Laki-laki feminis, sila tampil ke hadapan

Dalam kolum saya di Merdeka Review baru-baru ini, saya membincangkan tentang tanggungjawab kita sebagai sebuah masyarakat dalam menangani isu misogyni (atau pembencian wanita di bawah dan atas sedar) di Malaysia. Hari ini, saya ingin menjemput pembaca untuk memikirkan tentang peranan lelaki dalam menangani seksisme dan penyertaan mereka dalam gerakan feminisme. Boleh dikatakan bahawa tanggungjawab yang lebih besar dalam membasmi wabak seksisme di Malaysia terletak di tangan lelaki. Mana tidaknya? Lelaki adalah pemangsa wanita dan kanak-kanak dalam kebanyakan kes gangguan dan keganasan seksual.

Lelaki, yang secara lazimnya adalah ketua-ketua keluarga dan agama, atau seorang lelaki yang rasa dirinya lebih alim, cukup asyik menguasai pergerakan wanita dan melarang itu dan ini. Wanita seolah-olah dibelenggu lelaki yang suka menindas atas niat jahat dan ‘baik’ yang tidak bertempat. Bukan tanggungjawab perempuan untuk menjaga diri bila melangkah keluar dari rumah, tetapi tanggungjawab lelaki untuk menjaga pandangan, tangan, organ kemaluan sendiri dan tidak memperkosa siapa-siapa.

Di negara Malaysia, kaum perempuan memang sudah tentu merendahkan pandangan mereka. Di tempat awam di mana wanita sering diganggu, ditegur dengan cara kurang menyenangkan oleh lelaki yang tidak dikenali, ramai orang perempuan hanya boleh menunduk ke bawah dan berpura-pura gangguan tersebut hanya khayalan semata-mata. Lelaki melihat, perempuan dilihat – itulah ketidakadilan struktural yang implisit dalam masyarakat patriarkal.

Seorang perempuan yang ‘membalas’ pandangan lelaki akan mempegunkan dan mencabar sang penglihat. Ya, dilihat secara intens oleh orang-orang yang tidak dikenali amat tidak menyenangkan. Ini adalah satu kenyataan yang hanya orang perempuan akan memahami kerana keselamatan kita di mana-mana selalu terasa tergugat. Untuk mengatakan bahawa kaum lelaki juga menduga masalah gangguan dan keganasan seksual maka keselamatan wanita sahaja perlu dititikberatkan adalah tidak sensitif dan memperkecilkan masalahnya.

Mengapa harus kita galakkan penyertaan lelaki dalam menangani gejala seksisme? Kerana lelaki mempunyai kuasa dan kebolehan untuk mengakhirnya. Tetapi masalah terbesar dalam penglibatan lelaki dalam perjuangan isu-isu wanita adalah kecendurungan lelaki untuk memimpin wanita-wanita dan mendominasi wacana feminisme. Ini adalah kerana lelaki yang feminis dianggap sangat istimewa bagi kita, dan juga kerana lelaki feminis biasanya mempunyai intelek tinggi dan bakat menulis dan berpidato.

Tetapi faktor ternyata yang ‘mengistimewakan’ lelaki feminis ialah cara bagaimana lelaki disosialisasikan dalam budaya kita untuk mempimpin, dan melindungi wanita (yang lemah). Disebabkan ciri-ciri ini, lelaki feminis sering dijadikan ‘spokesman’, atau jurucakap yang mewakili suara kita sebagai kaum perempuan. Wanita juga terlibat dalam mengagungkan laki-laki feminis; seringkali kita sendiri melantik lelaki sebagai pemimpin kita, walaupun memang kita mengakui wanita jarang diberikan pucuk kepimpinan. Realiti penuh dengan pelbagai paradoks, dan cakap tidak semestinya serba bikin.

Kita sebenarnya tidak mahukan lelaki untuk mewakili perempuan dalam mana-mana bidang yang melibatkan perempuan secara langsung. Contohnya, isu reproduksi, gangguan dan keganasan seksual terhadap perempuan adalah isu yang dialami oleh kaum perempuan dan lelaki tidak akan sesekali boleh meraih peranan ‘pakar’ dalam isu-isu seperti ini. Mengapa kita perlukan pula lebih penglibatan wanita dalam arena lain yang sudah tentu dikongsi wanita dan laki-laki, seperti politik, polis, agama, media, dan undang-undang?

Ini adalah kerana sudut pandangan perempuan adalah unik, dan kerana sudut pandangan laki-laki sering dikaburi keistimewaan atau kelebihan lelaki (male privilege). Sebagai contoh, kelebihan lelaki memberikan mereka keberanian menaiki pengakutan awam atau berjalan bersendirian pada waktu malam tanpa merisaukan risiko rogol. Kelebihan lelaki memberikan kelapangan daripada kerumitan dalam mengimbang tugasan rumahtangga dan kerjaya; kerana wanita (yang berkerjaya mahupun yang tidak) secara ‘semulajadinya’ mengangkut tanggungjawab yang lebih berat dalam mengasuh anak-anak, memasak, dan mengemas rumah. Kelebihan lelaki adalah mereka tidak perlu memikirkan tentang hal-hal seharian yang menyulitkan wanita – kerana mereka tidak mengalaminya sendiri.

Jika lelaki yang bergelar diri feminis terlalu gentar untuk menampilkan diri, sekurang-kurangnya mengecam seksisme dalam aktiviti seharian. Seksisme merendahkan martabat perempuan sebagai objek seks dan kilang bayi semata-mata. Seksisme juga menormalkan status wanita yang idak setaraf dengan lelaki. Akhir kata, wanita sangat perlukan sokongan laki-laki dalam perjuangan feminisme, bukan sebagai wakil atau pelindung, tetapi sebagai anggota keluarga, rakan, dan kekasih dalam perjuangan.

Ada apa dengan bendera?

Disiarkan di Merdeka Review, tanggal 22 Desember 2011.

via Merdeka Review

Sejak usia remaja, saya pernah dinasihatkan oleh orang tua supaya jangan masuk campur dengan arena politik apabila dewasa kelak. Mengikut mereka, politik hanyalah “permainan kotor” yang menguntungkan politikus sahaja, lantas kepentingan rakyat sejagat jarang dipertimbangkan secara ikhlas. Setiap satu yang diberikan kepada rakyat diragut satu yang lain, contohnya masing-masing peluang melanjutkan pelajaran di institut pengajian tinggi awam dan kebebasan akademik.

Baru-baru ini kita dihidangi berita yang kian menjejaskan integriti kerajaan yang kononnya mahu mendaulatkan konsep demokrasi dan mempunyai keinginan untuk berjinak-jinak dengan prinsip kebebasan bersuara. Tindakan aktivis-aktivis mahasiswa dari Gerakan Menuntut Kebebasan Akademik (Bebas) menurunkan bendera yang melayangkan wajah Najib Razak selama lima minit sebagai simbol tidak-puas hati mereka terhadap keengganan kerajaan memansuhkan Akta Universiti Kolej dan Universiti (AUKU) yang menyekat kebebasan akademik dan berpolitik. Walaupun didepani dengan desakan aktivis-aktivis mahasiswa untuk memansuhkan AUKU yang semakin mengombak, kerajaan Najib Razak hanya mampu berdiam dan mendiamkan suara-suara protes.

Demokrasi siapa?

Menurut menteri pengajian tinggi Saifuddin Abdullah yang kononnya menyokong “kebebasan bersuara” dan konsep demokrasi, penurunan bendera UMNO bukan tindakan yang berdemokratik. Ada pula yang berpendapat mahasiswa-mahasiswa terlibat bersikap kurang matang, kurang ajar, dan tidak menghormati harta-benda kerajaan, seolah-olah memecah masuk rumah dan menyusun-semula perabot. Sasaran mahasiswa SMM – bendera yang bermukakan Najib Razak – secara tidak langsung menjadi objek yang suci. Ia bukannya bendera negara atau parti, tidak dibakar atau diinjak-injak. Namun yang demikian, penurunan bendera tersebut dilihat sebagai satu serangan terhadap ego seorang pemimpin yang pantang dicabar.

UMNO dan penganut-penganutnya tidak jauh berbeza daripada kerajaan tidak gentar menggunakan kekerasan – sama ada dalam bentuk fizikal mahupun retorikal – untuk menindas perjuangan hak-hak mahasiswa. Di United Kingdom sepanjang tahun ini, kerajaan David Cameron menggunakan kuasa polis untuk “mengawal” pergerakan mahasiswa yang berdemonstrasi kerana kenaikan yuran tahunan universiti yang melambung tinggi. Yang paling tragis pula, pembunuhan ratusan mahasiswa-mahasiswa yang berarak di Dataran Tiananmen secara aman mengutuk Parti Komunis China pada tahun 1989.

Ya, kerajaan Malaysia bukan satu-satunya kerajaan yang takut kepada kemarakan mahasiswa. Sejarah gerakan mahasiswa telah menunjukkan bahawa kuasa dan pengaruh mahasiswa boleh menggulingkan kepimpinan yang represif; regim Suharto berjaya digulingkan atas desakan mahasiswa Indonesia pada tahun 1998. Jika mahasiswa dan cendiakawan seperjuangan mampu mengguling kerajaan Suharto yang berkuasa selama 32 tahun – antara regim diktator yang paling lama di dunia – jelas menunjukkan bahawa mahasiswa Malaysia juga serba upaya.

Kerajaan Najib yang menidakkan hak mahasiswa untuk berpolitik menyelindungkan ketakutan mereka terhadap kuasa mahasiswa. Universiti bukan sekadar kilang mencetak sijil tetapi tempat orang muda menuntut ilmu berfikir secara berdikari. Kebanyakan mahasiswa yang mempunyai kesedaran politik pula bukan kuda mana-mana parti. Kerajaan dan orang awam harus sedar bahawa arena dan istilah politik itu sendiri sangat terhad dan sempit maksudnya. Politik bukan sekadar pertandingan populariti atau acara berlumba-lumba yang menjuarakan politikus yang dilantik – Tidak.

Hakikatnya, kuasa politik juga terletak di tangan pengundi, penyokong, dan pejuang agenda masing-masing yang sedikit sebanyak menentukan jaya dan gagalnya seorang politikus dan jatuhnya pengaruh kerajaan; dari sini kita kembali kepada asal-usul perkataan “demokrasi” dalam bahasa Yunani yang berasaskan “demos” yang bermaksud rakyat dan “kratos” bererti pemerintahan.

Sebagai mahasiswa yang bakal menapak ke alam universiti sebagai pensyarah dan penyelidik, kebebasan akademik bukan sahaja memberikan ruang dan peluang menyampaikan pendapat dan idea-idea yang berbeza dan kritis tentang keadaan politik semasa, tetapi juga menggalakkan mahasiswa untuk lebih bersuara tanpa ugutan dan kecaman. Negara Malaysia sudah terlalu lama dikekangi budaya paternalistik, iaitu budaya (dan juga polisi) yang menyekat kebebasan atas nama ketentaraman dan kebajikan rakyat. Budaya paternalisme inilah yang sebenarnya takut kepada konsep kebebasan bersuara dan demokrasi kerana ia melemahkan pengaruh seorang atas anggota-anggota rakyatnya. Di alam universiti di mana penghuninya diberikan peluang untuk bersuara dan berfikir secara berdikari, kematangan minda akan dipupuk secara semulajadi.

Saya dapati bahawa reaksi pihak-pihak tertentu yang mengutuk dan mengugut tindakan mahasiswa yang anti-kekerasan berbaur ironi; perasaan marah yang melulu juga timbul daripada budaya kita yang anti-intelektual yang kuat menolak peluang berdialog secara rasional dan aman. Budaya kita juga mengagungkan status yang tinggi, bermaksud status mahasiswa yang biasa dianggap rendah tarafnya sering diperlekehkan dan ditindas.

Oleh yang demikian, gerakan mahasiswa aktivis tidak akan mengakhiri protes mereka dengan penurunan simbolik bendera yang berwajah Najib Razak, tetapi akan terus memuncak sehingga pihak kerajaan menyerahkan diri kepada desakan-desakan mereka.

Ironi adalah …

PTTM 2011. Copyright protected.

Beberapa bulan yang lepas saya terserempak dengan sebuah kumpulan di laman Facebook yang bernama “Hentikan ganggguan seksual terhadap lelaki”. Kerana saya mengambil pendirian tegas tentang gangguan seksual terhadap sesiapa pun saya klik untuk maklumat lanjut. Saya kaget, terkejut besar, dengan apa yang saya lihat; pakaian Muslimah yang cukup menutup aurat selama ini mengganggu kaum lelaki Melayu secara seksual! O.O

Apa yang perlu dilakukan kepada golongan perempuan yang tidak perasan lagi tidak prihatin tentang cara pemakaian dan sifat semulajadi mereka sebagai perempuan? Perlukah mereka dihukum, didenda RM100 kerana menyeksa lelaki dan membuat tempat-tempat awam tidak selamat untuk lelaki lagi?

Setahu saya gangguan seksual melibatkan taktik membuli untuk menakutkan atau meresahkan seseorang dengan niat yang seksual. Saya yakin kebanyakan perempuan tidak berniat langsung untuk mengganggu lelaki yang lemah pedoman dengan pakaian mereka walau bagaimana seksi ataupun tidak.

Maka, kita tiba di sebuah kesimpulan: masalahnya adalah lelaki yang tidak boleh mengawal mata mereka yang meranjang dan memanggil diri mangsa. Mengkritik pakaian perempuan dengan ayat-ayat suci Al-Quran adalah contoh penyalahgunaan agama dan sebuah taktik untuk menguasai pergerakan orang perempuan. Akhir kata, gangguan seksual itu bukan isu murahan yang boleh dieksploitasi buat kepentingan diri.

The lacuna: Where is the missing canon of Malaysian feminist fiction writing?

A version of this post was first published on Kakak Killjoy

The question above may seem far ahead of its time, as the influence of feminism – in whatever form of feminism we as Malaysians can recognise – has yet to have an established place in our literature. Fiction-writing has long been central to Western feminisms; many who call themselves feminists would have read or heard of The Yellow Wallpaper, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Awakening, Fear of Flying, The Bell Jar, or inspired by the work of Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, Nawal el-Sadawi, Audre Lorde, Ursula Le Guin, and the many US and UK-based feminist writers on the internet. But we as Malaysians enjoy Western feminist writings in a more vicarious way, as we have too few inspirational local texts to call our own. Too few to develop a semblance of a canon of Malaysian feminist writing. Even rarer still are those that address contemporary concerns.

The question that people are quick to ask is, what makes a novel or a whole body of literature feminist?

According to feminist literary theorist Cheri Register, feminist fiction should have the following qualities:

  • serves as a forum for women
  • helps to achieve cultural androgyny
  • provide role models
  • promote sisterhood, and
  • augment consciousness-raising

In literature or fiction writing, feminism comes out of the page demanding the reader to think more critically about the socio-political situation the female and male characters experience. At times, characters inspire their readers in questioning and challenging the oppressive status quo and hopefully spur readers into doing, being the same. In other words, feminist writings raises a reader’s consciousness to oppression and injustice that are regarded as common sense – “women always want to be mothers, love housework and gossip, subservient to their husbands and other men, and mustn’t be too ambitious” – “this is the way things are, always been, and will always be”

Feminist heroines in literature are rarely one-dimensional people. In fact all would often reflect the complex nature of its readers; from trail-blazing free spirits like Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables, indomitable like Celie in The Color Purple, conflicted like Mira in The Women’s Room, to uncompromising like Imrah in Ombak Bukan Biru. They attain self-actualisation without a male love interest or life-affirmation through heterosexual marriage. They are women who love education and learning and aim for the best, their sense of self are tested and questioned at every turn by sexist, racist, and classist societal norms.

In the case of Celie, Mira, and Imrah, all of whom experience difficult, intimate relationships with men and made to the end of the story unmarried, a little scarred by emotional trauma, yet fulfilled and hungry to take on life’s many challenges. Sometimes it seems as if in feminist writing the boundaries between representation and the ‘real’, entertainment and political didacticism are often blurred as most feminist literature are political and emancipatory in its implicit objective.

The dearth in feminist characterisation in Malaysian literature can be attributed to the socio-political straightjacket that threatens writers critical of the status quo into self-censorship or be censored. The few and far in between that do exist appear in the maddeningly rare portrayals of extraordinary women as adventurers, scholars, and saints in the writings of Siti Zainon Ismail and Fatimah Busu. The other possible obstacle to the lack and loss of feminist writing is Malaysia’s under-appreciated reading culture; books are not cheap and older books often do not get reprinted. People do and would want to read non- “classic” Malaysian fiction published prior to 2000. Fiction by pre-merdeka writers depicting the lives of women at the cusp of modernity by Rayuan Sukma, Kamariah Saadon, Jahlelawati, and Rokiah Abu Bakar are now largely forgotten.

Despite our massive bookshops, they’re not home to local fiction. Instead, they impose on Malaysian readers a concept of globalised reading culture whose terms and tastes are shaped by global corporate mega companies that thinks Malaysians are interested in 20th century military and war history in the western world, chick lit by and for middle-class white women, and a mass of cookbooks which require ingredients that will never be available in your nearest Giant or Carrefour supermarket.

Heavy-handed laws against artistic expression (whether official and self-imposed ones) have done little to stifle the subversive writings of Shahnon Ahmad, Salleh ben Joned, sprouting of the local LGBT short story genre, and erotic writing. But much of Malaysia’s subversive writings are and have always been dominated by men; whether it’s written by men or edited or published by men. Feminism, or its much friendlier and less subversive guise, “women’s rights and issues”, hardly makes a ripple in the local literary world that’s begging to be cool, insurrectionary, and relevant again.

Women’s writing is invidiously expected, like in the English publication world, to be about shopping and getting Mr. Right. It would be a particularly victorious day for disrupting our stubbornly stagnant gender politics when Malaysia has its own version of Indonesia’s sastra wangi, the deeply political, erotic, disturbing, and exhilarating genre by young women writers critical of Suharto’s authoritarian regime.

Taking a brighter view on things, the relative safe issue of “women’s rights” may remove many obstacles (such as the label of “controversy” or “immorality”) that hinder female writers from crafting complex characters and thought-provoking plots to stir a reader’s feminist consciousness. There are many socio-cultural arenas that await Malaysian feminist writing; transgender issues, disabilities, eco-feminism, food politics, and consumerism to name a few. Most feminist novels, whether staged in the present, in the distant future or in an alternate reality, are a commentary of the writer’s time. Perhaps the paucity of current feminist writing by Malaysian women is symptomatic of a complex but quiet and subtle malaise characterised by simply a lack of interest?

Recommended titles:
Novels
Jalur sinar di celah daun by Zaharah Nawawi
Pulau Renik Ungu by Siti Zainon Ismail
Salam Maria by Fatimah Busu
Ombak bukan biru by Fatimah Busu

Short stories
Polishing by Charlene Rajendran
Short message system by Mercy Thomas
Bahawa hidup itulah cintaku by Anis Sabirin

For non-Malaysian English language titles, here is a long list of recommendations.

Some notes on sluttiness in Jalang

The best part about being a researcher in film and media is the joy of discovering half-forgotten ‘gems’, like the Malaysian film called Jalang (2009). Jalang (Malay for slut, whore, wayward butterfly, you get the idea) is the ground-breaking cinematic masterpiece by Nazir Jamaluddin about a high-flying young woman Maria who apparently sleeps her way to getting business deals and eventually gets her fatal comeuppance for her indiscreet love for sex.

Just so audiences don’t get their moral wires mixed up, the film begins with a handy prologue about the loathsomeness of the jalang and that good Muslims should steer clear away from them. But it’s likely that most people won’t come across the jalang, because they’re usually killed off, on screen and sadly sometimes off screen as well. Since our film of interest aims to be didactic in character, let’s see one can be learned from Maria’s slutty ways:

INTERIOR SHOT: Protagonist of the movie, driving a sportscar. Background is blurred due to motion of car. Protagonist is a dressed in white blouse with black cravat, wearing makeup, sunglasses and expensive jewelry.

Flashy cars, stylish clothes; the material perks of a jalang are pretty good.

  • Sluts are successful businesswomen who drive expensive cars with their top down on a bright sunny day in Malaysia.
  • Sluts have Mariah Carey-inspired butterfly tattoos

That's the business meeting etiquette out the window

  • Sluts are touchy feely and affectionate to a point of excess with every male sleaze-bag in the boardroom during a business meeting.
  • Sluts care a lot about other women, especially if other women are their struggling younger sisters.
  • Sluts are made into sex objects to be passed around between ugly, middle-aged men.
  • Sluts are fine as non-committal sex partners, but are an unthinkable no-no’s as daughter-in-laws, especially if they’ve slept with you.
  • Sluts are despised by other women who want to tie them up and blow their slutty bodies into a million slutty pieces.

As if being mad isn't enough, there is also the unflattering tank top to contend with

  • Sluts turn men into psychotic and violent stalkers.
  • Sluts also make men bad at lying about their extra-marital affairs.
  • Sluts somehow deserve to be sexually harassed at work because of their exceedingly relaxed office etiquette with their male employers.
  • Sluts can be desirable to nice men but they must repent, cover up and start praying again.
  • Sluts are actually not entitled to a fresh start in life. When they’re honest about their sexual past they will be shamed for it. Worse, they will be beaten for their honesty.

An obligatory visit to the village as part of one's soul-searching expedition

  • Sluts remove their butterfly tattoos, wear the baju kurung, and experience life in the village in an attempt to ‘cleanse’ their body and spirit.
  • Sluts are made to be subjected to violent assault by men
  • Sluts die a horrible death in front of a mosque, Mastika-style.

Lesson: It doesn’t matter what you wear, what your sexual history is, how pure and golden your heart is, or your sincerity to “change your ways”, if you’ve had plenty of enjoyable pre-marital sex you will be punished for it. Above all, you are a slut or jalang in spite of all the above.

You will be punished even more when you have a desire to get married to a man. Sexual morality dictates that many men will hate to marry women who have had an illustrious history of relationships, because men will insist on being the first and the only one who’s been to a woman’s sweet spot. Being the second or the fifty-third man isn’t going to cut it.

As a woman in a male-dominated environment, one is expected to kow-tow to the sexist assumption that a woman is successful because she uses her sexual capital – her body, not her talent or intelligence. The success a woman enjoys in a high-powered job is linked to her moral inadequacies; when Maria falls for the man who accepts her for who she is Maria gives up her job to be “a woman in love” i.e. a woman who would rather be dependent on a man.

Most damning of all, there is no way for a woman to be free from shame and insult no matter what she says and does. Meanwhile, men can get away unscathed from whatever sexual improprieties while women suffer, are silenced, and chastised. Worse, men often get away with committing sexual assault scot-free.

Why is a discussion on this film even necessary when we can all predict the brutal end that awaits Maria? First, a Malay film-maker must be audacious enough to make a film about a so-called jalang to want to send some kind of message on how story about a jalang should be told. That message as we all now learn is unfair and irredeemably simplistic.

Second, being a jalang is supposedly the lowest of the low for Malay women. Without an examination what jalang means, the clouded nature of the insult can have power over all Malay women. When we rethink and re-examine our assumptions about what makes a jalang, particularly when we see how a jalang is represented for us, we will discover many loopholes that mitigate and even subvert what jalang means.

For instance, Jalang could be read as a story about a kind-hearted and caring woman who has sexual agency, but then is played out by evil men who abuse her good nature, talent, and relaxed attitudes to sex. Reading the film this way does not mitigate against how her character is punished in the end, but proposes that being a jalang is not a ticket to earthly damnation and that the problem are the men in the film.

I strongly believe that a continuous reassessment on what a jalang means, how much a woman is entitled to her sexuality, and the expression of jalang-ness that is free from violence, abuse, and shame can subvert and neutralise the toxic power of gendered insults and the laws of sexual morality. Perhaps this is one of the many ways we can reclaim the liberated, considerate, business savvy, and talented jalang.

Two steps forward, one step back: On Dalam Botol, Malaysia’s first ‘gay’ film

Written for the LSE equality and diversity blog

For a country keen on displaying its hyper-modernity, Malaysian law and social attitudes on sexual morality in general have always had a conservative bent. While there are pockets of change, much of the public discourse on sex and morality are dominated by sexist and homophobic language. A blanket government control on discussion and representations of sexuality in the media regularly results in sensationalism, misinformation, and the deepening of greater confusion about sexual and gender diversity. This confusion is reflected in the new film by Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman, Dalam Botol (In a bottle). While the film signals a small but momentous phase in the country’s censorship laws on the depiction of homosexual characters in the media, the film itself stands as an intriguing cinematic object of fascination and curiosity as it secured 1 million ringgit ($330,000) at Malaysian cinemas.

Dalam Botol tells the story of a man who undergoes a sex reassignment surgery to please his male lover, stores his severed penis in the eponymous bottle, only to be rejected by his lover. Dejected, the transsexual man/woman returns to his village and falls for a woman. Although based on the experiences of the producer’s friend who regretted having a sex-reassignment procedure, the film has been pointed out as misleading by Malaysian LGBT activists as it conflates gay with transgender identities.

While Raja Azmi claims to tell a love story with a cautionary twist, its narrative is not easily separated from how alternative sexualities and genders are perceived in Malaysia where gay men are sometimes confused for trans women who need to undergo sex reassignment surgery to become female, while both transgender women and gay men are sometimes subsumed under the category ‘effeminate’ men. Furthermore, Raja Azmi’s insistence that the film’s moral subtext should function as a deterrent against sex reassignment surgery serves only to reinforce the assumption that transgender and homosexual identities are not only temporary but a deplorable state of affairs to be rejected.

To be fair to Malaysia’s cultural genealogy of genders and sexualities, the conception of gay identities did not come into public currency until the 1980s. Even then, the term closest to the Western understanding of the word ‘gay’ is pondan, a derogatory word used for effeminate men or transwomen. The term ‘homosexual’ has different connotations in different cultural and economic contexts. But with the expansion of the ‘global gay’ emanating from the ‘Anglophone’ world reaching the industrialised capitals of the developing world, Malaysia included, we find localised conceptions of the ‘global gay’ in hybridised gay identities. Malaysian gay identities are savvy consumers of Western LGBT media and have close ties with human rights organisations, but they are also concentrated in the urban centres of the country. How the LGBT community in Malaysia perceive Raja Azmi’s film is very much a product of this global cultural exchange and local politics.

The conflict in conceptions of transgender and homosexual identities exist between Malaysian LGBT groups and the cinematic vision of producer and scriptwriter Raja Azmi may arise from linguistic and class differences. Many middle-class Malaysian gay and lesbians adopt the epistemological separation of gender and biological sex developed by Western sociologists and sexologists and understand their work in English, while most working class Malaysians do not have access to knowing much gender theory.

The fact that media attention on alternative genders and sexualities in recent Malaysian films have only come to the fore in recent years with films like Dalam Botol, 2 Alam (Two Worlds), Bukak Api (Open Fire), Pecah Lobang (Broken Hole), and numerous Malay television dramas with transgender characters demonstrates a new but limited awareness about non-normative gender and sexuality. Lesbian characters in films such as Rozana Cinta ’87 (Rozana Love) did not court great controversy in 1987. It was only during the public humiliation of the former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim in 1998 when the country’s dominant discourse on homosexuality was re-established with a politically homophobic turn and pushed gay identities in the spotlight. Last December, Awzan Ismail, an openly gay Malay Muslim man received death threats after posting a Youtube video for a gay youth acceptance campaign ‘It Gets Better’.

The level of negative attention targeted at Awzan Ismail was significantly disproportionate compared to the videos posted by his fellow gay and lesbian Chinese Malaysians. The hostility and misinformation on sexual and gender minorities in Malaysia appear to boil down to much of the attitudes and social and religio-political hegemony of the majority Malay Muslims.

Historically, Malaysia’s social fabric has been shaped by racial politics under the paternalistic thumb of largely Malay Muslim politicians. While the country is on the surface a peaceful multi-ethnic nation, underneath the veneer lie racial tensions arising from the constitutionally-sanctioned superiority of the Malays and indigenous groups, termed the bumiputera, which make sensitive issues such as race, sexuality, and religion a minefield for those who challenge the conservative status quo.

Small social transformations are constantly afoot in Malaysia and the country’s increasingly politicised youth appear to set the wheels of change into motion. Independent films by Malaysian film makers engage more positively with LGBT issues than films that grab national headlines like Dalam Botol. It will, however, still take time when a critical mass for change is reached in the country’s seats of power to witness a greater level of social acceptance of trans and gay people in Malaysia.

Dahulukala – Sebuah manifesta berangkap


Dahulu kala
saya pernah percaya
tudung itu bukan sahaja
harus bagi wanita solehah
tapi juga bagi awek lelaki
soleh dan yang memejam sebelah mata.

Dahulu kala
saya pernah dituduh
kurang ajar dan lemah pedoman
jika mencabar kepimpinan lelaki
yang tidak berbeza rupa dan sifat
kepimpinan seorang perempuan.

Dahulu kala
saya pernah percaya
kewanitaan itu lumrah
yang disempurnakan jodoh
dan cahaya mata.
Cita-cita dan kerjaya hanyalah
lamunan anak mentah.

Dahulu kala
saya pernah dituduh
penyibuk dan lantang
jika bersuara tentang
penindasan harian kecil dan besar.
Jangan persoalkan kuasa,
salah maupun yang benar.

“Itulah ragam manusia”
“Jangan kerana mulut badan binasa”

Dahulu kala
Saya pernah percaya
manusia banyak kelemahan.
Yang perempuan berakal satu.
Lemah lelaki lemah lagi perempuan
yang dihambai
gergasi ghaib bernama patriarki.

Tetapi kini
saya bangkit dari lamunan dan kritikan.
Seribu satu keraguan ditepis.
Dari kelemahan timbul satu kekuatan
yang menumbang seribu satu ego.

Saya percaya
feminisme bukan nilaian KPI
dimana segalanya mesti dicapai:
Badan ramping, suami yang kacak.
Anak yang comel, cerdas, dan bijak.

Saya masih percaya
kepada harapan dan daya
kaum hawa dan adam
dalam perjuangan bersama.

Jiwa dan raga yang ingin menyala –
Itu dahulu kala.
Semangat yang berbuak-buak –
Sekaranglah waktunya!

Judge a book by its cover?: Women and sex on retro Malay book covers

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But you might well be able to sell a book based on its cover. The world of Malay book jackets of the past (circa 1960’s to mid 1970’s) was a different place then, where nude women as decorative elements were apparently no big deal. Nowadays, more chaste illustrations of women in the tudung (headscarves) are de rigeur and few publishers would venture anywhere above the (arbitrary) knee-length axis of morality. Somehow I don’t think the reasons for the change were motivated by aesthetics or feminist consciousness.

The following books were discovered in my library and it is my (dis)pleasure to share with you some recurring themes, both illustrated and suggested in the titles. Because they’re potentially Not Safe For Work, I’ve posted them after the jump:

Continue reading

Introducing Privilege-denying Malay guy. Patriarchy-apologists be damned!

UPDATE: PDMG has moved to a more inclusive space – Privilege-denying Malaysian guy

In the spirit of the hugely popular Privilege-denying Dude meme that’s been circulating the feminist blogosphere, my fellow feminist compadres Tariq and Munira, have started the long overdue Privilege-denying Malay guy. Of course there is no denying that Malay privilege is enshrined in Article 153 of the Malaysian constitution and has long since become the chest-beating mantra of many Malay Malaysians, but other privileges ensconced by being born male, middle-class, able-bodied and straight remain sorely overlooked and the source of much annoyance to many.

Sometimes a humorous and subversive reaction to annoyance is more productive than a frothy-mouthed post on the failures of Malaysian politics, Islam in Malaysian, and Malay men in general. A few pithy words can capture the multifarious nature of the privilege-driven ecstasy that is the Malay guy:

More on Privilege-denying Malay Guy

Feminisme: Antara mitos dan fakta

Ramai yang berpendapat bahawa golongan wanita dan lelaki feminis yang berpegang kepada prinsip “kesamaan” begitu khusyuk dengan isu-isu hak asasi manusia dan anasir-anasir berwajah kebaratan yang lain, seperti sekularisme dan liberalisme. Tidak kurang juga para bijak-pandai yang mendakwa gerakan feminisme sebagai satu-satunya punca keruntuhan akhlak dan rumahtangga. Ada pula yang khuatir feminisme menggalakkan persaingan antara wanita dan lelaki, di mana wanita sebenarnya mahu menguasi lelaki. Dari manakah dakwaan ini timbul? Apakah dakwaan ini bertunjang bukti yang kukuh, ataupun rekaan liar semata-mata?

Ya dan tidak jawabnya. Gerakan feminisme yang dikenali ramai muncul secara besar-besaran pada awal abad ke-20 di United Kingdom dan Amerika Syarikat – di sinilah titik permulaan stereotip atau mitos golongan feminis. Wanita yang menggelar diri feminis (atau suffragette pada waktu itu) tergolong dari kelompok atasan – “elit” – berkulit putih, berpendidikan tinggi, dan tidak berminat pula dalam hal-hal diskriminasi dan prejudis yang dialami oleh wanita lain – yang miskin, tidak berpendidikan tinggi, dan tidak berkulit putih. Beberapa “gelombang” perlu naik dan susut supaya suara wanita yang sudah lama terpinggir (yang miskin, tidak berpelajaran tinggi, dan tidak berkulit putih) didengar dan diambil serius. Tanpa wujudnya kesedaran akan perkauman dan perbezaan latar belakang sosio-ekonomi, gerakan feminisme bagaikan kereta lembu berroda satu (contoh eco-friendly): terbatas gerakan dan serba kekurangan.

Di akar umbi gerakan ini adalah kepercayaan bahawa wanita dan lelaki dicipta dengan kebolehan akal yang sama, dan tubuh badan dan warna kulit bukan penentu hidup – kepercayaan inilah yang menjadi bahan tentangan hebat ramai. Mana tidaknya? Para feminis banyak mempersoalkan budaya yang bersifat patriarki/kiriarki yang wujud hasil daripada corak kuasa dalam politik dan ekonomi, sebuah budaya yang mengagungkan kedudukan sekumpulan kecil yang berpengaruh dalam sesebuah masyarakat. Di Malaysia, kumpulan kecil ini terdiri daripada ahli politik lelaki, golongan lelaki yang kaya raya dan sesetengah para ulama. Warga tua, golongan kurang upaya, orang Asli, golongan Mak Nyah, dan saudara kita yang bukan beragama Islam secara lazimnya di kelaskan dalam kelompok “yang teraniaya” dan “dipinggir”. Pernahkah para bijak-pandai yang mengutuk gerakan feminisme bertanya sama ada sistem perkelasan ini adil?

Ingin dibangkitkan di sini bukannya untuk mempromosikan feminisme semata-mata. Ruang yang dibenarkan untuk mereka yang berlainan pendapat semakin sempit di kampung Malaysia. Tidak kiralah dia seorang feminis Islam ataupun seorang mufti, pendapat mereka yang memperjuangkan keadilan atas nama bagaimanapun tetap digugat. Bagi mereka yang rasa dirinya sahaja yang berhak bersuara mengenai keadilan, mereka harus bertanya kepada diri: apakah penganiayaan itu perhah dirasa dengan tubuh badan sendiri dan dilihat dengan mata kepala sendiri, dan apakah keadilan itu boleh dirasai oleh semua?