on (not) being a feminist in Kyrgyzstan

July 23, 2012 · 4 comments

in ramblings

I have never considered myself a feminist, at least not in the stereotypical, I-hate-men-and-I-don’t-want-to-shave-my-legs kind of way. It could be apathy, it could be that I love the idea of staying home and baking cookies for my dashing husband, and it could be that when you’re married by 22 and pregnant by 24, people don’t really expect you to rally for the sisterhood anyway.

So I rolled with it. Feminism, whatever.

But, living in Kyrgyzstan is changing that. It’s making me realize that the people who call themselves feminists here are mostly rallying for things that make me say, “Duh, of course.”

For example, some politicians have suggested that the jail term for stealing a cow should be longer than the jail term for stealing a woman (bride-napping) because, by this MP’s logic, you can eat a cow, but you can’t eat a woman, so a cow is more valuable. My logic says, “That’s ridiculous. You can’t eat a woman because she’s a human being, and therefore infinitely more valuable than a cow.”

Another politician wanted to prevent Kyrgyz women under the age of 22 from traveling abroad without a chaperon, because otherwise they marry foreigners (which is shameful enough, apparently) and get into heaps of trouble. My logic says, “Oh okay, so what about the women who go abroad to study? And what about the men that go abroad and also get into heaps of trouble? And what’s so magical about being 22 that allows young women the clarity to not marry foreigners and get into trouble?”

To me, thinking that a woman is worth more than a cow and that young women should be allowed to travel abroad without a chaperon isn’t feminism, it’s just logic. It’s just this ingrained belief that humans, as a whole, are capable of higher levels of thinking than cattle, which allows them to make their own decisions about how to live, where to travel, who to marry, etc.

A few weeks ago I discovered these issues through a photo-campaign created by the Bishkek Feminists Collective, along with a more recent one showcasing various women’s and men’s reasons for why we need feminism. It turns out, what strikes me as logical isn’t shared by policymakers and society as a whole here (but hopefully that will change).

I know the US isn’t a perfect utopia of gender equality, but living in Bishkek, seeing the dynamics between men and women and how women are perceived so lowly by even high-ranking government officials, who spend their hard-earned power and precious legislative time trying to figure out how to ban mini-skirts, I’ve come to the realization…

…I guess I am a feminist after all.

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