Do you ever wish you could freeze time and relive a moment over and over? I had a night like that recently where I found myself sitting with 4 other women talking about Feminism. It was a conversation that could have started as a joke; an Iranian, a Nepali, two South Koreans and an American, all women sitting around drinking beer and sharing cigarettes, comparing stories of what it was like to be a woman in today’s world.
The Iranian woman who described herself as an outspoken talker started, and one of the Koreans mostly posed questions for me to answer as the Nepali only interjected as she felt fit. They all passionately agreed they wanted to know what the American’s viewpoint is. We talked about sex, drinking and relationships, recognizing that we are probably not the stereotypical women from our respective countries.
I told them I had a hard time interacting with many Nepali men and described scenarios where I have been forcibly touched or groped. The Nepali woman interjected because she had been witness to one of these a few days ago; she explained the difference in how I had acted vs how a Nepali girl may have behaved though agreeing the boys were wrong. I had been dancing while approached from both sides and unaware that it’s improper to dance with a man just for fun. They misjudged my playful behavior and after placing his hand on my hip, underneath one of my shirts, I broke away toward the other end of the club. We all agreed that non-American men are much more aggressive with the opposite sex. Even still, the Korean spoke up that she is sexually driven and she doesn’t understand why when 2 people “want the sex” as she put it, why it is construed as bad for a female. She asked me if people have problems with alcohol in the States, an excuse that is readily used here if a man crosses a boundary.
So the Iranian dug in again, comparing scenarios of 2 couples; in one the man is having an affair, in the other the woman is having an affair. If the person cheating comes back to their spouse and says I am sorry I will never do it again; I love you. Why is it that the man with the cheating wife will most likely say no and leave, while the woman with the cheating husband will stay. She argues it’s about security. Many times the woman has the responsibility of the children and needs a husband to help her provide for them. The Korean pursisted, but what about in a club scenario? Even in a casual setting, women are in want of more than just a bit of pleasure, whether it be behavior or conversation. It’s what makes sex complicated. Even more, this is what society has bestowed upon us; women should want security, children and a man to provide for her. It doesn’t seem acceptable for a woman to seek out pleasure for pleasure’s sake.
We then launched into an even more tender topic of what is Feminism? International Women’s Day is a holiday here, many people get the day off, there are parades and speeches, awards given and recognition to strong females. There are laws around the world which aim to protect women from being mistreated, though sometimes they backfire. For example, in Nepal the first row on the bus is reserved for women, but say an elderly man who cannot stand well is sitting and a young girl gets on. The man will be forced to stand in accordance of the law. Now the question is: does the law favor the one who needs it most?
We all agreed, it goes further than this. We are all humans and that is the underlying issue. Men are not better, just as women are not “just as good”. We are equal. Varying as humans do in talents, abilities and strengths though gender doesn’t constitute these. Equality means having the same opportunites, being given the same respect, being talked about in the same way, comparatively speaking on intelligence, vitality and character.
In Nepal, 33% of Parliament is reserved for females, which on paper looks nice, but when you look deeper and realize that many of those women are illiterate and are holding titles for political families that want the prestige. Can this really be the best thing for women? Maybe it’s time to focus on getting more girls in school so that they can grow up to naturally take office and make real world progress.
And although she didn’t need to say it, the Iranian woman told me that the Korean woman is one of the smartest humans she knows though with a language barrier it’s never easy to completely understand one another. I agreed and admitted my own English has changed while traveling, I have to think about the words I use and the sentence structure I speak to clearly and concisely get my point across in a way that is easily understood. It’s the same when I started to learn any other language, the most basic sentence structure is the only thing I can understand and any variation of prepositions or slang is confusing.
Instead, I focus on the topic of conversation and the ideas brought forth. Considering English, Farsi, Nepali and Korean were all our mother tongues, all five of us must be well educated and intelligent to be able to have a passionate conversation on Feminism. The way we all spoke, we agreed, high fived and smiled when we found out– none of us are Feminists, we are believers in Love, in humans and hopeful of an inclusive world where gender doesn’t dictate where you sit on a bus, your education level or your ability to dance when you want to dance.
And the Iranian woman later told me, Kathmandu is the place where I will meet many more freethinking women and men of the world. We are all drawn here for one reason or another and we all have made it here because we have open minds enough to want to be here, regardless of what we may or may not have heard. And that’s when I told them all with a big smile on my face: Thank you for being my People. I feel more at home in Kathmandu than I have in the US because of these strong women I’m inspired and surrounded by.
Thank you Neda, Nistha, Asha and Sylvia.