Social media can be both entertaining and infuriating. And often there is a thin line between the two. Memes and elaborate jokes about women and their habits are by nature misogynistic but, sadly, men usually don’t realize how offensive and derogatory their posts can be—that something ceases to be a joke when it’s at the expense of another person’s dignity.
Recently, a high-ranking official at a renowned media house in Nepal posted a picture of his wife on Facebook. Propped up in bed, surrounded by tissues, pills, and bottles of water, with a hand massaging the bridge of her nose, it was clear that she was unwell. The caption read something along the lines of ‘The wife has all the symptoms of Covid-19 except loss of smell and is incapacitated. The husband’s daily routine suffers.’ The original text, in Nepali, rhymed. The husband obviously thought he was being clever. The post has been removed but it was a hauntingly good example of how the society still largely perceives its women—as those whose lives are best lived on the fringes of men’s wants, ambitions, and idiosyncrasies.
Senior journalist Ruby Rauniyar says our societal structure is such that women are made to feel less important and valued than men. That is, she says, the reality in many educated, well-to-do families too. There are covert ways in which women are sidelined and treated like the weaker sex. If a daughter is strong, confident, and does well in life, she is called the son of the family. The implication being that men are the heroes and women can rarely, if ever, match up.
“Misogyny starts at home when we differentiate between our sons and daughters, when we have different sets of rules for them because of their gender,” says Rauniyar. Change isn’t easy because we have grown up seeing our mothers bend backwards for their families and fathers being unappreciative of the efforts their wives put in to keep the household running smoothly, often without them lifting a finger.
Also read: Why make Rangoli in Tihar?
Our society’s misogynistic mindset is further fueled by the inequality and unfairness that women bear with in order to maintain peace at home. When women stay silent to avoid conflict, despite their feelings being hurt, they reinforce the superiority complex that most men have grown up with. Psychologist Minakshi Rana says we unknowingly nurse the male ego and give men a false sense of power when we don’t express ourselves.
“That is why I say you shouldn’t let go of the little things. If you have an issue, speak up. Women are usually guilty of letting things slide. By not holding men accountable for their words and ways, you let them think they are right,” she says. Rana adds that it’s appalling how misogyny often goes unnoticed until the little things add up and become too big to contain. Most domestic issues and relationship problems she has seen in her career stem from men having gotten away with things for far too long till women couldn’t take it anymore. “From then on, a simple joke becomes a taunt and you can’t fix that kind of equation,” she says.
There’s no denying that our society undermines its women. It’s sometimes glaringly obvious in the form of violence while other times it hides behind the façade of jokes and traditions. The subconscious belittling of women is perhaps the worst form of torture you can inflict on them. At most homes and parties, the men eat before the women. After a long day at work, the men demand tea and it is the wives who go to the kitchen, having just put their bags down, to fix it and then start preparing dinner. When a husband does the dishes after the wife cooks, he is ‘helping’ her.
Also read: Nepal’s decennial census needs a rethink
Rauniyar says women are responsible for all the chores men consider mundane. “If there is a family function or a gathering at home, the women are expected to take a day off from work. The men come home just in time to party,” she says. Most things women do—laundry, dusting, grocery shopping—are considered her duties. She receives no appreciation for it because ‘she is supposed to do it’ and ‘how hard can it be’. Rauniyar narrates an incident she witnessed where the father-in-law berated the daughter-in-law for allowing her husband to work in the kitchen. He said seeing his son cook was humiliating and asked her to handle kitchen work entirely on her own.
Usha Shah, retired as SSP, Police Hospital and currently serving as chief dietician at Grande International Hospital in Kathmandu, says women are dominated everywhere in the world and it’s not something that’s specific to our culture. What’s different is that in many other countries, women are pushing back. Here, we are still so entrenched in patriarchy that many women accept sexual discrimination as their fate, something they have to deal with because their mothers and grandmothers did and taught them to.
As bleak as it sounds, there is no light at the end of the tunnel in this case, says Counsellor Geeta Neupane of The Women’s Foundation Nepal. She says even those who harp about equality in public platforms have this narrow mindset about women and their position in society. Neupane blames years of conditioning for that. It’s not something that’s easy to shrug off, she says. Worse, even women believe they are second class citizens. “If you don’t, then you have to act like it,” she says.
Subservience is expected of women because they are women. No matter how educated men are it doesn’t stop them from exercising that socially- and culturally-granted right. Rauniyar says she has seen doctors and engineers—those we have placed in the highest rung of the social hierarchy—not treating their wives as partners and always imposing their decisions on them. Neupane adds men have a sense of authority that has been handed down through generations. However, that is not to say that there aren’t men who don’t rise above social norms. But they are rare, not to mention people constantly tease them for doing women’s work. “Only some men, the ideal ones, are able to let go of that inflated sense of self and treat women as equals,” says Neupane.