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(6) More horizons for Myanmar women... male chauvinism again!
     As economic pressures drove women to seek jobs outside the home, they inevitably became exposed to influences other than the usual brainwashings at home. Since she had to work with men at offices it was no finger considered immodest to talk to men without the usual lowering of eyes and such coy gestures.
     Fashions and modes changed perceptibly. Dresses became more revealing. Instead of the thick opaque cottons for blouses, thin transparent material carne to be used. Sleeves became shorter and narrower. Blouses that used to be worn an inch or so under the waist line were shortened so that the hourglass figure was revealed to the best advantage.
     With the on-coming tide of nationalism and the agitation for the boycott of foreign goods, transparent blouses became an object of criticism and censure. Since home-spun materials though opaque came in attractive colours and patterns, they did not, in any way, detract the feminine charm. Highlight on the curves and waist lines was effective but modest.
     Conservativism in dress was given a death-blow when the public media began propagating health culture, exhorting women to take part in sport. Until then, any girl who played badminton in her own backyard was considered "ultra-modem" or "westernized".
     Appearance of sports women wearing shortswhen women's longyis(sarongs) were worn just above the ankles-created a controversy. Some columnists (men, of course) ridiculed them mercilessly, but many stood on the women's side.
     Jar-nai-gyaw Ma Ma Lay, a well-known woman in contemporary letters and journalism defended the sports women in her columns. She made a humble request to the attackers: "Sirs, please do not look at things with the eyes of 'kilaisa' only."
     The word "kilaisa" is aterm borrowed from pali. Whatever the original meaning might be, it is used in Myanmar language to describe sensual leering in the worst possible taste. That expression did the work beautifully on that occasion and it muzzled many mouths.
     There was yet another force that helped women to liberate themselves, namely national moveme against the colonial rule. Since there was no necessity;. for women to agitate for their rights, most of their organizations became more or less subsidiary forces for political parties.
     For one thing, politicians were spared of the task of making special promises to women, "since they already enjoy equal status with men". In those days the struggle for independence was a common cause and a unifying factor.
     Political parties of the day made full use of women. They had more news-value. The presence of women at meetings and conferences excited the interest of the populace, and a good public attendance was assured that way. But the number of women who rose to policy making and executive posts was almost nil.
     Before going into the whys and wherefores of the matter, there was yet no less important role the women of those days played in the country's struggle for independence. It was nothing new or exciting but just to keep the home fires burning, while the men were braving the dangers and privations of revolutionary patriots.
     When the men threw themselves in to the country's fight for independence, they also threw away their chances of being good providers; it was their women... mothers, wives or sisters, who ran the family business; trade or farm or home industry. This they did with good grace and willingness, this was their share in the building of an independent state. It must be noted, however, that such supporters of the cause were usually women with little, if any, English or vernacular education; they just knew a little vernacular and some working knowledge of arithmetic. Those with formal education, naturally, were white collar workers usually in government service, so, any participation in political movements was out of the question.
     Girls from university and schools often participated in student movements, but their interest in politics lasted only as long as their college or school days. They usually faded out of the picture sooner or later. Thus, the bulk of the participants in the national movements were women who stayed within the bounds of traditional activitieskeoping house, running the family business like retail shops, home industry or farms. And they did it so efficiently that the men could leave it entirely in their hands This situation became more and more apparent in war time. The role of Myanmar women in war time will be the subject of my next article.
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