Mary Shrestha

Blog: It’s not feminist to challenge gender roles

Whenever the Nepalese community in Wageningen had a get-together, the women were expected to serve the men. Seriously?! We are all educated people on scholarships selected from hundreds of candidates.

Although I come from a patriarchal country (Nepal), I was raised in an educated and open-minded family, where my brother and I were treated equally. At home, I didn’t have to work in the kitchen, like girls in most other Nepalese families. Also, my father served me tea in bed every morning, just like he served my brother tea. Other well-educated Nepalese people in Wageningen can be shocked when they hear this. To some people you are only a role model if you are educated and also perform good gender roles. What amazes me is that women give me more serious criticisms and free advice about the gender roles than men.

I have no problem with working in the kitchen. In fact, I love to cook (which I learnt from my father). But let it not be a gender role.

My brother and I were truly treated equally. Except when it came to the ‘puja’, a ceremony where all my relatives came together to worship the Gods. At this prayer ritual, my brother and male cousins had an important role to play, while the girls were just there to observe and nod their heads. I didn’t mind my brother – who is younger than me – in an important role, but I didn’t like it that the girls had minimal or no roles, just because we were girls.

There are lots of issues around socially determined gender roles and I have always questioned them. Every time the answer was the same: ‘It is just the way it is. Don’t let it bother you.’ But I couldn’t stay indifferent about it. Whenever I raised the issue, I would be judged to be either an activist or a radical feminist. I remember a woman once telling me: ‘Although we study much, we will always be inside our homes because this is every woman’s lost karma.’ I still have not figured out why I got such comments, nor do I intend to find out.

I do not seriously care how people are raised and I do value traditions. I have learnt all rituals and can perform them accordingly, be it by Hindu or Buddhist custom. But isn’t it time to alter these traditions? I think every person has a right to live as they want; let’s not force social pressure upon each other.

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