on (not) being a feminist in Kyrgyzstan

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.

4 replies on “on (not) being a feminist in Kyrgyzstan”

  1. I already considered myself a feminist before moving to Colombia (attempting to change the stereotype of “I-hate-men-and-I-don’t-want-to-shave-my-legs”), but being here has made me even more passionate about it. As you say – much of this is totally logical to me. Yet many societies are built around women (and men) only being allowed/able to occupy certain roles, and changing those norms is really difficult. Talking about it is the first step. I wish I understood the text in that photo campaign.

    I haven’t heard anything here about women being less valuable than cows, though…

    1. Yeah, I guess I just always took for granted the norms and opportunities I had as a woman in the states, then I get here and it’s VERY different, so it has definitely changed my outlook.

      As for the photos, first one says, “But I can’t eat her!” second, “Hey, where are you going!?” and third, “I need feminism because the woman initiating a relationship doesn’t mean she lacks pride, but simply that she’s cool!”

  2. If you believe that you should have rights and opportunities equal to those of men – including the right to decide for yourself when and with whom you wish to marry, whether or not you wish to attend university (not to forget which university you wish to attend and what subjects you want to study), whether or not you wish to be employed outside of the home and in what kind of job, whether or not you wish to have children, how many, and when you wish to become pregnant – then you are a feminist. Period. The “stereotype” of feminists as hairy-legged man-haters is simply perpetuated by ignorant pundits like Rush Limbaugh who bemoan the loss of stereotypical 1950s era male/female relationships… and by women who, despite attempting to live their lives according to their own desires, and despite believing that they should have opportunities equal to those of men in their age group, will nonetheless cringe at the word feminism and say things like, “Well, I’m not a feminist, but…” or “I have never considered myself a feminist, but…”

  3. “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.”

    Um, yes!!

    That’s all “feminism” is: pure logic. I think the fact that you associated feminism with man-hating non-shavers is a product of having grown up during the feminism backlash of the 80s and 90s (we’re the same age, right?). Cause I totally remember singing along to the Hole song where Courtney crones “I am not a feminist” and, “Yeah, feminism is lame.” (I was 12.)

    But you know, read a little bell hooks and man, that shit makes sense. Kinda just your run-of-the-mill equality.

    Glad to hear Kyrgyzstan drove the point home!

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