There is no need to cringe. This is not a list of grievances from a feminist. It’s more of a day to day observation because being a modern woman in our society has never been this intriguing before. The subtle differences in the meaning and expression of being a female who is in tune with the times but living against the backdrop of some of our still persistent orthodox values and traditions make for a truly fascinating survey.
Just recently, I made acquaintance with a 29-year-old Nepali, a woman who had locked down her resolution for 2017. She has her mind set on finding a way to ascend the Everest summit. At the moment, she is diligently trying to form her team, partner with an expedition company as well as collect funds so that by April next year she can embark on her mission. It’s not that she is an adrenaline junkie or an adventure sports fanatic.
She just wants to challenge herself. What’s more, she is so certain that she can’t be the only woman itching to test her caliber that she has decided to make her team an all female one. She is determined and, if things do go accordingly, we might just catch her and her all girls team at Everest in the news next year.
We can certainly go ahead and file this under ‘Signs of Progress.’ We must pay gratitude to education, exposure and talks of empowerment that an ordinary Nepali girl now has the confidence (or as it would have been previously assumed, the audacity) to choose to step out of the comforts of her home and a steady job and express her wishes to ascend Everest for the thrill of it.
She herself shares her experience stating that as initially feared, she hasn’t yet had to waste extra time and energy on convincing sponsors and guides of her capabilities. She assumes it is because so many other women before her have proved that a girl too can climb the highest peak in the world. People don’t harbor such prejudices anymore.
But, it turns out, whenever she takes a breather from the hectic scramble to materialize her plans, even the girl daring tackle to Everest has to deal with the mundane customary expectations of being a 29-year-old Nepali woman as well. Marriage, children, family; her adventure means there is no way she will be able to get started on these within this year as it was expected by her mother.
Her mother is quick to clear the record though. “I’m not against her dreams but I also think it is reasonable for me to think that at this stage in her life, I want to see my daughter settle down more.”
This has led to some heated discussions and the push and pull still continues. In fact, hers isn’t the only struggle. Another one of the team members she had recruited is actually on the brink of quitting because of she hasn’t been able to secure her family’s permissions. Though personally daring, she sadly assumes that the teammate somehow still finds herself bound by traditions.
It’s such a paradoxical circumstance and a 27-year-old male friend says, even as a guy, he has been noticing it a lot, especially since his elder sister got married. Elder to him by five years, his sister at 32, has obtained a double MBA, is well traveled and works in a good position at a bank in Canada where she and her husband currently reside. So, every single time she comes back home to her in-laws in Nepal, he confesses that he simply doesn’t understand what happens to her.
According to him, his sister always insists on rushing back home before sunset. She eats only after everybody else has eaten and she also makes sure that she doesn’t enter the kitchen while on her periods. She does all of this on her own terms though, as her brother reveals, these were habits that she chose to adopt after getting married. He is impressed and proud of how caring his sister has become of her family but, at the same time, he doesn’t quiet see the point of adhering to the old ways.
“Especially during our get-togethers, I wish she would sit together with all of us and enjoy the conversations and food. But even when I request her, she makes all these excuses, like there isn’t enough space at the table or she has to help serve food. I say you can easily add an extra chair or take help from maids or change your furniture, use a rotating table instead. But no,” says the brother, adding, “I guess, Asian woman are just great that way.”
His sister though simply calls it responsibility. It’s what she saw her mother do and it’s what she feels she needs to do too. She knows that these habits of hers have helped her build a reputation of a well-cultured daughter and daughter-in law but more importantly, she also believes that abiding by these traditional ways helps prove her priorities to her family.
“It’s a Nepali family’s interpretation of being cared for. Thus every Nepali mother, daughter, daughter-in law feels the need to do these things, even now, to an extent,” she says. Does she enjoy them though? She laughs and states that it’s her duty whenever she is back home in Nepal. She “doesn’t mind it.”
It’s a limbo that many Nepali woman find themselves trying to navigating their way through. Concept of gender equality may be more widespread in our society now but it hasn’t quite had a full impact on day to day life and actions yet. Evidently, not even in our urban settings.
A 24-year-old, for instance, shares of how her recently +2 graduate cousin was coaxed by her parents into taking up nursing as her new major and they apparently weren’t even coy about their intentions. The credential currently being the best sell in the NRN husband hunting market is pretty much their bottom line. They may mumble about social prestige, financial independence and such but it is clear what they most aspire for their daughter.
She calls it being patronized, but her parents obviously considered it as securing her future. She believes examples of such under toned anti-feminist sentiments can be noted everywhere in our present society. But then again, she back tracks and wonders if it is only because she is a woman herself.
The most recent case of such an incident apparently involved her own father. “The dinner was set and we all sat down to eat. But half way through, my father felt a little thirsty. Now instead of getting the water from a nearby jug on his own, he asked my mother to pour it for him. My mother didn’t seem to mind at all, but it still annoys me,” she says.
Similarly, while her grandmother doesn’t resort to the old way of over working and bossing their daughter-in laws, she apparently can’t stand her sons lending a hand to their wives in the kitchen. It has naturally become a convenient excuse for the men of her house to not perform the chores. But again, considering the load that her mother and aunt have to face especially while get-togethers when most of the guests are her father’s and uncle’s to begin with, this 24-year-old I spoke to says she is keen to change the customs.
Granted, these are little things but they are persistent in our day to day lives. So much so, it defines the lives of each modern Nepali woman.