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Of course, Western culture often holds material consumer products in high regard as status symbols, such as homes, automobiles, elaborate clothing, and the like. In the case of the Nepalese, however, the case is vastly different. In the mountain villages, land is the primary commodity that is held in the highest regard as a symbol of status, wealth and power. This is so for very specific reasons, given the fact that land is in short supply in Nepal, land is vital in a mostly agrarian society such as that of the Nepalese villages, and the very simple way of life that the villagers lead makes many of the common Western status symbols unnecessary at best and outright ridiculous at the very least.
The status symbol of land in Nepal seems to be mostly centered on the males of the culture; for the females, who are generally prohibited from owning land, education is something that is one tangible measure of women's status was their educational attainment. Although the constitution offers women equal educational opportunities, many social, economic, and cultural factors contributed to lower enrollment and higher dropout rates for girls. Illiteracy imposed the greatest hindrance to enhancing equal opportunity and status for women. They were caught in a vicious circle imposed by the patriarchic society. Their lower status hindered their education, and the lack of education, in turn, constricted their status and position. Although the female literacy rate has improved noticeably over the years, the level in the early 1990s fell far short of the male level. The level of educational attainment among female children of wealthy and educated families was much higher than that among female children of poor families. This class disparity in educational attainment was also true for boys. In Nepal, as in many societies, education was heavily class-biased.
By the early 1990s, a direct correlation existed between the level of education and status. Educated women were given more opportunities to advance themselves, achieve independence, and perhaps even break from the restrictions of mountain life to study, work and live in the cities of Nepal. Whatever the achievement of the educated woman outside of her family, however, an educated woman did not necessarily hold a higher status at home than her uneducated counterpart. Also within the family, a woman's status, especially a daughter-in-law's status, was more closely tied to her husband's authority and to her parental family's wealth and status than anything else.
Anthropologically speaking, the baseline of measuring the status of men or women in terms of their gender is done within the context of their access to knowledge, economic resources, and political power, as well as their freedom when given an active role in the process of decision making. More specifically, within the mountain regions of Nepal, as long as recorded history has existed, women have clearly been put in a role that is subordinate to men in the majority of the Nepalese ethnic groups, with some exceptions. Without bogging down the research with minute details, suffice it to say that some regions provide more freedom to women than others, due to a variety of factors. One common trait in most of the regions of Nepal however is the power that the senior woman of each family holds. As a form of cultural tradition, the senior woman controls resources such as food, medicine, clothing, coordinating the planting and harvesting of crops, and budgeting the spending of money and purchasing of the goods that the family needs. The younger women are many times relegated to the more menial daily chores that need to be performed within the family, and despite having to use more physical energy than the older women, are typically allotted less food, even in comparison to the males of the same age group.
Restrictions to Sexual Access
As a cultural standard of sorts, most, if not all cultures have defined rules regarding sexual access, and the lack thereof. Within the scope of marriage, with few exceptions, sexual contact with those outside of the marriage is universally viewed off-limits especially for the woman and in most cases for the man as well. Beyond this more defined structure of limited access, it is also common in most cultures for sexual access to children, close relatives, and those unable to make a conscious consent to sexual contact to be considered taboo. This protects those who are unable to protect themselves from unwanted sexual solicitation, and also gives the culture a baseline of morality and standards of conduct to assure the effective functioning of the culture overall. This being said, it is also important to realize that for as primitive as the Nepalese mountain villagers may be in some respects, they are also very conscious of limiting inappropriate sexual access to certain members of society, with special protection being afforded to women, as gender is very important to these people.
Marriage in Nepalese Culture
Related to gender in the Nepalese culture is the issue of marriage. The concept of marriage exists in one form or another in virtually all cultures, and within the framework of marriage, there are certain universal traits that are true in the culture of Nepal, indicative of many other cultures in other parts of the world.
Marriage, broadly defined, is the socially recognized union of two or more people, generally viewed as an effective way to regulate heterosexual intercourse by determining socially acceptable sexual partners (Palomar, 2006). Generally speaking, the act of marriage between two or more people places people outside of the marriage off-limits in terms of sexual activity. What this type of an arrangement serves to achieve is a definition of morality, social order, and respect for the union of people together in a marital setting. The bond of marriage, in the case of the mountain people of Nepal, takes on several important implications. Through marriage, the Nepalese form political alliances for the gaining and holding of power, attainment of respect and wealth/material possessions, although as noted earlier, these material possessions generally focus on land and agriculture, and not many of the more consumer-oriented goods that may be coveted by other cultures internationally. Because of the order that marriages provides in Nepal and other parts of the world, cultures are able to maintain internal order, prolong the life and vitality of the family unit, and interact with others within their culture who are not necessarily family members, but have some commonality with the family of their spouse in terms of values, customs, and priorities.
One of the most important parts of the marriage process in any situation is the means by which an individual chooses marriage partner(s); generally, this selection process tends to be culturally defined (Palomar, 2006). In the Western tradition, affection, physical attraction, sexual compatibility and love are important criteria when selecting spouses. Beyond this, on of the main attributes that many cultures emphasize in the selection of marriage partners is physical beauty. While the concept of beauty is highly subjective most of the time, cultures often do hold certain universal standards as the norm for the evaluation of a potential spouse, one of the most significant being physical beauty. This beauty is based in large part upon cultural traditions as well; for example, some groups maintain that women who are more curvaceous are the standard of beauty, but others stand by the belief that women should be extremely thin in order to be considered the most attractive and suitable for marriage, reflecting a difference of viewpoint and opinion among the world's cultures themselves.
Ethnocentricities can also contribute in large part to the perception of beauty, as some races of people unfortunately view certain others as unattractive, whereas some cultures are broadly considered to be physically beautiful simply by their inclusion in that group.
Mating Patterns in Culture
The Nepalese culture is not much different from other cultures in terms of the matting patterns that exist. Despite centuries of advancement, there are still some norms that are maintained by the people of Nepal. Whether for economic/political reasons, or to promote the continuance of the family blood line, like many other nations, Nepal holds marriage in extremely high regard. Conversely, those who remain unmarried are viewed to be at a disadvantage in some cases, leading to pity from others, and to be undesirable, leading to unfair hatred in others, making the bold assumption that one remains unmarried mostly due to some sort of character flaw that they possess which makes them unworthy of the benefits of marriage. Moving from the remote mountain villages of Nepal to the larger, more urban areas, the perception of unmarried people seems to be somewhat more favorable, perhaps due to the more liberal viewpoints of city dwellers, or perhaps even due to the influence of other cultures in the melting pots of the cities, where diversity exists and different points-of-view are often shared tolerantly with others. In all societies, whether expressly regulated by law or guided through tradition, there…[continue]
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