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(2) Undercurrent of male chauvinism
     The main object of IWY is promotion of equality of men and women. Since Myanmar women are supposed to enjoy equal status as men, what should IWY mean to us?
     Myanmar women first would have to rise above the smugness and complacency to see what could and should be done about the role they are to play in society. They must take a hard cold look at themselves and ask: what contribution have we given to the development of our country?
     Since the future could only be built on the heritage of the past, perhaps they should look a few decades back, to the days of the colonial regime, the struggle for independence, the building of a new state.
     Myanmar women never seem to have any need for liberation movements throughout history. They never have known impediments like purdah or bound feet. Their right to own property had never been challenged. In fact, they control the family finances. "Men just hand over their earnings to their wives . . ." This statement never fails to bring ohs and ahs of admiration from women of other nationalities.
     Many foreign wirters are impressed by the freedom Myanmar women enjoy. They, rather than the men, sit in the market stalls and run a large proportion of the nation's retail trade.
     In spite of all this, I have a feeling that there is an undercurrent of male chauvinism in the relationship between men and women as much as any written law. This, I speak from personal experience, is shared perhaps by many of the Myanmar women.
     In the family, sons are considered superior to daughters. Girls are expected to wait hand and foot on the boys. The allocation of tasks began early. Girls cook, wash and sew while boys play and study. "Myanmar women are free. . . ." no purdah, no bound feet. . . ." was the refrain that nipped any objection in the bud. If Myanmar women are equal in status as men, men certainly are more equal.
     Women down to my generation were groomed to be good wives and mothers and nothing else. (I use past tense. . . hopefully). Women must find fulfilment in marriage and motherhood; nothing else. It was the "nothing else" that used to infuriate me.
     It is only fair to say that many girls accepted the secondary position with good grace and grew up to be normal happy women. But once in a while some misfit got born in society and went about trying to upset all the accepted values.
     Here, before going into reactions and discordant notes, I must dwell on the lingo, idiom and reading matter prevalent in those days; because they played a part in the making or unmaking of a woman. " A daughter in the family is the best slave." this was often considerd a congratulatory expression when a baby girl was born. It was more of a consolation for not having a son.
     "A male dog is of higher status than a woman." This admonition was often doled out whenever a woman tried to come to her own as an individual. "A woman will destroy a dingdom. . . ." This they said to prove that women could not be trusted with tasks that needed wisdom.
     In the days of my growing up, the legacy of writings during the latter Konbaung Era, the last dynasty to rule Myanmar before British annexation, was very much alive. I could not but help being struck by the way writers and poets of those times wrote disparagingly of women. Many coined idioms and sayings to put women in an inferior place.
     Never in the history of Myanmar literature had there been such writing. Was it because during the early years of the18th century, there had been a queen, Me Nu, who, as a power behind the throne, played havoc with the country's affairs? Was it because it was Thibaw's queen (a descendant of the much hated Me Nu) who was supposed to be responsible for the massacre of the royal princes? Was it because people held her responsible for the final Myanmar defeat in the Third Anglo-Myanmar war? During the early years of the nineties, however, there seemed to be reaction against these writings. Some writers attempted to elevate women insisting that they should not feel inferior. One of the pioneers in the field was Ledipandita U Maung Gyi, a learned scholar and prolific writer of prose and poetry.
     I shall say more on the subject in my next article Reactions and Responses to Male Chauvinism.
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