Living Your Feminist Principles

by | June 3, 2012
filed under Feminism

by Matilda Branson

Up to what point do we really live our feminist values? This is a dilemma I often face as someone working in gender, in a field I am so, so passionate about.  In Australia, in my formative feminist years at university learning about gender and women’s rights, I was unreservedly convinced high heels subjugated all women, that doggie-style sex could only ever be degrading and all-male sports teams and the military irretrievably transformed all men into masochistic crazies.

As a result of thinking about things too much, or perhaps not enough, I killed many a conversation through being overly intense and had poorly-formed, one-sided arguments and rebuttal when discussing feminist issues with friends. While it can be constructive to consider such topics, looking back I don’t feel I was living my feminist beliefs in the most nuanced way.

Now, in Nepal, I am faced by different worries. I encounter startling gender inequalities every day – at work, in the street, on the bus, in taxis, in my home. This is unsurprising – after all, Nepali society is  patriarchal.

Yet right now I gaze out my window at work where a new building is being built. A man is shovelling gravel into the bag of a waiting woman who will then carry a 60kg of gravel to the building site every 6 minutes, forward and back, forward and back, supporting the weight of the bag through a strap that goes across the front of her forehead. Ol’ Mr Shoveller stands next to the gravel pile watching her walk to-and-fro throughout the 12 hour day, rolling a ciggie in the shade while waiting for the woman to return for the next load, talking to passers-by and having a jolly old time.

If I visit a friend’s house, the women and girls of the family will never eat with me, but serve me and the male head of the household, watching us eat, at the beck-and-call of their husband or father.

Little girls automatically practice deference to little boys in the cricket games they play outside my bedroom window.

Going for a walk with some teenage girls who are deaf at a school I work with, a 40 year old man leers at them, shouting out derogatory insults and sleazy comments, knowing that they cannot hear. But I can.

What to do? Ke garne? The catch-phrase of Nepal. Make a scene, every time? Or appear the rude, overbearing Westerner? ‘Back in Australia, we do it like this.’  Every single day I see countless acts of gender-based discrimination, and I feel so conflicted. Sometimes I make a scene. But what if it’s a friend or a friend’s husband or brother being sexist or horrible? What if it’s not really my place to say anything? Do I let it go?

So conflicted. What do you think? Nothing cultural relativist though, please, about cross-cultural issues. I know inequality when I sees it, and (forgive my universalist view) some things are not ok. Yet sometimes I stay silent. Tell me, y’all, up to what point should you live your feminist values?


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