Monday, July 25, 2011

A rant about gender.

I have read a lot recently on other blogs and intercultural relationship forums about gender roles and the impact of culture. Gender roles are something we learn from birth, through every interaction with our parents, the media and our community at large.

It is in every children’s program which show boys playing with cars or running around outside and girls at home playing with dolls or cooking with mum. Every time your mum does the laundry while your dad sits watching TV or your dad drives the car “because he is just better at that kind of thing”, our gender roles are reinforced.

Over the course of our lives we may recognize that some of our gender roles are sexist, stereotyping or just plan wrong but it is hard to change beliefs that you have been unknowingly molded by your whole life.

My family are essentially a traditional gender roles kind of family. My dad cooked sometimes, but only if he decided he wanted to, mostly the cooking cleaning and child raising was my mum’s domain. Dad drove the car, held the TV remote and made the decisions. Despite the traditional arrangement my mum and dad had, they taught us fairly relaxed gender roles. We were never told we couldn’t do something because we were girls.

I actually remember when I realized I was a girl and that came with ‘rules’. I must have been 8 or 9 when I realized I would have to have the babies. I had always thought I’d be the one working and I’d come home to someone who’d look after me the way my mum did. It was a huge shock to realize I was part of the “weaker” sex.

Of course as I got older sexism in Australia became less tolerable. At school we were told women can be anything they want and I truly believe that. I studied, I worked and I travelled the world alone. Mostly I was fine (apart from a few calls to mum and dad when I was lost in Spain but that’s another story). Then I came to Nepal.

Now my worth is measured by having a son and cooking good Dal Bhat, both of which I have not been able to master yet. The other day I heard a woman tell my mother in law that Mero Budda should get a new wife to do all the work. I wasn’t rude enough to tell that bitch I am the only one in the house that actually has paid employment and maybe if Mero Budda or my MIL had jobs I wouldn’t have to work so much and I would have time to learn all the ‘important’ things like making good tea and washing laundry in a bucket.

I am really struggling to find that balance between respecting the Nepali culture and my “modern ideas that men and women should share the house work”. I am slowly realizing how frustrating it must be to be a woman in Nepal. I can’t imagine how a talented, educated Nepali woman would make peace with roles she is handed here.


  1. That really sucks. How do your husband and MIL act about your lack of housework? If they take the same attitudes as that obnoxious woman, I hope you are able to confront them like you wanted to confront her!

  2. wow! the main part of me is just like wow what a bitch? and you should DEFINITLY tell her what for, next time someone speaks like that.

    Its also so difficult, I imagine, when somen women and people within that culture just have never been exposed to anything different and don't really know?

    Such a difficult thing to make peace with and find your own way through!

  3. The thing is i feel like i do the same amount i'd do at home. Plus washing everything by hand and SWEEPING the carpet! I don't feel like i do too little!

    My husband and MIL are fine. I mean there are only three rooms so there isn't too much to clean. It is just different...

  4. I always struggled with gender roles when visiting Nepal too. Mostly I would just conform to expectations people have of daughters, but I also always had the option (and the privilege) of 'stepping out'. So if I wanted a night out I would just go...if I needed to get away and go on a trek for a month or two I would just go. It would always build up to a point of feeling confined (not helped by everyone being so bloody relaxed and laid back and the slow pace of each day) and then I'd snap and escape somewhere. My female cousins were always envious that I could just take a break when I needed too. They're all smart and they certainly find Nepali gender expectations confining. Even the most gutsy ones admit that your freedom as a Nepali wife mostly depends on marrying into a family with progressive in-laws.
    Anyway I'm ranting :) It must be different being there as a daughter/niece/guest as opposed to a wife/DIL - you can't just step out and stop being a wife. I hope you're going ok. I think it would have been totally legit to lash out that obnoxious woman...bitch!!

  5. hey you,
    sweet of you to wonder about "respecting the Nepali culture" but lemme tell you there is something about every culture that deserves everything but respect. gender roles in nepal topping that list.
    this is something we as humans (not just women or nepali) can never agree to make "peace" with. you fight it as best you can.
    i know it's easier for me as a nepali woman to talk about how stupid nepal's notion of gender roles me.
    everytime i hear "poor nepaliketi's boyfriend ... he's gonna be thin as a stick before their first year of marriage" or "i'm guessing her MIL will send her back before the first week's over" i tell them if he had intended on marrying a full-time servant bc he can't cook when he's hungry then he probably wouldn't be dating me. and, that's a hard thing to tell ppl who in words said "you are no less for being a woman" when i was growing up...and now that i'm more grown up, that's what i get told. one word for all that: BULLSHIT.

  6. Ok maybe respect was the wrong word but I have thought a lot about your comment. I went home and had an argument with Mero Budda about women roles in the house, made him promise to cook and serve.

    Then I realized something... who was i fighting for? Whenever I make Mero Budda serve food to his mum and sister they are so distraught. It is like i am stealing their sense of purpose. No one forces them to cook or clean, they like it...

    Now I know this may be due to a life of gender roles imposed by a patriarchal society but if they like it and they want to do it and it causes them distress to not do it, well who am i to tell them it is wrong?

    If they were women who couldn't speak for themselves, or children, or if i was being FORCED to do things i wouldn't normally do, sure i could fight the good fight but i really don't think this is my argument to have.

    And yes you should propose... that would really get people talking!

  7. have you guys considered getting a part time maid to help with the cleaning? I don't know where you are located in Nepal, but Kathmandu gets really dusty and cleaning can be a pain. My grandparents house has to be broomed and then polished every single day to get rid of the dust.
    Also, if you're in Kathmandu, you should head over to Bhatbathini supermarket--you'll find modern/light weight easy to use vacume cleaners and washing machines etc, etc--will make life easier in Nepal if you don't want to hire part time help.

  8. Hi, I am a Nepali woman doing my PhD in Physics in the USA. I thought I would answer your question about how an educated woman from Nepal comes in peace with the roles that she is handed there. I come from a family that more or less resembles what you described about your family because my parents are educated, and they weren't stupid enough to give birth to millions of daughters waiting for a baby boy to be born. So, in that sense, me and my sister didn't have to deal with the obvious kind of gender discrimination at least in our family and not much even in our relatives circle. However, people would often ask me to convey to my mom to give me a baby brother. Not only it implies the intrusive nature of some of the people, but it also shows how narrow minded their thinking was. However, growing up in that kind of environment had a plus side, me and my sister grew up noticing all the subtler gender issues that people often let go of or overlook. I was terribly surprised seeing gender stereotypes still being present in American households when I first came here. One time I sat and checked the last names of my married female friends in the facebook, which consists of people from all over the World, to find that almost all of them used their husband's last name as theirs. I was shocked to find, how little number of female students choose the science fields, especially Maths and Physics even in the USA. So, to answer your question about how we get in peace with the roles that are handed out to us - we don't come to peace. I believe that anyone who is educated in a real sense (not just book educated) understands their self worth, their potential and their values. All we can do is to understand our worth, try to understand where the people, who are having those roles laid out to us are coming from and not judge everyone by the same standard, and carry on with our lives.