Regardless of where we hail from, stories in the form of novels, dramas, telltale folks, or even songs are a part of all of our childhoods. Depending on our locality, our region, the medium may differ, but we grow up with this one inevitable similarity. What we hear or read goes on to shape the way that we think and perceive things. The adage ‘pen is mightier than the sword’ is not an uncommon one with all of us having heard it one day or the other. I’ve personally had it said to me by those who are wiser or older during moments of rage, when violence seemed as if it is the only option. I have been told that while violence might seem like it will provide the much-needed relief, the pen will not only help yourself to express those tumultuous emotions, but also inspire others going through similar experiences.
It has been correctly emphasized upon given the fact that it was writings and speeches that have brought about some of the most prominent revolutions in the world. A classic example of which is ‘The Feminine Mystique’. During the 1960s, the societal construct of the United States was such that the role of women was believed to be that of a homemaker. Only women with a husband and children were assumed to be real women with a complete and happy life. There were very few of us who stepped out of our humble abode and participated in other works, so God forbid we do what a man should be doing, and earn money. At that time Betty Freidan conducted a small study which led her to the conclusion that a large portion of the homemakers were not happy or content with the lives they were living. This led her to write the book, a first of its kind, a book that challenged the preexisting misogynistic assumptions. The book started a ripple effect and made women around the United States realize that they faced similar problems. The society was finally starting to become exposed as the elitist, hierarchical and sexist construct that it really is. The book drew a lot of women to the feminist cause. The attention it garnered is believed to have been a strong impetus for the second wave of feminism, which spread throughout the West.
Another brand of literature, well loved by people all around the world, are fairy tales. Most of the fairy tales have a similar story-line. The overview is that there is a damsel in distress who is rescued by a handsome prince. The sanguinity in these stories is that at the end the damsel is content with marrying the prince after getting rescued by him, probably with a non-consensual kiss mixed in during the process. While some of the current frustrated lot of “gentlemen”, or ‘conservatives’ might counter the non-consensual argument by throwing the statement, “chivalry is dead” around without understanding the real-life implications. Note, the word “some” was used, so this is not trying to create a type of stereotype. Most of us are completely unaware of the origins of these fairy tales. The original version of these tales is a lot more gruesome than what we read as kids. Even in the supposedly toned-down version, the message given does not resonate with what should be taught to young children. Fortunately, “woke culture” is slowly taking over, and while it brings with it some extremities, and seems to allow little room for error, it has in some way “awakened” us (pun intended). We are slowly trying to unlearn these teachings and even point out the specific types of ill messaging. Progress is being made, but it appears to be moving at a snail’s pace at times. The image of a quiet, shy and submissive girl who is incapable of fighting her own battles still exists rampantly, especially in countries like Nepal, where there are girls and boys who have never seen or heard of, let alone imagine an alternative existence. Our responsibility today is not only to fight for reproductive rights for individuals of a certain age group but also to ensure the younger lot grows up in an environment where misogyny and patriarchy is not normalized.
Speaking strictly in the context of Nepal, women have had a unique form of expression. The concept of educating young girls and women has not been around for many years, with some parts still having abysmal female literacy and school enrollment rate. Especially in the past, with little opportunities for formal education, women who could not write, expressed in the form of song, and established an entirely different aspect of culture called “lok dohori”. These songs, specifically those pertaining to the relay fasting festival “teej” are full of the misery that women have to endure at their husband’s home. Despite having entered into the era where educating girls has also become “cool, and fashionable” there are very few literary works published related to the Nepali feminist sphere. In fact, the works that try to explain or expose the patriarchal nuances are more criticized than applauded. A recent example being is the song ‘Yespali ko teej no barta please’. This song was criticized on the grounds of religion and culture. The lyrics of the song that mentions that men and women are equal apparently offended many groups. In fact, there are probably some readers of this article who did not bother reading beyond the first paragraph after having the thought, “Another feminist write up? Haven’t they been given enough?” No sir, or madam, we have not, not nearly enough, but it is high time that you stop behaving like a complete mossback.
Religion has also used the power of parlance very cleverly, with The Bible still being number one on the bestseller list. Either the actual scriptures themselves, or their translations (usually done by men) try to enforce some sort of social hierarchy in an attempt to keep those with power forever rooted in their favorite positions, along with a hint of demagoguery. The ‘Manu smriti printed by then king Manu did the same by introducing the concept of inheritance in the caste system, abolishing the practice of one’s merit or abilities to determine their status. Whenever this evidence is presented before even the most educated of people, a case of selective hearing disorder sets in. People advocate only for issues they know will not cause harm to their career or social standing, so you may find an SRHR advocate you really look up to, but you might hear him or her not speak out against the caste system. Next time, maybe you should ask them why. Another thing that cultural scriptures in Hinduism have tried to control is what women are allowed to do when they bleed out of their vaginas every month. The culture used to originally preach for female safety and ensured that women who worked day and night in the kitchen get some rest for at least a few days in a month. But somehow, some powerful person saw a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the time when more than half the country’s population may be at their weakest and even today, in 2020, girls and women face discrimination while menstruating because the period is regarded as an impure phase. In the present context there is no place for such practices but they still exist due to the reluctance to accept changes. Along with creating countless wars, religion has shown with its use of parlance that sometimes the friend in need becomes the foe.
When it comes to movements like ensuring access to safe abortion, the power of the pen is inenarrable. Yes, we may not be able to reach the females who live in difficult and rural settings through our articles and blogs but we can definitely make young women agile in these matters and recruit a larger force to reach different corners of the country advocating for the cause. One of the reasons the concept of abortion is now talked and debated upon is because the concept was brought forward and written about. An Irish taxi driver in Boston once said “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament”. This statement has been thrown around in debates by advocates all around the world because it was popularized by Gloria Steinman through her works on journalism.
There are countless obstacles and at times the end goal becomes lost or even disappears completely, but our want for the future to be better and our sons and daughters not to suffer continuously drives us. We simply cannot give up hope, and reading what others have to share certainly acts as a lighthouse of sorts, guiding us when we simply cannot seem to find a way to the distant shore. The new generation has come to the realization that we too need a forum through which women can relate to each other’s problems, with ways of encouraging. More expressive endeavors, needs to be encouraged. It is high time we start to review the news pieces, articles and speeches we read or hear with a gender lens. The stories that are told to young girls and boys should not be sinister tales that make them rosy for a ‘happily ever after’. Rather the bedtime stories should be of heroes who fought for equality and tales that inculcate a sense of independence and aspiration to correct the noisome cultures that exist.
Niharika Khanal & Anjila Thapa
Ms Niharika Khanal is a medical student, currently in her 3rd year of study She has been involved with YoSHAN, as a youth champion for the past one year. She is particularly ardent on youth’s contribution in ensuring access to sexual and reproductive rights to all.
Anjila Thapa is currently a final year medical student at Maharajgunj Medical Campus, a passionate feminist, SRHR advocate and a core team member among badass women at YoSHAN.