Do Women Ever Own Anything?

Our bodies, surnames, titles, assets, authority, earnings — are they really ours?

Richa Bhattarai

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The evening has been wonderful. The conversation is romantic, the flickering lights enchanting, and the food utterly delicious. I look carefully through the menu to choose exotic-sounding dishes, the most vibrant-looking drinks. At last, sleepy and content, I ask for the bill. This is brought straight to my husband, who has not spoken two words to our attendant all evening.

Oh well, I shrug. I should have become used to this by now. Just the month before, on a field trip with colleagues, three of us girls laughed and talked loudly while arranging for vehicles and fixing up hotels. After the program, our contact person sent a feedback form — to the only male member in our group, who had had zero involvement in the entire process.

Also, six months ago, I was the one who made plans for a trip with my husband — chose the travel agency, booked tickets, dealt with the visas. At the airport, I was looking for my name, and hence twice missed my husband’s name in the placards, complete with the prefix Mr. I wasn’t even aware that they knew of his name till then.

This does not seem like a big deal. But it makes me uncomfortable. It reminds me of an incident from long ago. We were all spread out on the cool porch in our hometown of Jhapa, fanning ourselves furiously with tiny woven fans, gulping down great glasses of buttermilk. A vendor suddenly appeared in the midst of our green pathway, laden with an armful of dangly curtains and cushion covers and the like. We were so bogged down by the heat none of us even had the energy to look at his wares.

Just to be polite, Maili Aama invited him to sit on the wooden chair by the door, and he eagerly joined us after a drink at the hand pump. Soon, he started spreading out bedsheets in front of us, with the favorite refrain of most sellers, “I don’t charge you for looking at things !” Maili Aama was mildly attracted to a shiny blue specimen. She queried about the price, was assured of being given it for half of what it was worth, and was almost considering making the purchase.

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