Author:Ma Khin Mar Mar Kyi (Australian National University)
Paper long abstract:
The Burmese modern nation state has created an ‘imagined community’ which systematically uses a combination of traditional gender power beliefs, in particular hpon and modern nation state hierarchical masculine power. Hpon is often assumed to be an essential and unchanging condition of ‘Burmese-ness’ and ‘maleness’ and is understood in all sectors of Burmese society. Hpon is a widely referenced concept in scholarship on Burma, seen as men’s birthright which all men are born with on their right shoulder, defined by a leading Burmese writer as the ‘glory, the holiness of a man’…(1962: 71).
Hpon is used in contrast to a colonial ideology of feminising women which created new ‘ideals’ of Burmese womanhood. Nationalists used a combination of ‘borrowed’ and ‘traditional’ ideas about women to meet political needs and the current regime has continued to strategically and systematically use these gender constructions for their own narrow political purposes, especially to attack Aung San Suu Kyi. By focusing on hpon I will discuss how traditional values have been used to empower men and legitimise male superiority in public and politics. However, the regime’s gender constructions have also been subverted, most recently in a ‘panty power’ campaign which seeks to ridicule the Burmese generals.