The toxicity of sexism and politics in Malaysia

By Syerleena Abdul Rashid, DAPSY Bukit Bendera Secretary and DAP Wanita Bukit Bendera Political Education Director

syerleena on womenInterestingly, the media tends to work up a frenzy every time a Malay woman joins DAP. Most recently, Melati Rahim – a niqab donning activist, announced her membership and in less than 24 hours, the vicious attacks ensued with hell bent fervour. Already she has been accused as an apostate, a traitor and worst yet, a suggestion; made by an irresponsible blogger, that any woman joining DAP, for that matter, would be better off vacationing as prostitutes. What warrants such extreme contempt and disapproval? Aren’t the scandal tainted politicians who waste billions of public funds and attempt to destroy any notion of racial harmony in our country, worse than all of us who those join the opposition?

Being women, a minority in a male dominated setting, makes us easier targets for sexist remarks and revolting suggestions. We are oft singled out and ridiculed for our political choices; as if we have committed terrible crimes against humanity. Some men in our society continuously berate us, as if an attempt to ‘put us in our places’; it is as if our opinions on worldly issues lack merit and we’d be better off playing into whatever gender stereotype these bigoted men have laid out in our society.

Well, society is changing and that is a fact that they have to fathom sooner or later and such bigoted attitudes must stop.

Taking verbal jabs and branding us as traitors is unjustified and cowardly. The hardships Malaysians experience are too real for us to back down and meekly accept the patriarchal system our society (or men) tries to exert.

DAP presents a positive platform for women in politics. For those already in politics; their voices can be heard across the Federation and the impact of their contributions in our socio-political landscape can be felt too. Judging from the accomplishments so far, these women are not simply playing second fiddle to a relatively male dominated landscape. They have demonstrated fortitude, perseverance, and prudence in their decision over tackling important matters (i.e. inequalities and imbalance certain policies have created over the past decades) and they do all of these with such profound articulation, intelligence and finesse – virtues we seek in those elected to govern. Such traits are extremely inspiring for women and definitely something sexist bloggers or pseudo-intellectuals can learn a thing or two from.

Of course, we understand how politics work. After all, politics is often recognized as being a breeding ground for misogyny and this is evident from the crude remarks made towards women leaders and aspiring politicians. If anything the continual personal attacks happen because it is required. The motives that warrant such appalling attacks are purely a survival tactic played out by those who know that their time is almost over. Such bias dominance is slowly losing relevance in a multi-ethnic nation that is seemingly embracing progressiveness and liberal education.

Instead of engaging in personal attacks and slander, BN friendly parties and individuals should focus on highlighting pressing issues and enlightening us on pro-active policies that can help eradicate poverty among the marginalized as quite a number of Malaysians (and Malays for that matter) still belong in this category in spite of government backed Bumiputera policies and rights that have been championed by Umno for decades. Why not focus on improving our education system? The never ending policy ‘flip flopping’ and ‘U turns’ will do nothing to improve our universities’ reputation. None of our local universities made the cut in the latest list of top 400 global institutions and this is worrying especially when our education system is supposedly on par with developed countries like Germany.

Malaysians are beginning to embrace a new chapter in politics and politically, we are maturing. Many of us have already broken down the barriers of race, religion and gender in politics. The women in DAP represent all of that and such presence will inspire more bright and young Malaysians to join the struggle, regardless of ethnicity. There are plenty of women in politics that are highly educated, extremely intelligent and beautiful in their own right. These women too have had their fair share of discrimination and know the frustrations of being perceived as the “weaker sex” all too well. The toxicity of sexism seems to be permanent fixture in our local politics but that can be dealt with – easily. We need to change the mindset of Malaysians and educate them that “whistles”, “howls” and threats are not acceptable to any woman, as a matter of fact, it is hostile and boorish. I dare say that it is getting old.

So far, these women have been handling their new found popularity – both good and bad, extremely well and eloquently. In the end of the day, it is through respectable qualities and dedication that will earn politicians more supporters than enemies. Creating fear through threats will no longer work, if anything, it will only be advantageous to us who sit on the other side of the political spectrum.

And this is a notion that scares the ruling elite more than anything else.

* The views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the columnist

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