Open thread closed

With the possibility of being completely inundated with complaints, diatribe, and vitriol, I declare the Dummy Mummy open thread closed, until I return to the subject with a more in depth analysis of the subject.

I completely understand that parents can be particularly sensitive about their role and their children, and that having a childless critic talking about them and their parenting methods can be unfair. But my beef with dull mothers comes from personal experience, and that perhaps I had met the most extreme example that gave rise to such extreme views.

Though I make no apologies for my attitude towards child-obsessed parents – I have very little patience for people who impose every detail of their lives on others and who hold bigoted views themselves in the interest of their children. But parents are not the only ones who fall under this category.

Who has the right to 'Allah'?

Good news just in. The Herald is now allowed to use ‘Allah’ in its Malay-language publication. Well, as long as the newspaper makes it clear that its material is not for Muslims, The Star reports. Hhmm. Fair enough.

There was a brouhaha some months ago when “The [Malaysian] government argued that Allah is an Islamic word and its use by others might confuse Muslims, who might think Allah refers to their God.”

The Herald, the Roman Catholic Church’s main newspaper in Malaysia, has already started printing “For Christianity” on its cover, said its editor Rev. Lawrence Andrew.

The Herald publishes weekly in English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay with an estimated readership of 50,000. The ban on “Allah” concerns mainly the Malay edition, which is read mostly by indigenous Christian tribes in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak. The other three editions usually do not use “Allah.”

Andrew said although the order “makes things easier” for the Herald, the paper will not drop its legal challenge against the ban. A court is due to hear arguments in the case on Friday. The Herald is arguing that the Arabic word is a common reference for God that predates Islam and has been used for centuries as a translation in Malay.

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Album review: Stereotomy by The Alan Parsons Project

My not so glowing review of The Alan Parsons Project’s album, Stereotomy is now up on Feminist Review:

“Where’s the walrus?” was the question posed by an old friend of band members Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson about the lack of Beatles-esque verve in the band’s previous albums, Ammonia Avenue and Vulture Culture. The question later became one of the track titles on Stereotomy, serving as an answer, “Here it is.”

Unlike Magical Mystery Tour, however, the walrus was nowhere to be found in the album.

Stereotomy finds the Alan Parsons Project getting deep in metaphor with lyrics like, “Too many windmills in my way” and “Make me a rock and not what I appear to be,” none of which made a lasting impression on my musical experience, nor a lot of poetic sense. The main impression I got from Stereotomy was the band’s rather contrived attempt to make some rather bland, synthesizer-infused progressive rock grandiose and profound mostly via the choice of album title. Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, “stereotomy” sounds more like a word only a physical chemistry teacher would know.

Read the rest here.

Books from my pre-feminist days

The past is a foreign country: people read different things there.

While currently surrounded by books of a feminist nature, I would revisit from time to time my old books from salad days, and think about how much (or little) I’ve matured in my reading taste. As a teenager approaching early adulthood, I had an affinity to books that tackled love and sexuality in the most unconventional way possible. Some were written (drawn?) in the manga format in all its seamless exuberance, some were quirky classics, and others half-forgotten naughty oddities. You could say that I embraced prurience if it was of the literary kind, snobbish even. But like I said, this was only in the past…

The height of my manga-reading days were spent poring over Kayoko Shigeta’s worryingly haphazard romantic quest in Moyocco Anno’s Happy Mania (1996-2001, 11 volumes). Kayoko: young, thin, and blonde-haired, would do anything in her search for true love – even fucking her workmate’s fiance, and sharing with another a woman a man who refuses to commit. While she comes across as completely self-absorbed and desperate right from the first page of volume one, she’s still a likeable and funny character with nuggets like “What constitutes a girlfriend anyway? Is it someone you have sex with? Or someone who cooks you dinner?” (Volume 1, pg 139).

Though re-reading that today is not quite as epiphanic as when I was at the cusp of learning about what relationships were all about. I know more or less what the answer to that is by now, thanks to a strange phenomenon called “growing up”.

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Confronting Malay privilege

It is true that whenever I write about the state of feminism in Malaysia, I write from a point of view of a privileged Malay whose ethnicity is a dividing force in Malaysia. While I write about the challenges of Muslim women with a global view in mind, my own Malayness oppresses every one else in my backyard who does not fit the exacting and discriminating elements that make the Malay composite.

priv-i-lege, noun
A special right, advantage, immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.

Everyone has some form of privilege one way or the other; either it’s physical ability, economic background, heterosexuality and/or possessing the Y chromosome. However, the more vicious forms are those that are enshrined in the federal constitution to benefit only a select group of people. For decades, the Malay community has been socialised into thinking that they are made of something quite special, that the state of their specialness, or supremacy, is the norm. Supreme entitlement to such things as greater access to university education, public funding, jobs, and homes allows for the upward social mobility of those lucky enough to be born Malay and Muslim in Malaysia. This is how the Malay middle-class was born. But when their privileges are challenged, it is seen as an attack on their humanity and on their way of life.

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Notes on the Anti-capitalist Feminist Event, London, Valentine's Day 2009

Spending the day talking about Bangladeshi garment worker’s working conditions and sex-trafficking may not be everybody’s idea of celebrating Valentine’s Day. But there I was, rather than getting loved-up by candlelight with Whitney Houston bursting her lungs in the background, I was brushing shoulders with left-wing trade unionists, sex workers’ rights activists, and a rainbow coalition of fellow feminists at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

The Anti-Capitalist Feminist Event: Gender, Race, and Class, appeared to be a successful meeting of hearts and minds. The deluge of attendees were broken up into different workshops of their choice. And what great workshops they were. Suffice to say, I was often torn between a couple of them that coincided with each other. The first workshop that I decided (with some difficulty) to go to was about reproductive freedoms, and it was very good. Rather than debating whether or not abortion was a moral choice, the facilitators – a few of them hailing from Feminist Fightback, one member of Maternity Action, and one who is a founding member of New York City’s Haven Coalition discussed rights to abortion and other maternal care rights from dimensions that I don’t hear about very often – this is largely because the very issue of abortion is too often clouded by the impractical (and very dangerous) moral debates surrounding it.

I was glad that abortion gets mentioned as a race issue because it often gets swept under the carpet. The disproportionately high number of abortion among ethnic minority women in the UK and US can be construed as a kind of unwanted population control and that some babies (read: white and middle-class) are “more valuable than others”, argued Gwyneth Lonergan of Feminist Fightback. Now, being headlined as a feminist event with a special perspective on race and class, hers was an important statement and is a reminder that we still live in a hierarchy that places ethnic minority women (particularly if they happen to be immigrants) firmly at the bottom of the social pile. Equally distressing is the inaccessibility to free (NHS-funded) maternal care faced by foreign women who:

  • have just arrived in the UK, with no proof of settling in the country long-term
  • possess spousal/dependent UK visas
  • are on a work visa that hasn’t been renewed via a points-based system
  • are trafficked into the country

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Tips on smashing conformity

The following is excerpted from an article by Malaysian academic, activist, and feminist, Rohana Ariffin. (Translation by Cycads):

Bagaimana untuk membebaskan diri daripada menjadi “pak turut” atau “mak turut”? Bagi saya ada dua cara.

Satu, menerapkan sikap ingin tahu terhadap segala ideologi, isu dan masalah masyarakat. Bukan menerima sahaja bulat-bulat pandangan orang lain tetapi mengkaji dengan sendiri apakah padangan itu benar, adil dan berperikemanusian? Membaca, berbincang dan terus mengkaji dari apa saja sumber yang boleh diperolehi.

How do you free yourself from being “Mr Conformity” and “Ms Conformity”? In my opinion there are two ways.

First, inculcate a sense of inquiry for all of society’s ideologies, issues, and problems. Never internalise without question the opinions of others but rather analyse as to whether those views are true, fair, and humane? Read, discuss, and always research from whatever form of available resources.

Kedua, mengamalkan kejujuran kepada diri sendiri dan masyarakat sekeliling. Apa perlunya kita menyenangkan pandangan orang lain jika kita sendiri menyeksa badan? Apa gunanya berpakaian ketat, mendedah tubuh atau menyelubungi seluruh badan jika tidak selesa? Mengapa kita menyeksa badan dan pemikiran sendiri dengan kemahuan yang ditetapkan oleh orang lain? Kita bertanggungjawab kepada pemilihan dan tingkah laku sendiri. Asalkan kita tidak mengeksploitasi orang lain dan mengelakkan dari tingkah laku yang tidak beretika dan tidak berperikemanusian, cukuplah.

Second, be honest with oneself and one’s surrounding society. What need is there in being the object of viewing pleasure of others at one’s own expense? What is the use of tight-fitting clothes, exposing one’s body or covering it completely if neither are comfortable? Why do our bodies and minds suffer due to the demands dictated by others? We are responsible towards to our own choices and behaviour. As long as we do not exploit other individuals and avoid acts that disregard ethics and humanity, that’s enough.

Foreign bodies as sexual playgrounds

This post was featured in the first Asian Women Blog Carnival at ciderpress’s blog.

So there was this American guy, Jake, who sat with Gareth and me at lunch last Saturday and was telling us how much he wanted to go to Malaysia because it’s apparently a great place to meet women, and claimed that the country is chockfull of hot-bodied beauties. He also didn’t waste time to explain that the reasons behind his quest was down to his general lack of luck with women and self-confessed socially-inept ways. And so like the many sad, lonely white men with money to squander, he’d like to try his luck with Asian women because they, y’know, love white men, are ultra-feminine and so willing to please, and all that BS.

Now, this was unflattering and offensive on extreme levels to both my boyfriend and myself. First, while being the target audience for this kind of orientalist fantasy talk, Jake had sensed that he was in the company of a fellow Asian fetishist. Secondly, there was a sense that I can help him accomplish his quest, or rather conquest, by offering tips on picking up women from my remote corner of the world.

He chose the wrong woman to discuss his fantasies with.

Men like Jake perpetuate racism, sexism, and colonialism under a more subtle guise in that it’s not about denigrating Otherness, but rather desiring and yearning for it. Today, foreign bodies (places, women, food) are not the scary and mysterious things of the past anymore. Instead they are to be embraced. They make you hip, worldly, in touch with distant cultures of peoples you may never meet in your lifetime (Yirgacheffe coffee, anyone?). So on the face of it, fascination with the exotic Other doesn’t look like racism and the colonial conquest of yore.

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Weekend round-up of favourite reads 7/2

It’s been a whirlwind of a week: got stranded in Amsterdam on account of deadly snow, got an article rejected by a magazine (oh, the pain!), baked cupcakes on an industrial scale for charity, and received more support for my film and sexuality discussion project.

But it has also been a really good week for online reading. Some articles hit so close to home – particularly about what it feels like having Britain’s great new idea of identity cards forced down the throats of foreign residents like me. Now, it’s hard enough for me being a non-EU passport holder – from the humiliating amount of scrutiny over my national origins and whereabouts when traveling by air within Europe, the often disheartening job prospects, and of course to the intensely laborious visa applications – with all that and more, it’s hard not feel like I’m not wanted here. The Guardian’s Noorjehan Barmania in her column, This Muslim Life shares my deeply-felt agony:

There are other subtle changes that suggest the long fingers of the government are sneaking into my life. For instance, a few weeks ago came an unusual request. To comply with a Home Office wish to establish the legitimacy of foreign workers, my employer said, everyone had to provide a copy of their passport. If our passport were foreign – South African, in my case – copies of any supporting documentation were necessary to confirm that we were legitimate UK residents.

I dragged my heels, complying under protest, feeling as if I was being watched, and dismayed that it seemed necessary to watch people like me.

This comes at a time when it is possible for me to make an application for British citizenship, but the prevailing climate of suspicion makes me worry. Does Britain really want its foreign immigrants? That slogan “British jobs for British workers” is suddenly everywhere, creating a distinctly xenophobic mood.

Read the rest here.

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Malaysian mail-order brides: what fairy tale?

Excerpted from The New Straits Times:

Once upon a time, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella had to battle witches and overcome spells to find Prince Charming. Now, young women are discovering that the road leading to “happily-ever-after” is wider, shorter and much less of an obstacle course.

In recent years, a large number of the fairer sex have chosen to sign up with matrimonial websites to increase their chances of meeting a knight in shining armour. The mail-order bride industry has been around for ages. However, limited to print ads in monthly magazine, singles had a slim chance of finding their perfect mate.

There is something decidedly twisted about comparing mail-order brides to fairy tale princesses. But perhaps due to sheer naivety, the news report ignores the fact that mail order brides have long been an established object of racism, poverty, sexism, and comedy. Despite Malaysia’s notoriety for pompous display of first-rate infrastructure and tall buildings, it shares with a number of foreign bride exporting-nations the kind of urban and rural impoverishment that invariably affects women the worst.

So, for the many women involved, the reasons are largely economic. But there is nothing romantic about meeting and marrying someone you barely know for the sake of an improved standard of living. Except for Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella were, after all, born from affluence, not economic refugees. For the men who search through mail-order bride websites, however, it’s all about accomplishing an impossible romantic dream:

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