Menuka Gurung, a 2011 LEADer and intern at the Women LEAD Nepal office, participated in a two day storytelling workshop for the LEADers in the Advocacy Track on January 7th-8th. Participants were encouraged to write stories about the impact of gender discrimination on their lives. Here, Menuka talks about her grandmother’s stereotyped thinking about daughters.
The power went out, everything went dark around me and I asked my mother for a candle. “There’s only one candle dear, please come in the living room”. I came down and saw my sister and father chatting. My mother and I joined them. My father and mother burst into laughter hearing about our day at school. All of sudden my mother stopped laughing and just stared at us. I shook my mom and asked her “What happened mummy”? “Nothing dear,” she said, “I was just thinking about the days when I married your father”. My sister and I started teasing my father and asked them questions about their marriage.
“How did you come to know mummy, buwa? Was it a love marriage or an arranged marriage? Did buwa propose to you, mummy?” My sister asked tons of questions and my mummy just smiled and told her: “Your buwa and I had a love marriage. He came to take me from my home with his uncle. I was a bit scared but I loved your buwa so I ran away with him”. It felt like a scene from a film to me. Then dramatically my sister said, “You guys really had the perfect love story with such a happy ending ”. My mummy interrupted her saying, “It is a happy ending but it was not always easy when I first married your father”. My sister and I were a bit confused at her answer. “Your grandmother was not a big fan of your mother”, Father explained, “she wanted me to marry someone else.” This was shocking news for my sister and I as we thought that our grandmother liked our mother. “Your grandmother wasn’t against our marriage but she expected a son from me.” Mum added.
My sister and I had never expected this from our grandmother. She was sweet with us and behaved properly. Although everything was in the past, my mother said that she cannot forget all those incidents and the things which she had to suffer. After getting married to my father, my mother came to his home and everybody accepted her. My father is the eldest son and he has four younger sisters. When my mother got married, her sisters were very young and she saw them grow up and marry. My father came to Kathmandu to join the Nepali police and my mother stayed in village. She was responsible for all the household chores; cattle feeding and cleaning. Mother said to us, “Your grandfather was a nice guy but he never went against your grandmother. Your grandmother made me wake up early in the morning, I used to do all the work and in return she gave me stale food. They never treated me like their daughter and never let me talk with your father.” Tears fell from her eyes as she was narrating her story.
It was hard to see my mother crying and my father told my mother not to cry because she was with him. Those consoling words from my father made my mother’s tears stop. My father continued the story: “Though I was in Kathmandu, I used to always think about your mother and one day I decided to call your mother and tell her to stay with me. Then things started to change and I started to earn some money. When your sister was born we were both really happy as we never wanted a son over having a daughter. Your grandmother was not happy with it though because she wanted a grandson. She never expressed her feelings but we could sense her emotions.”
Then my mother said, “When you were born Menuka people were very excited. Everybody thought that this was the time to have a son though we never had any preference. I did feel though that having a son would definitely fulfill the family. In labour, when I gave birth to a daughter everyone was so nervous about telling your father that I had given birth to a girl. One of the neighbors told your father about the delivery and she even told your father not to get mad at me. Then your father just smiled and told her that it didn’t matter to him”. My father was smiling when my mother recalled those memories. My father said: “Your mother is an over sentimental women. I always wanted a healthy baby so it didn’t matter if it was a boy or a girl”. I got depressed because nobody was happy when I was born. Seeing my expression my mother came near to me and said: “Don’t make that expression Menuka, though we expected a son you are no less than a son.” My parents’ story felt like such a drama. The two love birds, the mother-in law as the villain and at the end, against all the odds; they live happily ever after.
All of sudden, my sister questioned my father, “Buwa, how did you feel about Grandmother if you already knew about these things? After all she was your mother.” My sister’s question made sense to me too and with a gentle smile my father replied, “Of course, she is my mother and I know her better than anyone. She always had had a preference for a son and when I was born everyone congratulated her as in those days having a son was a matter of pride.” Then my father shared a story about my grandmother. Once when she visited us in Kathmandu, my father told her that my older sister wanted to do nursing and he needed some money to make it happen. My grandmother with an annoyed expression had said, “Are you mad? Why does she need to study? It is just worthless.” My father was expecting this reaction so he said, “Things have changed, Mother.”
My mother, busy in the kitchen overheard their conversation and came to listen. Seeing my mother coming near, my grandmother shouted at her and told her to go back to the kitchen. When my father was saying all this my mother interrupted him and said, “I felt like killing her when she told me to go back to the kitchen. But I didn’t obey her that time because I thought if I didn’t speak up it would just get worse. So, I told her that if she wanted to invest in my daughter then that was fine but if she couldn’t then to stop judging my daughter’s career choices.” My father with a smile told her to calm down. My sister and I got excited about what happened next.
‘Your grandmother was surprised and furious when she heard your mother’s reply”, said Father. But at the same time my father added that it is just the stereotypical way of thinking for old people. What my father said made sense because it was the way they thought at that time. We were all absorbed in the moment, with silence in the room, when the power came back on and I shouted, “Bati aayoo” (The power has come back on). The mood of the room changed, and everybody went back to do their work. That mini conversation with my parents changed my perspective about men suppressing women and how gender inequality still exists.