Anyway, going back to the term 'like us', I always wondered what she meant by that. Was she referring to humanity? Was she referring to women? Because I am a ‘woman’, and am not particularly fond of pink, or of colourful sunglasses. (But do these random facts make me any less of a woman?) Was she referring to an ideal of masculinity?
There indeed still is a model of masculinity to which the Mauritian man has to live up to. To me, this resonates in various areas of the male Mauritian life. For example, in some families still exists this relief and happiness of having a male child as a first born. The pressure that the first born has to become a) a doctor, b) a lawyer c) an accountant (how about d: not of the above?) Of course, this is by and large due to the patriarchal dimension of Mauritian society: a tradition that is maintained by women as much as men. Women in Mauritius have completely internalised this concept, a lot of my friends would describe their 'ideal' man as someone 'rich, who can take care of me, so I can stop working'. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this idea, it has always made me particularly uneasy. What does it mean to want a rich man who can take care of you? Does this entail that I cannot take care of myself? Or rather, does it entail that society expects me to stop working and let my husband provide for me? Does this mean that all my hard work becomes subsumed in (heterosexual of course) married life? Does it mean that my husband/partner will feel emasculated if I earn more than him?
The pressure to behave 'like a man', to dress 'like a man' and to walk 'like a man' is just as easily thrust upon women. There are pressures to have ambitions 'like a woman', to want to have kids 'like normal women' and the ever-popular, to get married 'like every women to a man'. What I wish to point to here is that masculinity in Mauritius, and I suppose this is by no means an isolated case, is inherently linked to femininity in Mauritius. The two, while carefully kept apart, depend on each other. The men and women that dare defy this dichotomy do so at a price. Whether it is this nagging feeling that no one in your family really understands any of the choices you made, or people thinking that you are non-heterosexual. Or, far worse, the feeling that there might be something seriously wrong with you that makes you behave ‘differently’. There is a very popular expression in Mauritius: 'In Mauritius, we cultivate two things: sugarcane and prejudice.'
A while ago, back in Mauritius, I wrote an article about directions feminism could take in Mauritius. I realise I missed an incredible point: if feminism in Mauritius is ever going to take off, it absolutely has to acknowledge the pressures patriarchy imposes on male Mauritians. This pressure includes the coercion into heterosexuality that, even worse than male and female behaviour codes, goes unacknowledged politically. Concentrating on female empowerment is crucial, but patriarchy is as restrictive on men as it is on women. While this may be obvious to some, in Mauritius, it is rarely reckoned with outside the University context. We are still in a framework where we define our feminist standpoint in opposition to man. There are movements in Mauritius that try to empower women and encourage their involvement in politics. Where they go wrong however is in the exclusion of issues male have with patriarchy. Feminism and men in Mauritius have an uncomfortable relationship; it would be very rare outside academia to have someone openly state he is a feminist. I remember some time ago one of our leaders, visibly impatient with a fellow female politician who was arguing with him, told her she should ‘find a husband’. This is not only revealing of the mindset boys and girls are brought up in, but also (and this is particularly important for me to mention this because of the coming general elections) of the completely archaic frame of mind of politicians in power in Mauritius. The same people are being elected over and over again, and the cycle of repression, as well as the pressure to conform to whatever standards were decided for you, are strengthened.
I guess I should end this with some form of recommendation or opinion on the directions feminism in Mauritius might take. I think we have lessons to learn from Black feminism and from Western feminism in order to outline one that would be appropriate for postcolonial identities from the Indian Ocean. Experiences in this area are unique for various reasons; the history of colonialism and violence and the underlying assumptions of exoticism, easy-living and overall unity among the diverse ethnicities. There is an increasing need to be confrontational about our own assumptions and shortcomings. I sense that confronting prejudice and admitting to it can be a basis for productive debates and provide sustainability to activism, and this aspect is something that I personally find lacking in Mauritian movements for male/female equality.