Happy awal Muharram and secular New Year!

I’d like to wish every reader a wonderful Islamic and secular New Year! May 2009/1430 bring us more peace and happiness.

As for those new year’s resolutions, I’m planning on upgrading my library with more books on gender studies with a postcolonialist slant and Malay novels (because you can never have enough books), but paradoxically, I also intend to spend less (on other stuff). Among other things, I’d like to be a serious student again, wake up earlier, eat healthier, call my Dad more often, and finally, stop regretting about my past failures.

Do you have resolutions for 2009?

Book review: Contrary Visions – Women and Work in Malay Novels Written by Women by Christine Campbell

contrary-visions1Despite the clunky title, Contrary Visions (2004, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka) offers a rather comprehensive review of novels by Malay women written between 1940 and 1995, including a couple of early Indonesian novels thrown in for good, hazy archipelagoan measure. Alongside Virginia Hooker’s Writing a New Society: Social Change Through the Novel in Malay (2000), Campbell’s book is pioneering stuff in the field of Malay women’s writing. In it, Malaysia’s political independence from British rule in 1957 serves as the ‘Big Bang’ in the course of women’s writing from which then on became more interesting, more daring. But how much more interesting and more daring really is it?

‘Contrary visions’ is the recurring theme in this book, and is supposedly reflected in the aspirations of the female leading characters. All of the novels reviewed, from the pre-Independence Panggilan Ibunda (Call of the Motherland, 1948​) by Kamariah Saadon, to the politically conscious Anugerah (The Award, 1995) by Zaharah Nawawi, involve the issues of marriage and work – the latter either domestic or professional, and so any textual evidence of pragmatism in female characters about these issues are defined as a ‘contrary vision’ to the stifling Malay customs designed for the female sex.

Continue reading “Book review: Contrary Visions – Women and Work in Malay Novels Written by Women by Christine Campbell”

Year end hiatus

Allow me to take this opportunity to thank you for visiting my fledgling blog these last few months. I would also like to thank all the blogs that were kind enough to promote my little corner of thoughts. This blog started out as a project to practice my writing skills and an extension of my Wikipedia Bahasa Melayu articles on issues close to my heart: feminism and Malay literature. In only a few months, Cycads has managed to gather unexpected levels of attention, support and honourable mentions from more experienced members of the blogosphere – I am indeed humbled.

For about a month I will be taking time out from the blogging community to reflect on things past and what lies ahead, and to spend quality time with family and friends, which goes without saying. I will also be busy rehearsing for a charity concert next month, in which I might re-emerge again as a solo concert pianist. But during the break, I will be around to respond to your e-mails and comments posted on Cycads.

Have a wonderful new year, my readers. Hopefully and God willing, we will witness a better year for everybody.

For Muslim women, the personal is political

The recent fatwa on assumed female homosexuality has opened another can of worms. Yet again, the Malaysian religious authorities insist on tightening their grip on Muslim women by policing the way they dress, and who they choose to love, without fully understanding the complex nature of human sexuality. Meanwhile, a worrying proportion of the Malaysian public see this form of moral safeguarding as an exclusive issue pertaining to Malaysian Muslims only – other Malaysians need not apply; lacking the prerequisite of being a Muslim and not being an Islamic scholar, their criticisms will be seen as simply a nuisance to the Malaysian political machinery.

While this is all happening, there is yet another attack on women’s private space. In Amina Wadud’s book, ‘Inside the gender jihad‘, she explains why Muslim women can claim the feminist adage, ‘the personal is political’ as their own battle cry:

A prime theoretical contribution of the contemporary analysis of women’s oppression can be captured in the slogan “the personal is political.” What it means is that the subordination of women by men is pervasive, that it orders the relationships of the sexes in every of life, that a sexual politic of domination is as much in evidence in the private spheres of the family, ordinary social life, and sexuality as in the traditionally public spheres of government and the economy. The belief that things we do in the bosom of the family or in bed are either “natural” or else a function of personal idiosyncrasies of the private individual is held to be an “ideological curtain that conceals the reality of women’s systematic oppressions.”

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Reinforcing stereotypes through romance – Mills and Boon style

I have never read a Mills and Boon novel in my entire life, and am proud of it. I can go as far as to say that touching them might soil my hands. Even during my girls school days – a time to channel all that naughty hormones into sleazy paperbacks, I hardly knew about it, but its presence was made felt through whisperings in coded language; “M and B”, or simply as “the goods”. Now it seems that there is no letting up of the archetype romance novel as it celebrates its centennial at the Guardian. But please, is a photo gallery of truly appalling titles with seriously offensive racial/gender stereotypes that necessary?

Image from the Guardian

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Open thread: Films you've watched this year and loved, or hated.

I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to watch pretty much any film I want whilst living here in the UK. And if you, like me, love watching films, you would agree that there’s no place better than where there is little to no form of censorship. In the last few years, I have been an intense cinema-goer, renter of DVDs, and analyst of human behaviour. There’s no doubting that film is a medium of change. And if the power of cinema cannot change reality, it can certainly alter its perception. In this post, I’d like to look back and share the list of films I’ve had the great fortune/misfortune to watch this year, and ask you, my readers:

What was your film experience like this year?

Continue reading “Open thread: Films you've watched this year and loved, or hated.”