Issues of pride and shame start from the time of birth. And scientific advancements have only reinforced them. With the help of ultrasound scanning, such pride and/or shame is played out with unborn babies. Abortion of the female fetus is a reflection that society wishes to kill the feminine symbol that will ultimately be treated as a matter of shame while they believe masculinity is pride.
Our parents, our families, our communities — they all pray. They pray for a son. And if a son is born, we celebrate. The father wears a big smile, the mother gets gifts. It’s a moment of joy and pride. But if those prayers are not answered and a daughter is born, the scene is different. There is no big celebration. The mother is not treated well, and may even be blamed for not producing a son who is the ticket to heaven in the afterlife. In Hindu culture, a son must light the funeral pyre, as it’s the only way departed souls go to heaven. Women have been abandoned by their husbands and in-laws for producing a daughter. This is a real shame.
Pride is made public. Pride is open, it is loud — we can recognise it wherever we see it. Shame is difficult to discern. Shame is hidden; matters associated with shame are oppressed or even murdered to make it silent, invisible. And sometimes, it is so deeply internalised that we hardly notice it is driving us. It’s hidden in a mother’s silence when her daughter’s father abandons them in the hope of finding another woman who will bear him a son. It’s hidden in the survivors of rape who don’t report it while the perpetrators walk free, proudly. It’s accepted silently, believed to be fate, the consequences of past lives and bad “karma” when people pass abusive remarks and you are bullied for being homosexual or a third-gender.
When a boy reaches puberty, the event is celebrated. We have parties; the family and society celebrate manhood, the growing masculinity. Boys have become men — the powerful, the proud, the ruler. In contrast, we banish girls when they reach puberty. We send them into caves and barns; they can’t see sunlight for 12 days. They have become women — the weak, the less worthy, the second class.
At weddings, we see grooms beaming, waving and riding horses. We see brides covered in veils. For them, this day is a property transfer. The dowry is their family’s way of thanking the husband for lifting their burden — taking their daughter under his care. Femininity makes you an object, a possession. And on the occasion, brides and her whole family are expected to be sad and cry.
The Nepal government grants citizenship only if you can prove who your father or husband is — women don’t matter, this policy says.
We hear sayings like “mardko daswota”; a man can have 10 wives. Women are to be coveted as objects and tools for exercising men’s masculinity to keep them under control. Masculinity is expressed in many ways over anybody who is not masculine. But a woman is not supposed to desire sex even from her husband. If she has more than one man, she is called a prostitute.
And when we see homosexual men or trans-women, we believe that they fall in the side of femininity and are a matter of shame. A homosexual or third-gender is less masculine. A homosexual woman faces more problems, as she won’t have the protection of a man. A trans-man can be considered as being less feminine, but can’t be taken as masculine; and men find that they threaten their conventional masculinity and become prey to attack by men. Thus homosexuals and trans-genders are found to be shameful and are forced to go into the closet because they are “not men or masculine”.
At most of our temples, we see no female or third-gender priests. As we walk on the banks of the Bagmati at Pashupatinath, we see the doors through which women once came out to walk down the stone steps and across the river to fling themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre. The trace of that dark part of our cultural history still remains; heavy iron plates cover these doors now, as such practices were made illegal in Nepal several decades ago. We still live in a society that subjugates the feminine and only lets it gain its legitimacy through association with and deference to the masculine. Those iron plates could always be pried open. Gender-based liberation is not about affirming the feminine or exposing masculine tendencies. It’s about re-teaching the notions of pride and shame we associate with masculinity and femininity. Even today, a man walks with pride when he has raped a woman or someone less masculine and the victim commits suicide. Also, women are murdered in the name of “honour killing” for being raped.
This is not just women’s concern. This is everyone’s concern. It’s for straight men to recognise their life partner as a woman who is equal to them. It’s for society to recognise their fellow humans who happen to be homosexuals, transgenders, women and men as being equal to them. It’s for us together to not deride that which is not masculine, to not relegate the feminine to a realm of shame. There is nothing to be proud of in being masculine, dominant, violent and arrogant, and in looking down on the feminine. There is nothing to be ashamed of in being feminine, compassionate, tolerant and considerate. The sense of pride and shame must be based on conduct, not on gender.
Pant is an openly gay member of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal from the CPN-U and head of the LGBT rights organisation Blue Diamond Society