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Type: Theses
Title: You can’t be a feminist and be a daughter-in-law: negotiations of honour and womanhood in urban Nepal
Author: Homan, Sarah Faye Eliza
Issue Date: 2017
School/Discipline: School of Social Sciences
Abstract: This thesis argues that an urban Nepali womanhood is practised and understood fundamentally through local understandings of what it means to be ijjatdār (‘honourable’). While ijjat generally translates to ‘honour’ in Nepali, I argue it is a complex configuration of interrelated, nuanced understandings, activities, rules and assets, which provides a gendered framework for directing the practices, beliefs and experiences of urban Nepalis. When one female informant insisted, “You can’t be a feminist and be a daughter-in-law”, my attention was drawn to the ways ‘tension’ is imbricated with honour and how women experienced it, as they balanced traditional expectations with ‘modern’ desires. Thus, womanhood was centred on practices of negotiation between ‘traditional’ expectations and emerging ‘modern’ ones in urban locales. The ‘daughter-in-law’ represents a strict social code of what it means to be a ‘good woman’ and is founded on traditional notions of what it means to be honourable. The ‘feminist’ represents the rhetoric of development feminism, whereby women agitate for social change and engage with ‘boldness’ and ‘raising voice’. I use these analytic binaries as devices for discussing urban Nepali womanhood to critically engage with the everyday dynamic between various gendered subjectivities, modernity and tradition. Based on fieldwork conducted in two urban locales in Nepal between 2009 and 2011, my research looks at salient themes in women’s lives, such as surveillance, the notion of the ‘good’ woman, sexuality, violence and discontents to examine the negotiations women utilise to enact their womanhood. New political and social influences are changing the ways women view themselves and their place in Nepali society. Historical notions of a ‘respectable femininity’, tied to ijjat, have committed women to the private sphere, with little bodily autonomy and education. Traditionally, ijjat has presumed strict gendered behavioural norms, dictating a prescribed ‘life path’ for many, particularly Hindu, Nepali individuals. However, development and other modern influences have made it more acceptable for Nepali women to access public domains, higher education, labour markets, and exercise freedoms and choices that were previously denied them. As a way of analysing the strategies and potentials of urban, predominantly Hindu, women as they actively negotiate womanhood, I look at theories of practice and ‘doing’ gender to understand the nuances and subjectivities of my informants. I frame womanhood as structured by ijjat, yet not as static and unchanging: it is a continual and dynamic process actively negotiated in flexible ways. However, this negotiated womanhood is also dependent on other dynamics such as power, women’s other subjectivities and the contexts in which they find themselves. By performing gender through various improvisations, women are finding contextual ways to be both ‘feminists’ and ‘daughters-in-law’. I argue this is a mode of being ‘alternatively modern’, which conceptually acknowledges that, in the processes of ‘becoming modern’, there are particulars of local sensibility and subjective dispositions at work.
Advisor: Dundon, Alison Joy
Gray, John
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Social Sciences, 2017.
Keywords: Nepal
gender
subjectivity
modernity
development
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/legals
DOI: 10.4225/55/591becfdf286e
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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