely no example of feminist that hated men) is not only wrong but pretty pathetic. “I do not agree with her opinion, but I understand that she has right to have an opinion” no matter how counterproductive it is.

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