*Something new on the blog today! We have a male voice speaking about male privilege in our society. We hope you like that we’ve switched things up a bit. Please discuss.
Man in The Mirror – Looking at Male Privilege in Nepali Society
By Dinesh Pant
I’ll start with an anecdote. I was in a café drinking some tea. In the corner table, a group of girls were smoking cigarettes and enjoying themselves. But men who were there also smoking in the café were staring at these girls and sneering. Their smug expression was saying “look at these girls smoking publicly, with no shame”. Regardless of their choice, I felt an overwhelming respect for those girls for being themselves without a care in the world.
Above anecdote is just a small scenario that prevails in societies like ours with male hegemony. It is only logic, if one half of the society is oppressed and cannot enjoy the basic freedoms, then the other half must have privileges. Personally, I don’t see girls as lesser beings, being born a man, I am aware of my countless advantages over them.
I was born in a modest Brahmin family in Baitadi. When I was young my family moved to Kanchanpur, Mahendranagar, the other corner of Nepal we hardly hear about.
Remembering my childhood, I enjoyed playing outdoor sports. However, my sister and my female friends in my neighborhood were encouraged to play bhanda-kuti (where girls play out domestic roles they are supposed to fill out in society once they grow older with dolls and cookware toys). I often asked my mum and aunts why the girls wouldn’t join us and often the reply was “Babu cricket, football is not for girls, they enjoy bhanda-kuti.” When I think about it now, if those girls (including my sister) were allowed to play with us, they might feel that they are no less than their brothers and their male friends.
During school years, there were very few girls in my class compared to the boys. Most families in my community did not send their daughters to schools, or if they did, only to government schools. My sister was fortunate enough that she was allowed to attend a private school. My parents probably thought that a well-educated daughter would be able to stand on her own feet and most likely get a reputed and successful husband. The small number of girls in my class used to sit together in a cluster, away from the male students, and were always quiet. Most likely because we are taught from home that girls shouldn’t talk to unknown boys. In our classes, boys were confident, but girls never spoke up. Like the presence of the girls in the class, their academic performance was also not good as boys.
The control in behaviour amongst girls starts at a very young age. The same toddler who once cried as much as her sibling brother soon learns that she shouldn’t talk too loudly, giggle too much, walk a certain way, say certain things. She may be told she’s uttauli, chada bhako (with no shame!). She may be asked to help around more in the house, make sure she’s looking after her younger sister or older brother or her father when the mother is in her periods / gone out. It doesn’t take long for her to learn that she’s less valued when she sees her brother playing outside and she has to help her mother with house chores.
Back to when I was a teenager, our hormones dictated our body, and naturally we got attracted to girls. We desperately wanted to talk and interact with girls, but we didn’t know how, and our indoctrinated ideas didn’t allow us to do so either. Because of this sexual frustration, our desire to communicate with girls frequently erupted in the form of bullying, mocking, teasing, quarreling, and even making misogynist jokes (jokes we learnt from our surroundings, movies, and soap operas). I remember feeling smug with those interactions. Looking back, they were most likely sexual harassment.
On the other hand, when my sister used to complain that she was teased by boys, my parents used to just tell her not to speak to boys and used to chastise her by saying that she shouldn’t put on too much makeup or look too ‘nakkali’. Blaming the victim for harassment/or any other crime committed on women, is very common in society like ours. Girls are too often told that they are harassed because of something they have done. For talking too loudly, for leaving the house late at night, bringing shame to the family by choosing who to marry, and in extreme cases, in some rural Asian countries, killed by their relatives for dishonoring the family. Wives are often hit because they have talked back, they haven’t cooked good food, or other petty reasons.
In the matter of household work, I didn’t help with dishes, cooking food, or washing clothes. Those were seen as women’s job. Once I realised it wasn’t right, I started washing my clothes and some “masculine” work like harvesting paddy and heavy lifting. Cooking and doing dishes was still a very rare thing for me, I used to only do that when my sister and my mother were both on their period at once, since they were considered impure and untouchable for few days, and were not allowed to enter the kitchen.
After I got an opportunity to move to Kathmandu to further my education, I really enjoyed my new environment although it was difficult to accommodate at first. I was liberated from family and I could make my own mind about things without someone telling me how to think.
On the other hand, when my sister passed her exams with distinction and also wanted to study in Kathmandu, my parents refused outright. They used my not-so-good results as an example and told her that the she wouldn’t study hard either. Whatever excuses my parents gave my sister, it is obvious that the reason was not my low marks but their insecurities. For a girl, to enjoy herself is bringing shame to the family, she may then not find the suitable husband, the husband’s family may reject her and never forgive her for her past. Most importantly, they don’t want to send daughters far from home, because living away from home is enjoying one’s freedom, and girls’ freedom is still controlled in our society. The only reason I got my freedom was because I was born a man. Even though she is doing well in her studies and I encourage her to do well in her study and live for herself and not for the future husband, her freedom is still controlled because she is born a female.
Being young and hormonal, it is obvious that almost all of us have desires to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend. I often wonder, if my sister wants a boyfriend, what she would do since where I am from, the privilege of choosing the partner is given to the males only. In my society, girls who choose their own partners are considered to be of ‘loose’ character.
I hope after reading my story, people can understand the male privileges in most middle class families. For poorer families, it is even more dire; girls often don’t get an opportunity to get an education and are married in early age with the expense of “daizo” (dowry). Though dowry system is technically illegal in Nepal, there are more implicit versions that are prevalent in richer families disguised as gifts but it is comparatively less serious than those of poor families.
Recently, we have become experts on boasting about our female president, and other female leaders in other fields. Sadly, the truth is most women in our society are unemployed and are financially dependent to their husband or son. Even though women get a discount on property taxes, most property and land in Nepal is owned by men.
When it comes to politics, it is unanimous that male population sector has enormous political privilege; because it is impossible for women to get political privilege as they are caged in the patriarchal system and its mindset. In spite of flaws in citizenship provision for women but it still guarantees 33% representation. But this is of no use until women themselves get liberated from this social injustice.
In my view, women will never be liberated from this feudal patriarchal system by a male’s favor, since men are reaping the benefits of this patriarchal system. In my opinion, oppressor will never help oppressed to get liberated as he is getting all the benefits. Imagine, I have someone cooking for me until I am married, and then someone else cooking for me. I get treated like a king when I go to my in-laws. I don’t have to leave my parents home, someone else comes and lives with me. I rarely partake in child rearing, I don’t have to change my surname, not only that, every year my wife fasts for my long life, and my sister does a puja on me so I am protected. So why would I speak against the system I am getting so much benefit from? Not only that, when I die, they hold a puja for me every year until eternity.
Sadly, patriarchy also takes a lot away from men. Men aren’t supposed to cry, men aren’t supposed to show their emotions, they often miss out on child rearing, and most often, men have the burden of providing for the family. There are male sympathizers, but it won’t work without women’s strong agitation. As Babasaheb Dr. BhimRao Ambedkar said, “So long as you do not achieve the social liberty, whatever freedom is provided by the law is no avail to you”. To get complete political freedom women must be rebellious and destroy the current family and social institution.