The masculine art of cooking

When celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s chain of eateries were snubbed from the world’s best restaurants list, I revelled in the joy of knowing that the British vanguard of hyper-macho  professional cooking will need a little humbling-up to do. Though the reign of men in the great kitchens of the world is far from over: somewhere in the top 10 proudly sits Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, known for his ‘Don’t try this at home’ cooking programmes.

Sometimes I think about why the big celebrity chefs in the UK tend to be male and how less oriented their cooking shows are towards domesticity. Y’know, very little in the way of feeding the kids and entertaining guests at dinner parties a la Nigella, and how they’re light years more glamorous than ‘How to boil an egg’ Delia. Serious cooking being the preserve of men means that for women, cooking is unremarkable and boring. Think The Great British Menu – all men. Think trendy and cool, and you have Jamie Oliver.

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Race and sexuality in film workshop at Ladyfest Oxford (2009)

Hello all, I’m organising a workshop for Oxford’s Ladyfest where we’ll be discussing race and sexuality in film and media. If you happen to be in the area, please come!

Ever wondered why images of ethnic minority women in film and media are often reduced to stereotypes or simply pushed into the background to the point of invisibility? Find out why by joining a lively discussion on race, sexuality, and representation with feminist cinema enthusiasts and film studies tutors to understand better how racism and marginalisation operate and how they impact women today. Join or visit the Facebook group for information on other Ladyfest events.

Time and date: Tuesday, 19th May 2009, 17:00-19:00

Venue: St. John’s College, University of Oxford

Free refreshments will be provided.

Men and feminism

One of the things anti-feminists find hard to swallow is the idea that patriarchy permeates the mechanics of our society. Okay, correction: far from existing as just an idea or theory as many would believe, the patriarchal problem is very real and it hurts men, too. Some would rather be persuaded to use another term to describe certain injustices women face, like ‘discrimination’ perhaps, and ignore that male-dominance in certain positions of power (in politics, religious organisations, film and media corporations, literature, etc.) is really the problem.  A great article by Laurie Penny at Liberal Conspiracy tells us that anti-feminist men should get over the myth of male-bashing feminists and embrace feminism without risking losing their Y-chromosome.

In recent weeks, I’ve faced a lot of accusations of misandry for daring to point out that some bad things that happen are perpetrated almost exclusively by men, and for having the temerity to suggest that in some situations women get a raw deal simply because of their biological sex. I thought I’d respond to the critics with a few reasons why feminism and misandry are not synonymous, and why male and female feminists need to work together to break tired economic models of gender.

As feminists, the liberation of the y-chromosomed half of the human race has never been high on our list of priorities – historically speaking, we’ve had enough to worry about. However, it’s high time that we started a serious recruitment drive. Although the feminist movement has faced many obstacles and lost many battles, women have now won themselves enough social and economic capital that we can finally start to address the other half of the equation: the emancipation of men from capitalist patriarchy.

There are many urgent reasons why socialist feminists of all genders need to concern themselves with popular misandry and the subjugation of men, especially when we’re facing down the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. A recession is never a good time for women’s rights. Economic crisis moves economic equality from the agenda, and a great deal of women’s struggle in and out of the workplace revolves around the battle for equal economic status. Cuts to welfare benefits and part-time employment hit women with children hardest.

But most importantly of all, any recession creates a large body of justly angry, disenfranchised working men, men who are encouraged implicitly and sometimes explicitly to take that anger out where it will do least damage to capitalist hegemony: to whit, on women. It is a well-known and oft-repeated fact that domestic violence against women increases in times of economic crisis, usually, as is the case now, contiguously with a cut in state spending on women’s refuges. But another backlash against feminism itself is also to be expected – and as feminists, the fallacy that the problems that men face in a recession are the fault of feminism is something that we need to turn and face.

Read the rest here.

Review: He Likes Guys

My review of the gay short film collection, He Likes Guys, is now out on Feminist Review:

As a member of my college cinema club, I would show a film a couple of nights every month. Usually, the featured movie would be preceded by a surprise short film—nothing too long, but always something entertaining. Recently, I showed Laundromat (2007, 13 mins) by Edward Gunawan from a collection of acclaimed gay short films, He Likes Guys, to my unsuspecting audience. Little did I know that the DVD’s menu page featuring a buff torso would draw a variety of gasps—some amused, some more ambivalent, and even a rather repulsed, “Whaaat?!”

Fortunately, Laundromat promised nothing loaded with hackneyed gay stereotypes. In this smile-inducing drama, newly-cohabiting couple Lawrence and Joey bicker over their differences when doing the laundry. Their squabble later gets the attention of an elderly man who teaches them a small but profound lesson in the value of love, life and relationships. So far, so Zen-like.

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Polygamy: A woman's right?

While digging out the image library on my hard drive, I found some pictures taken of an Indonesian ‘edutainment tabloid’ called Poligami. I found the line, Hak dan Kebutuhan Perempuan (the rights and needs of women) across the cover of the magazine interesting – mainly because here polygamy is pitched as pro-women rather than the more conventional male supremacist’s right to multiple wives. polygami1

Since the days of Raden Adjeng Kartini, polygamy has long remained a bone of contention for Muslim feminists and the conservative religious leaders in Indonesia. Currently, polygamy is sanctioned by Indonesian law in cases where the wife is ill, infertile, or absent though these restrictions are rarely enforced.

Translation (clockwise): 'God's love is the key to the beauty of polygamy', 'Wives can increase the the number of women', 'Polygamy is humane', 'A doctor-candidate from a modest polygamous family;.

While many women’s organisations in Indonesia are far from monolithic and don’t unanimously wish to ban the practice, many call for a critical examination of the detrimental effects of polygamy citing cases of psychological damage, poverty, and unharmonious households.

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Famous, female, and divorced? That's hot!

Crossposted at Muslimah Media Watch

If you think that divorce brings shame and stigma squarely upon women only in conservative societies, think again. Because according to a ”news” report published in the Malaysian tabloid, Metro Ahad, celebrity divorcees are apparently the hottest thing on the market at the moment. I usually read the stuff on local tabloids with a pinch of salt, but I take issue when the seriousness of divorce and disrespect for divorced women are glossed over for sake of entertainment gossip. The Star Online has the story:

Being a celebrity in the entertainment world attracts a lot of attention but being a divorcee it seems, will add more “aura” and “glamour,” reported Metro Ahad. Celebrities such as Abby Abadi, Rozita Che Wan, Nora Danish, Azharina and Nurul are among the divorcees being pursued by V.I.Ps*, who are often already married.

Abby said she was shocked that there was a veteran artiste who was willing to be the middle person in setting up meetings with V.I.P.s outside the country. “If the person is someone I do not know, I would not be insulted but this person is my friend. How dare this person do such things?

Friend or not, she should feel insulted because she’s basically treated like a call girl:**

“I know who the V.I.P is but there is no need to reveal his identity. The payment promised is a huge sum but I am not money crazy,” she said, adding that she was told that many celebrities entertained V.I.Ps outside the country.

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Guest post: Redefining Malay womanhood in Yasmin Ahmad's films

The following was written by guest contributor and fellow Malaysian feminist, Mohani Niza. Writing on the “New Malaysian Femininity’ in the films of Yasmin Ahmad, she presents a Malay womanhood that contrasts squarely with the misogyny and whore/virgin stereotypes typically found in Malaysian cinema.


In 2004, Yasmin Ahmad, famed for her Petronas advertisements depicting multi-racial Malaysia released the movie Sepet, to much controversy and praise. It won a string of foreign film awards, a legion of fans local and abroad but was also lambasted by certain quarters who felt that the movie threatened the moral fabric of Malay/Muslim life in Malaysia by showing its Malay female protagonist “betray” her bangsa (race) by falling in love with a “kafir” (infidel) [1].

Sepet centers on the relationship between Orked (Sharifah Amani), a teenage Malay girl who has just graduated from secondary school and Jason (Choo Seong Ng), a pirated VCD peddler.  This is followed up with Gubra in 2006, which tells the life of an older Orked, now married; and in 2007, Mukhsin, the prequel in the Orked trilogy which depicts Orked’s childhood in a sleepy Kuala Selangor kampung (village).

The character of Orked marks a departure from the typical heroines we see in Malay films. Unlike most Malay women we see on screen, Orked represents a refreshing take on what it means to be a young Malay woman in Malaysia, a rapidly modernizing country which has to delicately deal with globalization and also the paradox of a multi-racial society, still raw from the May 13th 1969 racial riots. As Khoo Gaik Cheng notes in her book Reclaiming Adat: Contemporary Malaysian Film and Literature, “Socio-economic forces, state-initiated, and the cultural development of the NEP years (National Economic Policy 1971-90) had produced a burgeoning discourse about subjectivity among the children of the NEP themselves: what is it like for urban Malay women and men to be both modern and Muslim?”. in his review of ‘Mukhsin’ Michael Sicinski writes that “… transnational feminist theorists would do well to examine Ahmad’s work, since like them, Mukhsin is about complexifying the world, deepening interconnections, delving into the messiness of the conundrums that women face, and moving outward, forging even more connections.”[2]

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The ideal Muslim man is… blond and blue-eyed.

Isn’t it depressing that according to Nesrine Malik the so-called ideal Muslim man is blond and looks suspiciously white? Apparently, this beautiful mythical creature can be found in the popular Turkish soap opera, Noor, where he can be seen observing Islamic customs like a good Muslim son-in-law (*half-hearted sarcasm*). She writes:

[…] the male protagonists (Muhanned in Noor’s case, above right) are fair-skinned Muslim men with blue eyes who epitomise the model man as far as Arab women reared on western media images are concerned – a man in the mould of sensitive western heartthrobs, who still observes Ramadan.

[…] This vision of the ideal man can be found among women in the Muslim world who grew up on a diet of western media and chick flicks, but also to those reared in a conservative environment in the west. Of course, in real life this “Tom Cruise in a gallabiya (or insert other ethnic dress here)” – as my sister jokingly refers to him – rarely makes an appearance on your doorstep or anywhere else. So, instead, many women caught between cultural expectations and conditioning await the perfect halfway house: a liberal Muslim who is comfortable with all the trappings of a westernised lifestyle but is also abstemious and observant, striking a perfect Arabesque ballet pose between what your friends might think, and what your parents might prefer.

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Cinema of sexism: Misogyny in Malay films

Because woman did not fight back, man quickly took over the advantage and made her the scapegoat for all his vices and fears. […] He was intimidated by woman’s sexual desire, and so he invented the mutually exclusive virgin and whore. […] He was ashamed of growing old and ugly, and even more ashamed of being ashamed, and so he invented female vanity to exorcise and account for these fears.

Molly Haskell, excerpted from Reverence to Rape: The treatment of women in the movies

Haskell wrote her stinging review of sexism in film over thirty years ago but a similar scenario in current film-making still rings true: a male-dominated film industry will always make films that maintain the patriarchal heteronormative dynamic. And although she was talking about Hollywood film-making in general, negative cinematic representations of women can be found in mainstream Malaysian (read: Malay) cinema. If speaking in broad terms, it is perhaps the only form of representation accorded to Malaysian actresses.

From 1990’s onwards, burgeoning modernity (e.g. market-driven conspicuous consumption) and resurgent religiosity (i.e. Saudi-inspired interpretation of Islam) in the country became the conflicting forces that usually fought over the bodies of women. This resulted in a rather schizophrenic representation of the new NEP Malay (men and women) in film – full of capitalistic aspirations but rooted firmly in traditional, patriarchal orientations.

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The first Asian Women Blog Carnival!

This is a delayed therefore somewhat unnecessary announcement, but the first Asian Women Blog Carnival has been launched. Hosted by ciderpress, the carnival covers themes of racism, identity and cultural appropriation – all great stuff. My featured post “Foreign Bodies as Sexual Playgrounds” has been getting crazy amounts of attention in the last few days and I thank ciderpress and every reader for taking the time and interest to read it.