Pretty maids all in a row?
by Zaharom Nain. Posted on October 16, 2011, Sunday
Jews and women appear to have got the short end of the stick this past week, as, indeed, they do even at the best of times.
First, that, ahem, excitable bunch of women belonging to what many in the Malaysian media have dubbed the club of obedient wives, came up with a book reportedly titled Islamic Sex: Fighting Jews to Return Islamic Sex to the World.
I must confess that I have not yet seen this volume in any of the popular bookshops in town, hence have not had a chance to read it or view the Karma Sutraesque graphics, if any. Hence, I really can’t comment on its literary or aesthetic qualities.
But, nonetheless, from its reported title – clearly one that’s unsexy, crass, perhaps bizarre – it appears that the book’s authors have a bone to pick with the Jews, blaming them for the sexual problems of the world.
The Jews have a history of being persecuted. They have also been demonized and discriminated against, just as many unnecessary, cruel jokes and vicious international conspiracies are linked to them.
But I swear that this is the first time I’m hearing of them being blamed for the sexual inadequacies and misadventures of the ummah.
And I’m sure there’s some semblance of logic there somewhere if we were to stretch our imagination somewhat.
But that aside, the message of the book, like the message of the club itself, urging women to submit totally to the sexual demands of their husbands, has been rightly condemned by women’s rights groups in Malaysia .
The executive director of the women’s advocacy group, Empower, Maria Chin Abdullah, for example, was reported in an online news portal as saying that the book is “really an affront to the women’s rights movement, a very backward, narrow way of presenting women’s role”.
Almost as soon as she uttered those words, yet another controversy was reaching its peak, again relating to the role played by women. Or, rather, the role they were made to play.
This time around it wasn’t about a club of obedient wives depicted by the mainstream Malaysian media as a bunch of weirdoes.
This time around it was about a once proud and thriving but now increasingly desperate ethnic-based political party.
To recap, the presence of half a dozen or more of glamorous young women at the AGM of the party’s youth wing made the front pages of several newspapers the next day.
Indeed, there was a protracted exchange on the internet. Accusations and counter-accusations were hurled. The main criticism was that the women were not party members but had been hired as eye-candy at worst and as an image-building exercise at best.
While some of the comments were certainly unnecessary and demeaned the women, perhaps their use – and there really can’t be any kinder word than that – by the party organizers surely reflects the sexist nature of the party and, indeed, the sexist nature of our society.
Quite a number of the commentators were unfairly condemning the women while the organizers were insisting that they were either card-carrying members of the party or, indeed, were ‘invited guests’.
One party faithful almost rolled out their resumes, trying hard to illustrate that they were highly intelligent professionals. Which drew the instant, quite reasonable, query as to what such hyper-intelligent beings were doing with a bunch of losers?
This could have indeed been a marketing strategy gone awry. After all, virtually everything about contemporary Malaysian politics is staged-managed, devoid of any real substance or commitment to the people.
But, as in the case of the obedient wives’ club, this exploitation of women – by the youth wing of an established party, at that – speaks very little of their commitment to equality, non-discrimination and, indeed, that almost-now-forgotten notion of 1Malaysia.
Reading further into the news this week, it’s not terribly difficult for us to see that all this is indeed related to wider policy.
Some of us may have laughed at the story of the young Vietnamese woman who bit off the ear of her 61-year-old Malaysian husband when he apparently demanded sex.
But if we follow the story further, we discover from news reports that she then fled the house, sought help from her friend, presumably Vietnamese as well, who didn’t want to get involved.
In the end, she stayed overnight at a bus shelter, exposing herself to a variety of dangers.
The question that this sad incident raises is: Where is the social safety net for people such as this woman?
Indeed, we hear of many cases of mail-order brides coming over from neighbouring, less affluent countries.
We read of indignant Malaysian wives telling the authorities to get rid of these potential home-wreckers. We hear of ‘unfortunate’ Malaysian men being fleeced by these ‘visitors’.
But we seldom hear of their exploitation.
Until, that is, someone – a maid, a new wife, a sex worker – is assaulted, raped, even murdered.
Until, that is, a neighbouring country, like Cambodia , bans its citizens – mainly women – from working as domestic helpers in Malaysia because of alleged incidents of beatings and rape of these domestic helpers by their Malaysian employers.
Until, that is, a country, like Australia , cancels its initial agreement to exchange refugees and asylum seekers with Malaysia partly because Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Refugees.
Only then do we sit up take notice.
Yet, even then we somehow often still can’t make the links and put two and two together.
We can’t compute, from the highest political levels to the ordinary Malaysian citizen, that there is a wider world beyond our shores and that, looking outwards and inwards, we need to respect each other as human beings, irrespective of gender, ethnicity and nationality.
Instead, we let our arrogance override everything else.
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(The writer’s opinion does not reflect that of the paper.)