I have heard countless Tibetan men say that there isn’t really anything for Tibetan women to complain about in terms of gender equality because we Tibetan women “have it so much better than women from other communities,” to paraphrase the general lines. The usual example cited by Tibetan men is how women in India are often beaten and burnt alive for not paying dowry but that in the Tibetan community there are women who beat their husbands. When did Tibetan men stoop low enough to compare themselves to systems which inflict such injustices upon women?
In our society, Tibetan women are still expected to be docile, obedient, “good” mother/daughter figures, usually defined by the kind of clothes we wear, the degree of servility and acquiescence we show towards elders, readiness to agree with the men in control, lack of any inclination to argue, and being expected to want to settle down and marry. A vast number of women may be running everything in their households and society, from domestic duties to family businesses to being political leaders, but to be a truly “good Tibetan woman” one is expected to be “obedient” and be good wives/mothers/daughters (which, more often than not, entails surrendering to men).
Tibetan women are raised hearing things like “but you are a girl”, “this isn’t what good bhoepa girls do”, “this is what good bhoepa girls do”. I agree that there are many safety concerns as women living in India, but why should boys get to do anything while girls are always warned to keep in mind their gender? As if our gender is a limitation.
When I point out this double standard people will often reply, “Oh, but men and women are equal so you can do whatever you want.” But they will then try to put a leash on their own wives, sisters, daughters, nieces, and cousins. In India, women need to develop heightened levels of consciousness about safety in order to avoid dangerous situations. However, rather than focusing entirely on restricting freedom of movement and choice for women in the name of safety, people should be focusing on the primary cause of the problem: Men’s attitudes towards women. We are raised with the belief that Tibetans are compassionate, forward-thinking and open minded, but we always manage to categorize women into either the “good” or the “bad” ones (and we all know the standards by which goodness is measured).
For example, in Dharamsala, married women who do not like wearing chupa usually are looked at differently. The chupa has almost become the yardstick by which to measure the respectability of a woman. We live in families where women are still expected to do all the household chores even if they work the same kinds of 9-5 jobs as their husbands. Yet, men aren’t expected to handle anything in the kitchen – even when they know how to cook – while the women cannot even have control over whether or not to wear chupa, constantly having to be conscious of what our society will think. Men never have to worry about wearing chupa, except on very rare occasions. If a woman likes wearing chupa and is by nature quiet and doesn’t like confrontation, then that is her choice. But why should the women who are not like that be treated any differently?
Why is it not okay for a bhoepa girl living in India to wear revealing clothes and makeup but a girl from chigyal doing the same is still considered a “good girl” simply “because she’s from the US/Canada/Switzerland/insert western country here”? My friends who have come on vacation to India after some years abroad can wear tank tops or shorts in McLeod Ganj and the elders will let it slide because “she is from chigyal.” But the dress code imposed on local girls is always pants and t-shirt or chupa.
Why should only the wife cook dinner and wash dishes while the husband watches TV or catches up on some paperwork from the office? Why are daughters raised never to question and always to “listen to your elders” (even if the elders in question are wrong), to not fight for themselves (“good girls don’t fight”), to “accept their fate” and sacrifice all the time (because “that’s what Tibetan women do”)?
Men might say that we, Tibetan women, have it “better” than women in other communities. But “better” is not good enough.