Twenty years ago, home science was an optional subject in the SLC syllabus. In my all-girls school, however, it was compulsory. We were taught to cook, sew petticoats and baby dresses, and knit socks and sweaters. Some of us wanted to study accounts while others wished for computer classes. But our principal insisted on home science because [in the future, when you were married and had children] “would you rush to the tailors’ and ask her to sew on a loose button on your husband’s shirt as he got ready for work?”
I’m married to a man who irons our clothes, cleans the bathroom and peels water-soaked almonds for breakfast in the morning and does many other chores that are traditionally and perhaps still considered a ‘woman’s job’. I’ve been berated by quite a few relatives for ‘allowing’ my husband to do these things around the house. I’ve also explicitly been told I’m not a ‘good’ wife. My house-help suggests that maybe she or I should set the table for lunch instead of dai. She rushes with the placemats if he hasn’t gotten around to it already. Men shouldn’t do these things, she tells me.
“The moment you are born, you are slotted into these boxes that determine what you can and can’t do, and how you should and shouldn’t be based on your gender. Our social setting and programming promote disparity from very early on,” says human rights activist Sabitra Dhakal.
And indeed, women have always been conditioned to be a certain way and to live their lives in accordance to someone else’s—as a daughter, a wife, and a mother. Their roles in relation to others take precedence over who they are as individuals. Dhakal says women have a society-assigned identity. Society, she says, has long determined what is and isn’t accepted of women and a slight deviation is enough to warrant name calling and slut shaming.
Take for instance all the uproar over Priyanka Karki’s Instagram post where she is seen happily flaunting her baby bump. From calling her photos obscene to blaming her for polluting young minds, there’s no line that’s not been crossed. Thankfully, and more power to her, the actor says none of it has affected her. But what right did we have to violate her personal space in the first place? In a society where the neighbors will openly ask a newly-married couple when they are planning to have a baby, why is it unacceptable for a woman to want to document the various stages of it?
Durga Karki, advocate and author of the book Kumari Prasnaharu, says women have to face multiple barriers and limitations in life. The same conditions, she adds, don’t extend to men. Our culture today that controls, questions and ridicules women at every turn, is a result of years of unfairness and dominance. It’s going to take a lot of work, on a national level, for this to change, she adds.
The discourse on social media, on equality and empowerment, are important but it has to lead to actual laws and rights in favor of women if we are to ever hope for our societal structure to change. Conversations, though important, can only do so much, says Karki who believes our political climate and space also need to be welcoming of women in power. The government should lead by example and be liberal in its ideology of women and their rights.
But our society’s attitude towards women boils down to lack of respect and the unwillingness to give women any personal space, says journalist Anjali Subedi. This society, she says, also has a strict code of conduct for women and anything outside of it is unfathomable and unacceptable.
Worse, women aren’t women’s biggest cheerleaders. It’s the lack of a circle of support that makes it difficult for women to break free from the hegemony of men. Dhakal adds many are often quick to make statements like “I’m not that kind of a woman” while talking about themselves, which undermines women in general.
Rumi Rajbhandari, founder of Astitwa, a non-profit that works to rehabilitate victims of burn violence, says strong and independent women are still not appreciated. It can’t stomach a Priyanka Karki. It prefers its women meek and subservient. Anything else is an anomaly that needs to be put in place. This, she adds, is because the basis of a patriarchal society is oppression and women who don’t allow for it—who speak up, who go against the rules—are seen as threats.
Advocate Grishma Bista says women need to be more vocal and express themselves, unburdened by what the society might think or say. A mind-your-own-business attitude is what women need to have, she says. However, that’s easier said than done.
Rajbhandari says it’s only possible if and when women get strong family support. The problem right now, says Rajbhandari, is that women are told to keep quiet, let things go and not to ascertain their rights in order to maintain peace at home. The cost of this compromise is often women’s mental wellbeing, dignity and sense of self. But, let’s be honest here, when have we ever cared?
“My mother always blames me for any misunderstanding between me and my husband. She tells me I must have done something wrong,” says Rajbhandari. This kind of mindset that puts men on a pedestal is what gives them more power and makes women vulnerable to all kinds of hardships and violence—physical, mental, and emotional.
My parents have been my biggest support system and I find that it gives me the confidence to stand up for myself. The knowledge that I’m not alone, that I might be contradicted in private but will be vehemently supported in public empowers me more than anything else. For a woman to grow and thrive, I believe, there must be people rallying behind her no matter what.
“If not family, then the support could come in the form of other women. A major setback in our society is that all too often women drag women down. I call them the gatekeepers of patriarchy. That needs to stop,” concludes Dhakal.