This paper is based on understanding the gender perspective and developing gender consciousness from gender self-reflection. Gender in this paper is the status of male and female constructed by society on the basis of sex as men and women. The purpose of this paper is to reflect, critically analyze my own life, particularly examining the process of how I learn to become a man in Nepalese society. Specifically, to understand the role of the gender process in teaching me a distinct role, behaviour and personality. Researcher have argued that gender reflexivity which focuses on own back life is crucial to develop an understanding of gender perspective and gender consciousness. For them, gender consciousness is about understanding how one was shaped by the gender structure without knowing it. The gender structure also shapes our being and doing. This paper is based on self-reflection about myself in three social relation context: Family, Market and Education institutions. Specifically, reflecting how my social interactions in these contexts were gendered. The gender status of men and women matter in social-relational context is explained by Ridgeway and Correll 2004 as they say that in any social-relational context that has institutionalized the gender norms and values shapes the interaction as unequal. They also add if the context is gendered it also shapes the interaction of men and men but if the interaction is about gender.
When I was born, I had three family members and coming up of me made it the four members in the family. I will begin this section by reflecting on the major events in my life through childhood to marriage and more around family life. This exploration hopefully helps me reflect on how I learnt to be a man in Nepalese society. My mother told me when she was taken to the Thapathali Hospital, an important hospital in the Kathmandu at the time while there were only a few hospitals in the country related to maternity. She told me that my father shouted every doctor and every nurse that my wife will give birth to the son and warned them that they will exchange the child and give him girl. My mother thought that she conceived a son because of my father practising priest in his twenties. We can find detailing about the importance of priest in the Hindu society is related to education and the messenger to the god. My mom might have gullibly believed him and I also took it for granted before. After I learned what gender is, I saw that he would have been gendered in such a way that he finds a boy as important as a girl. Fortunately for my father, his priest knowledge came true and I as a son was born to his family. From my birth minute 1, I was shaped by the gender structure and to supplement this argument, Shrestha (1999) in her article argues that if women are more than men than it is gender equality bringing forward how much the son is favoured in the Nepalese society.
Moving to the next event in my family, my father told me I should be a doctor, also he chooses me a name that has initial of D-R most probably unintentionally over the name given by my mother. It had a lot of pressure on me and because of which I also couldn’t manage to make it, I couldn’t have anyway because I wanted to be the Charter Accountant. However, I couldn’t know what my father would have wanted my sister to become in terms of occupation-based status because of me being the single child. But after the marriage, seeing always my wife work to maintain the house, probably her father wanted her to be the good housewife. Likewise, probably my father also would have wanted the same thing as my wife if he had a daughter. I also thought it as normal until I came up to study PhD thesis by Chhetri on “Women ploughing and men grinding” as a satire to the gender prescribed occupation in the society. My father is not only one needing scrutiny but also my mother certainly played her part in making men out of the boy.
I remember two important events that I feel today had a greater impact on me. One was, I wanted to use a broom to clean the house, eat in the special cooker in which Nepali people used to cook “Kasaudi”. She taught me that if the boy uses the broom, there will be a lot of the guests in the house and there will be an economic burden. Another is only the daughter in law or “Buhari” can eat in such kasaudi while I tried to eat in the “Kasaudi”. Now, also when my son carries the rice cooking pot my mother would say “Kasto chori jasto yo, bhat pauacha ki k ho” translated as he is like a girl and will be he a cooker in the future. She was in a way teaching that men shouldn’t do women’s work and also separate the men and women work. Regarding this what to learn and not learn, social learning theorist like Bandura in Lips (2005) says a child learns the gender through positive and negative connotations he receives while doing certain activities in the socialization process.
Another event of my mother is when I tried to learn about cooking and cooked for two or three days, my mother and father collectively said not to cook. They even gave me some money as a bribe so that I won’t cook. This skill later becomes exclusionary as my mother and father would argue that I shouldn’t go to a foreign country for that I don’t know how to cook. Even my wife complains about my cooking to my mother. I couldn’t learn from my family on what to wear and what not to wear because I was the only son. I never had a chance to choose the cloth between boy and girl because I had no sisters. When I see my kids today wearing clothes that undermine genders clothing, my mother and wife laugh that my son wears sister’s cloth. They even shout at me for buying “Keta ko jasto colour” Cloth for my daughter. Probably my mother would have taught me what to wear as a boy if I had a sister. This is which I will recall as doing gender so does the Lorber (2006) when she says that everyone does the gender. Lastly, one thing that strikes me is, my mother tells me that son is lucky when son has a mother face and daughter becomes lucky if she had a father’s face. I am not sure what to interpret out of it but I have a sense that it must be because of the economic interdependence between men and women.
One of the events was when I went to buy the cloth for my daughter. I choose the blue color pant for my daughter for which she was also happy with the cloth and color. I was about to pay for it then suddenly, shopkeeper wife came and said “Bhai koChoraHokiChori” I laughed at that time and didn’t realized what she meant by it but she then suggested me to buy the pink or red that will perfectly fit for the daughter. I was a little angry that it is about my daughter and mine choice because it was our money. But I didn’t say anything to her but again the same question was asked me by my wife and mother “Kasto keta kojasto choice hau” then I was furious, it is my daughter and my choice. Now, today when I take my daughter to the market she says that her favourite color is pink. I am not saying that it is not abnormal but although I tried to make her like me, which might be wrong she learned what girl should wear in relation to gender cloth in Nepalese society and what the girl color is. When I am reflecting this now, I can see how even market exchanges are gendered.
Another event is also involved with my daughter, that was related to buying the toy. I choose all the toys that are generally is said to be played by the boy like car and gun. The shopkeeper was so quick to tell me that people who has daughter generally buys the product related to cooking and dolls and cosmetics. She was inserting that I was not doing fine with the choice of the toys. That was fine until then but my wife and mother were quick to say that you want to make your daughter as a boy. I am not sure what it is like to be gender-neutral but clearly they had a perception that a kid should play the toys on the basis of how we will adopt the status in the future.
Finally, the last event involves two restaurants, one restaurant is run by the wife and husband near my house. I didn’t realize that it was important from gender point of view until I came up with the concept. The striking thing was that female was cooking in the restaurant like she was doing at home and her husband was on the hot seat collecting the money. It wouldn’t have been striking because it was same as home. In the second restaurant, run by the owner who has five restaurants chain, the cooking was done by the men and waiter work was being done by the female. This made me realizes that no matter in which institution or context men and women interact it is generally men occupy the higher position than the women with some exception. The question is why wouldn’t men be fitting to do cooking in the house, this is beautifully explained by Thapa (1999) how men goes to earn and women stay at the home for free labour, Shrestha (2020) argues that there is employment gap between men and women but alarmingly wage gap in a same position in Nepal. This shows first how men and women work are segregated and even by the virtue of their skill and luck if they manage to get to the market they are likely to get low wages.
I am just going to focus on formal education and mostly the classroom I was in from my childhood to the person reading in the master in philosophy while I am writing it. I discuss three events here for gender reflection.
First one is the book I used to read from my childhood as far as I remember. There was a social studies book that had a picture related to the work division in the family. The mother was shown as a happy mother that she was cooking, washing, and dressing the kids. I can see the artist showing that mother was as happy as she had won a million lottery. Father was also happy but he was carrying the small bag to go to the office. Another picture in the book was related to the important occupations in the society and I was amazed the pictures still continues today in my daughter’s book. The position was based on men and women, women being nurse, men being doctor and mostly other occupation occupied by the men apart from farmer occupation where both women and men are shown. This made me realized that even our education is gendered. The second event is that when I was in the lower classroom most of my teachers were women or most of them were women. But when I started climbing the class, they start disappearing to the extent that there was no women teacher in my masters and only two in the Masters in philosophy. The two teachers in the master in philosophy was by the virtue of the compulsory studying of the sociology of Gender. I am not sure what would have happened to the women teachers if there was an optional subject were given by the Department of Sociology. About me, I definitely left the gender optional in the master thinking gender issues is less important for me in the current context. The two women teachers would have been a satisfactory number if there were five women studying in the master and reaching master in philosophy. The master degree in class in which I read, there was 85% women and 15% men. It’s very striking where all of them disappeared, I am not sure but my one friend teaches at the primary school. I will not bet that this was not the case in the male teacher I have in the master in the philosophy.
The third Event is concerned with the choosing of the subject in class ten. In class ten we had three optional subjects’ agriculture, optional math and economics. I was not bright until class 10 because I enjoyed playing sports which became inappropriate for my father, the reason I have explained earlier. But in the class 10 principle came to the classroom and said girl and boy who are week but mostly girls were weak and I was in that bracket should choose the agriculture subject, medium student should choose the economics and very talented many were boys and few girls have to choose the top subject which was optional math. This made me realize that gender also plays a role differently to men and women according to their other status. Gender which was I thought was for a girl, when I review my past also have put me in the disadvantages.
These three social-relational contexts are important as a part of the self-reflection and developing gender consciousness and gender perspectives. This also establishes that denying gender structure will be wrong and denial of reality. In a gendered society, its different systems like the social system and economic system along with its institution socialize the gender into men and women. Through using the gendered position created by the different institution of different system, powerful men produce and reproduces gender ideas. In the case of the caste system, Brahmin position that is regarded as the priest uses his power provided by the religion system, implicitly convinces the boy is important than girl arguing he can far see the future. If prediction passed, the winner, if failed the fault is of the doctor. An education system with its institution like research domains produces the knowledge and distribute the gendered knowledge so, that dominance keeps on continue. Another important thing that needs to notify here is men and women are both victim of the gender structure in different institutions of the society. I as a student was unwilling to read hard science, another powerful man me made me choose the hard science. Important question is why would weak students, call it women or men have to choose certain subjects, why should we always have to hear what another powerful man would think and finds fitting. What if weak students get to choose will himself or herself choose what she or he wants. Also, this self-reflection taught me how people share their gender ideas in a market relationship and despite one trying to stop doing, maybe in a wrong but gets caught in the social context that is so much gendered. Overall, this self-reflection helped me understand how men and women structured by gender interact in a way that reinforces and produce-reproduce a gender structure. This also helped me develop the gender perspective so that I can take this to the next step to change the consciousness into the hypothesis.
- Deepak Raj Neupane