I was born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, and have lived here for eighteen years of my life. Additionally, my entire family still lives in Kathmandu, yet, somehow, I have always struggled to call this place home. Don’t get me wrong, I love my country, and I am proud to be a part of this incredibly kind and hard-working community. At the same time, however, there’s much about Nepali society and culture that causes me to feel unwelcome, even uncomfortable at times, despite Nepal being my home country.
You see, girls in Nepal are taught to be smaller, in a metaphorical sense, than their male counterparts. From a very young age, Nepali girls are expected to help their mothers with household chores because of the belief that the most important role a woman has is to ensure the well-being of her “true” family: her in-laws, her husband, and her children.
This last point proves to be consequential, among many other reasons, because schools in Nepal disproportionately contain more male students than female. What’s more, the number of female students tends to become lower as students climb the ladder towards higher education. Thus proving that Nepali school systems systematically disenfranchise their female students and discourage us from fully completing our education.
And for the girls who do stay in school, the rampant misogyny in Nepali schools seeks to punish us for daring to be educated to the same extent boys are.
For instance, based on the deeply rooted Asian values of respect, students in Nepal are expected to be disciplined and mindful at all times. This loosely translates to being quiet in class, agreeing to whatever viewpoint the professor presents, and speaking only when called upon. Most importantly, students are discouraged from getting into any class discussions that would challenge their instructor’s teachings.
And while maintaining eye contact and raising contrasting theories are normal class activities for most students, in Nepal, this is often considered extremely disrespectful. This oppressive in-school practice, of simply viewing student participation as insolence, is more apparent for girls. So instead, the ideal female student is one that is quiet, calm, perhaps even “shy,” and solely focuses on her studies.
This normalized custom is also why I have struggled with voicing my thoughts while I’m in class, especially after I was publicly called out for instigating a “combative” discussion in my Nepalese high school. After raising a contrasting point to what my male teacher was saying, I was promptly told to keep my “arguments” for the debate tournaments. After scolding me, he then said “Being so outspoken is not a good thing you know.”
These comments affected me deeply. Not only did they silence me at that moment, but they also instilled hesitation in me. Since that day, I have always thought twice before speaking my mind, and voicing my opinions is something I still struggle with. With time, I came to realize it’s not imposter syndrome that tells me I am not good enough to occupy predominantly male spaces; rather, it’s the constant perpetuation of Nepal’s patriarchal values that regularly reminds me I’m not good enough to confidently navigate in this society.
However, Nepal’s culture isn’t solely guilty of making me feel lesser than the men around me. In different variations, the limitations often placed on women have followed me everywhere I go. And while I know I am good enough, somedays I succumb to the expectations patriarchy holds women to when I am too tired to fight back.
I also often wonder why my male professor specifically used the word “outspoken” to try and belittle me. Was it because I disrupted the classroom decorum? Or was it because he didn’t like being challenged by a girl? “छोरी मान्छे भएर एस्तो ठुलो ठुलो कुरा गर्नु हुँदैन है ।,” meaning ‘as a girl, you shouldn’t be talking about or concerning yourself with big issues:’ a phrase many Nepali girls have heard growing up.
But the real question is— why shouldn’t we concern ourselves with problems, especially problems bigger than ourselves? I now know there is absolutely nothing to be apologetic for regarding my outspoken nature. Especially when these attributes make me who I am. I am smart and capable. I work hard for the things I have. And I openly advocate for the things I believe in.
So, people calling me loud, opinionated, and bossy does not bother me anymore.
What does bother me is my own community refusing to recognize me as a Nepali because of my denial to conform to these prescribed gender roles. For me, a home is a place I feel comfortable and am accepted for exactly who I am. It’s a place where my ideas are encouraged and my actions are supported. And unfortunately, Kathmandu is not that place for me— not yet at least.
Currently, my behaviors, dreams, and aspirations do not align with the ones set forward by this society. And I am not one to make concessions that don’t positively serve me, especially for a society that is constantly upholding regressive traditions that contribute towards widening gender inequalities for girls who come after me.
Without question, I am willing to actively work towards addressing these problems ingrained in Nepal’s culture to create progress for other girls and women. In fact, this is my ultimate goal in life. However, until this community of mine is ready to actually work towards discarding these long-held gender roles at the continued expense of women, I am fine being the loud, opinionated outcast.
Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!