Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Endangered Pluralism

The violent protest in front of the venue of the “Miss Nepal” contest last week has made it clear that xenophobic brand of nationalism is on the rise in Nepal. It came as no surprise when the Maoists joined other leftists groups and demonstrated in front of the venue where the contestants were competing for the coveted crown. Krishna Bahadur Mahara, a Maoist ideologue and the information minister, had publicly acknowledged that he is both personally and ideologically, against the beauty pageants. If he could, he would have stopped the recently held “Miss Nepal” contest from taking off.

Despite vehement opposition from the leftists and the radical feminist groups in Nepal, the beauty pageants are organized year after year and operated within a greater context of generalized and widely accepted misogyny. It may be hard for freedom-loving, open-minded people to comprehend why the leftists and the radical feminists are hell-bent against things such as “beauty pageants,” which do not infringe on anyone else's personal rights.

Richard Wilk's claim may be helpful in understanding why the political left and the radical feminists hate beauty pageants and vehemently oppose it. Wilk says the pageants make sense of everyday life in this global order by creating common categories of difference. Furthermore, under the watchful eye of television, beauty pageants are engaged in ideological labor that undermines the presumptions of a global capitalist order, which is extremely distasteful to the political left.

The political left and die-hard feminists are totally against the beauty pageants and think such contests demean women and corrupt Nepali culture. They think beauty pageants as subordination of women to the status of sex objects in the new economy of global consumerism. What these leftists ideologues and the so called “hard core feminists,” who if allowed, would reduce the women's status to a vessels for reproduction fail to understand is that the norms that these beauty pageants promote are not even remotely as obsolete as they like to believe. What they seem to undermine is the fact that the beauty pageants do reflect contemporary culture, one in which the political left and the feminist groups pay lip service to women's right.

The leftist groups pose to be progressive and claim to be the champions of the women's right issues, but in fact they try to control the freedom of women. They fear that events such as beauty pageants would free women from socio-cultural bindings and subsequently lead to the liberation of their subjects. They tirelessly talk about equality and human rights of women but their sister organizations such as Youth Communist League (YCL), in the name of moral and cultural policing try to deprive women of their rights to indulge in things they like and want to participate in, and infringe women's right to choose. Thus, the Maoists and the other leftists groups are hiding their real willingness to subjugate women in a cloak of good intentions. If the leftists and the feminists really vouch for liberation and upliftment of women, which they claim to be the case, they should take on more pressing issue such as marginalization of women and work towards weakening the patriarchal structures, which is the main culprit behind women's backwardness.

The never-ending opposition of beauty pageants by the leftists and the so-called “women rights” groups reflects the problematic politics and the desperateness on the part of the feminists to align with the leftist groups to ensure the momentum of their fizzling movement. In the name of retention of culture, what the leftists and the feminists in Nepal are trying to do is stereotype the image of Nepali women. They want to project Nepali women as weak and submissive. For them, reinforcing the fundamentalist viewpoint of women as subordinate pays and it pays heavily. If women start perceiving themselves strong and independent, the very slogan of liberation of women that the leftists and the feminists have been cashing in so far becomes redundant and untenable. Thus, what the liftists and the feminists in the name of opposition to commoditization of women are trying to do is promote their own version of “cultural nationalism” as a substitute for the state-sponsored ideology of secularism in Nepal.

The powerful rhetoric of “cultural nationalism,” which the political left preaches, when set against the so-called hegemony of Westernization, becomes emotionally appealing to the millions of leftists and the feminists who perceive westernization of Nepali society as an inherent threat to their political future. So far the political left has been tremendously successful in manipulating the anti-western sentiment propagated by the leftist media and the polity under the deceptive garb of cultural retention to propagate their political ideology. The protest against beauty pageants is one of many such manipulative moves that the political left uses to promote the notion of “cultural nationalism,” which contributes towards securing its goal of establishing a proletarian communist state.

Beauty pageants draw a lot of flak from the leftist groups and the feminist groups who object to, basically because they cannot see the beauty contests further than the judgment of woman's appearance and promotion of glamour. The beauty pageants should be viewed as an event showcasing women's talent rather than an event showcasing beauty, sexism, vulgarism etc. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

Beauty pageants are innocuous. It helps winners catapult their careers in an upward motion. Their participation elevates their status so they are likely to succeed in their future endeavors. Besides, the winners of the pageants participate in promoting social issues and issues related to nature conservation, which in itself is a great thing.

The leftists and the feminist groups need to drop the obsession with women's bodies and what women do with it. They should stop viewing women as vessels for reproduction and putting women's right to bodily autonomy on the chopping block. The true liberation of women will take place only when they can freely decide on what they want to do with their body. The time has come whereby we, Nepali citizens, rise against the cultural and moral policing by the leftist and the radical feminists. The talibanisation of Nepali society in the name of “cultural nationalism” is simply unacceptable.


Anonymous said...

Freedom means choice!

Anonymous said...

You need to post more often! stop slacking