Ditto my thoughts.
Originally posted on Vida Manejo:
As I try to understand the Draft Constitution of Nepal (as tabled by the Constituent Assembly on July 7), I realize how vulnerable I am as a woman in my own country. Clearly, the Constitution is treating me as a ‘second class citizen’ just because I am born a girl.
First- a mother- I have no power to provide citizenship to my own child if I do not have a Nepali husband or a Nepali man who is willing to give his name to my child. Article 12(1) grants citizenship only to children, if both mother ‘AND’ father are Nepalese. Possibly, the Constitution is assuming that a woman will never give birth to a child without a husband. There are still thousands of children born to abandoned or raped mothers; and they do not know who their fathers are. There are many women who do not want their children to…
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Strange world this is. I was in Atlanta, getting out of some hotel. I saw a man, dressed up nice and getting inside the hotel. There was a woman several feet behind him. He got inside the door and like what people generally expect from a “gentleman”, he held the door for the woman behind him. It must have taken her good 30 seconds to finally reach the door, he held the door for her nonetheless. There was a man right behind the woman, and before this man could enter through the door, this “gentleman” closed the door right into his face. This kind of behavior startles me. These kind of incidents should make us think how absurd our ideas on what makes a man “gentleman” are. If he really was a “gentleman”, wouldn’t his courtesy to women also extend to men? Even if he didn’t stand there holding the door for the man for half a minute, he could have at least avoided closing the door right in his face. Certain level of chivalry is definitely good, but when one is courteous asymmetrically to different genders then one probably needs to reassess his/her ideas on courteousness. Is the act of politeness done simply to be considered civil or should it be an extension of a person’s personality? I believe that both men and women should be courteous enough to hold doors for people that are right behind them, but as long as someone seems completely able to do day to day simple jobs like that, no one really should be expected to do anything for others.
Was it PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi’s candid confession or an extremely unthoughtful and demotivating message to young girls?
I came across this article on PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, and found it to be quite annoying in multiple ways. I wish accomplished women would just stop being so demotivating for once, and analyze their shortcomings and accomplishments from multiple directions before speaking up. While some people are praising her for being candid, I find it extremely harmful to the psyche of young girls. First of all, perhaps, no one – neither men nor women – can “have it all”. Personally, I don’t even think it’s important for anyone to have it all. We need to prioritize what things are important in our lives, and try to maximize what we can have. On doing that, I’ve witnessed various people (men and women) that have been quite successful in optimizing their priorities in lives.
Through her interview, it seems as though her household was quite traditional in a sense that her husband only fulfilled traditional role as a father, while she struggled to fulfill her role as a traditional wife and a mother at the same time having an ambitious career. Without men getting more involved in household work, of course, women can’t “have it all” because in a case like hers men aren’t doing their fair share of work. I personally believe that one major step in “having it all” is in choosing a right partner that is your equal, not your superior. A lot of women, despite being successful in their career, seem to wrongfully think that their duties as wife, mother, daughters and daughter-in-laws need to be very divergent from any man’s duties as a father, husband, son and son-in-law. Hence, they end up being very dissatisfied with themselves if they cannot fulfill the roles of stereotypical housewives. These gender rules are human made, not only have they gone through complete metamorphosis since the beginning of human civilization, but they surely can and need to be constantly challenged with time. Women, who work out of their house and juggle to also fulfill the roles of traditional housewives, are simply taking too much in their plates. They are not only taking their duties, but also taking the duties of their partners, and trying to fulfill them. No wonder, they appear to not be able to “have it all”.
To me her anecdote about her mother was quite disturbing, and dare I say, quite pathetic. This shows how selfish even husbands, mothers, and other members of family or society can be when it comes to women’s professional accomplishment. She goes home at 10 p.m. after finding out she will be named president of PepsiCo. Her mom wants her to go out and get some milk, which she implies Nooyi’s husband, who was home since 8 p.m., couldn’t do because he is a husband. This story comes up simply to imply that men and women have different responsibilities. I wonder what kind of message Nooyi is even trying to send by providing this story. Is she saying that this is how men-women relationship should be, or is she saying that we simply have no way out of this? The right thing for her to do in such situation would have been to attempt to change her rather conservative mother’s mind rather than trying to please everyone and send out a message that women despite being educated still need to confirm to the age old stereotypical gender expectations. I do not believe that this is how women’s lives should be, neither do I believe that we are doomed and we have no other option but to compromise one way or the other. Throughout the interview, she gives an impression that though she is accomplished in her professional sphere, she is not as successful in her personal life. I do not think that it’s her who is unsuccessful in family life, rather it’s her husband (based on the above article). And even if she is, then part of it is natural since perfection is hard to achieve, and part of it is because she put herself in a situation where she is demanding more from herself than she would from a man in her position. Let us imagine a family life as a boat, with two people pedaling the two sides. Traditional households, where wives were homemaker and husbands did outside work, worked because it was like each person on the boat pedaling one side each. As women started working outside of the house, men didn’t start getting involved in the household affairs at the same rate. Hence, a situation arose where metaphorically both the people are pedaling the same side of the boat, with occasional pedaling by one person on the other side. How can we expect such boat to stay afloat? The problem here is not that women are working on their careers, here the one and only major problem I see is that men aren’t getting involved in the household affairs.
In a quite shocking manner, Nooyi also admits to getting her employees involved in raising her children. It’s quite startling that she would rather have her employees get involved in the rearing of her children than demand the same from her husband. To be fair, it’s not entirely her problem. Like it is obvious from her anecdote about her mother, society and families have unrealistic ideas and expectations from women. These days, though families want their daughters and wives to succeed professionally, they haven’t entirely stopped expecting that their daughters and wives continue to fulfill the duties and responsibilities that women did when their lives were confined within their household. Why does it have to be women alone that ensure that the children finish their homework in time, that Christmas greeting cards are sent out to all the relatives, or that there is enough milk in the house etc.? Though traditional households may have had better work distribution than the households like that of Nooyi, imposing responsibilities based on one’s gender is not a wise thing to do. Social rules cannot and should not bend backwards and require that women stay at house and take care of the family and men work outside. However, what can and should happen is that people should encourage men to get equally involved in the household chores and free women of the excessive mental and social burden to take care of their family. It’s a high time that we stop falling for these stereotypical gender role trap, and simply take it as a unique predicament of being born a woman. Also, I think one (specially women) need to start giving themselves enough credit for their professional and personal accomplishments rather than constantly judging themselves negatively based on the unfair expectations of the society. This idea extends to women’s look, body, strength, and several other attributes as well.
Parenthood cannot be easy, obviously one has to make some sacrifices specially if one chooses to be a parent during the prime time of his/her career. But this decision has to be gradual, informed and properly researched. One particular idea that I find misinformed it the idea of “biological clock”. The ideas such as women need to have children to be satisfied in personal lives, they need to have biological children, and that they need to have them by certain age are nothing but misconceptions that keep on getting reinforced through conservative media, words and expectations from our well wishers and through inconclusive studies on women’s reproductive age. The voices from outside can become so compelling that one might internalize it to the extent that the voices appear to be coming from inside. I wish that accomplished women like Nooyi would take her position seriously enough to understand that she is and could be a role model for so many young girls, and stop sending out demoralizing messages in the guise of candid confession.
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day in the US. The very fact the mere title of my article might end up offending a lot of people, including my own mom, is enough to establish that we do indeed put motherhood on a pedestal. In this context, I’m talking about biological motherhood, because that is what society focuses mainly on as well. We are told from the beginning of our lives that mother’s love is unconditional. Even during our adulthood, we are reminded again and again by our peers, who’ve already become mothers, that it’s the best feeling in the world. These days even single women are becoming biological mothers by adapting different means of getting pregnant. Most people, who cannot give birth, seem very desperate to undergo any medical treatments currently possible in order to become mothers. Also, women that do not plan to have children are reminded again and again that it cannot be their final decision in lives. They are told that they will change their minds. If they don’t seem to happen to change their minds, they are told that their body clocks will soon start ticking and eventually either they will give in, or that it will be too late for them to have babies when they finally realize that motherhood is the only thing that defines women. Amid all the glorification of motherhood are some real social problems. These problems or other issues surrounding motherhood don’t get to be discussed with rationality when people discussing them enter the conversation with preconceived notions about motherhood.
The claim that motherhood is unconditional cannot be farther from truth. Maybe once the kids are born, most mothers instinctively know what is best for their kids. But what about before birth? Isn’t the act of wanting a biological child, in an of itself, a selfish decision? The child is not yet born, so the birth of child cannot be for the child. It must be the desire to be parents, or desire to have the lineage going, or desire to have someone to look after them in their old age etc. that enables parents to have kids. Perhaps, very frequently children are also just a byproduct of their parents’ pleasure activities. None of these reasonings for having kids seem unconditional to me, yet we don’t like to admit to these because it goes against the status quo of idolizing anything that surrounds parenthood. Not everything in the world has to be black or white. Admitting to one’s selfish reasoning for having children won’t take away from the tedious work, innumerable compromises, and several years of long nights that most parents have to endure before and after the kids are born. Because of the patriarchal nature of most societies in the world, no doubt, mothers end up doing most of the hard work and making most of the sacrifices when it comes to having children. So, most women do end up doing an insurmountable amount of work in bearing and raising their children. However, when we make such claims about the infallibility of mothers, we are in some ways belittling the stories of thousands and thousands of children, who get mistreated by their mothers, who get abused and/or left behind by their mothers. What this kind of mindset of putting mothers on a pedestal does is, it very seldom holds such mothers (women in general) accountable for their wrongdoings towards kids. Many times than not, I’ve heard people saying, “she is a mother, she would have done it if she could…”, “she is a mother, she definitely didn’t want such thing for her children…” etc. even in the face of carelessness and lack of responsibility by the mother, which sometimes even ends up costing the lives of the children. In some cases, yes intentions matter more than actions. Perhaps, a lot of mothers that hurt their kids end up doing so because of the circumstances surrounding them, despite their good intentions. However, it’s an entirely different story to generalize every woman that becomes a mother as an epitome of selfless love.
Just like how it is a taboo to say that motherhood is not as unconditional as people make it to be, it is also somewhat of a taboo for women to claim that they do not want to have children. Not surprising, given the idolization of motherhood, society very often correlates women that do not want children with being selfish, arrogant and unwomenly. Perhaps, a lot of women that fall into this category make such decisions because they have prioritized other things in their lives like their education, career, relationship with other people above being a mother. It is simply our patriarchal mindset that makes us believe that women’s primary goal in lives is to bear children. Those women that do not want to bear children might still be engaged in several other activities that show love, care and compassion for other beings and/or activities in their lives. This coupled with my argument in the previous paragraph about the lack of selflessness in the decision making aspect of having children implies that perhaps these women aren’t all that different from other women that choose to be mothers. It’s simply that they are different individuals with different priorities in their lives. Bearing and raising children is a very demanding job. However, there is no excuse to do it wrong because it involves the lives of people, you had option not to even create in the first place. Perhaps, some women that choose not to have children are doing so because they don’t want to take a responsibility and not be able to give it their hundred percent given their priorities in lives. After all, shouldn’t society be encouraging women that want to be mothers to be responsible mothers rather than encouraging every woman to be a mother? Beside this aspect of not wanting to be a mother, perhaps there are some people like me as well, who believe in spending the time and resources that one spends in desperately wanting their own biological children towards the children that are already born and are in need. However, the adoption process, especially an international adoption process particularly for single women, seems to be quite unfavorable and expensive. I’ll write more about it later in a separate article about adoption.
Another aspect of the motherhood brings about grave socio-political discussion on topics like abortion. On one hand society puts motherhood on a pedestal, and on the other hand the same fragment of society questions women’s decision making when it comes to abortion. If mothers are indeed so selfless, shouldn’t we be trusting that they will put their unborn children’s lives above many things including their own lives as much as they can? My personal argument is that women should be allowed to choose what they want to do with their bodies, and by extension they should be the ones making their individual decision on abortion (not to confuse this with some women making decisions on behalf of whole womanhood). On the other hand, I’m also of the belief that mothers can just be as selfish as any other relationships in one’s lives, after all it’s the same people that are somebody’s mothers and somebody else’s friends, wives, children etc. One may wonder, how do I justify women’s right to choose an abortion given that I also believe that mothers are capable of being selfish. In my opinion, human beings are intrinsically selfish. We all are. So, the question of selfishness or lack thereof doesn’t even enter into the discussion. However, even if we were to argue that some women do choose to abort for superficial reasons, aren’t the unborn children better off being aborted when their neurological development hasn’t even been completed rather than having to suffer throughout their lives being born to an unloving and possibly irresponsible mother? Also, a pro-choice movement is very often either confused or manipulated to imply as pro-abortion movement. Demanding that women have RIGHT to make such decisions DOESN’T automatically imply that abortion is being endorsed or coerced upon individuals. I will spare further discussion on this as this has already been discussed to death.
In short, I believe that it’s quite problematic that we as a society idolize motherhood to such a large degree and through brainwashing and/or rearing with such mindset indirectly influence women’s decisions in lives. When women that aren’t prepared to be mothers choose to be mothers under society’s pressure, the result cannot be always positive. Now combine this with domestic violence, rape, battery, physical abuse that are just so rampant, mother’s love for children or women’s decision to become mothers cannot always be as rosy as the society paints it to be. What we need is a pragmatic view of motherhood that doesn’t deter us from examining the sociopolitical discussion that surrounds being a mother.
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, the stories she shared about her friends have no credibility. I don’t 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 in a language that the subjects most likely cannot comprehend. 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, rather in her own words – 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 hold onto these values even more tightly. Most polite individuals from another culture don’t criticize us for adhering to these values because at current age there is a lot of 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, they only keep on augmenting.
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. One of the reasons for which is that 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, while the reverse cannot even be contemplated. 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 as sensitive as they normally are that it’s almost a taboo to even question one about their cultural or religious beliefs, let alone have a discussion on these topics. One has to tip-toe around these subjects, even if the consequences of some of these practices are quite big on equality, human right or other social issues. Like anything that is complex, social rules, cultural values, and religious views can never be perfect. Even if they are appropriate at present, they need to be updated and modified since they can easily become obsolete. 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 tell them that I have a white boyfriend, and that he is nothing like what they tell me he is like. I want to tell them 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 want to voluntarily publicize my relationship to so many of the unfairly judgmental relatives of mine, a large number of whom have preemptively suggested me not to have a white boyfriend. It is actually through the experiences of some of the 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 to 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 do not really give much importance to what others think about me, but perhaps because this is directed at someone I love and because of the unfair nature of it, this troubles me a bit. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.