See you in Malaysia!

Hi everybody,

Penang char kueh teow, here I come!
Penang char kueh teow, here I come!

Apologies for the long silence. Things have been rather hectic following my film workshop (which I’ve long been meaning to write about). Further, I’ve been spending a lot of time with friends and my boyfriend, to catch up and compensate for the loneliness when I’m back in Malaysia.

I’m flying tomorrow, so my mind’s stuck on what I should take with me – paperwork, gifts for family members, and maybe a few clothes. But once back in Malaysia, I will be keeping an eye on feminist activism in Malaysia, alternative cultural events, trends, and Malaysian women in the media, so watch this space. It will be fun.

Much love,


Latter day Victoriana: Drawing similarities between Compulsion and Bride and Prejudice

Crossposted on Feminist Review.

The repressive, corseted Victorian culture of the novel found a perfect foil in the rigid caste strictures of Indian society. (The Times, 27 April 2009)

Parminder Nagra in Compulsion (2009)
Parminder Nagra in Compulsion (2009)

Nesrine Malik’s scathing review of the ITV drama Compulsion got me thinking a lot more about modern day adaptations of pre-20th century literary works featuring ethnic Indian actors. She has fair enough reasons to be perturbed: it seems that when diversity is presented on British TV, what’s served up for a wider, mostly white audience are actually tired stereotypes of overbearing family members, arranged marriages, and the ever recurring theme of honour and shame. Oppressive family values have become the only representative force for British Asians in the media.

The impetus for disaster in Compulsion begins with Parminder Nagra’s character Anjika, who flatly refuses a marriage arranged by her dad, sending out all sorts of warning signals to women out there who disobey The Great Patriarch. The one person who knows of her troubles happens to be her sleazy chauffeur, Flowers (played by Ray Winstone). He offers to ‘fix’ her potential suitor in exchange for one night of sex with her, which she later, tearfully, accepts. So far very Indecent Proposal.

This leads to her discovering how great sex with Flowers is, sealing her doomed fate. But with every tryst she demands of him, we are made to feel diminishing sympathy for her, and somehow more for Flowers, as he is by now treated as a sex object(!). Murder and a spontaneous yet elaborate cover-up ends with Flowers dead, leaving Anjika happily off the hook to marry her secret White boyfriend. The end.

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Links, odds and ends, etc

I’m still busy juggling article assignments and editing videos for my film workshop next week. In the meantime, here are some great links, videos, music, stuff.

Feminist literary critic Elaine Sholwater talks about her new book on American women writers, much maligned as ‘not important and canonical enough’ as the big boys of American fiction. Listen to her talk here.

Katie Rolphe talks about women who use their kids’ photos as profile pics instead of themselves. Another example of lost of personal identity?

The mystery here is that the woman with the baby on her Facebook page has surely read The Feminine Mystique in college, and The Second Sex, and The Beauty Myth. She is no stranger to the smart talk of whatever wave of feminism we are on, and yet this style of effacement, this voluntary loss of self, comes naturally to her. Here is my pretty family, she seems to be saying, I don’t matter anymore.

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The astonishing case of the shrinking Muslim woman

First published at Muslimah Media Watch

It’s become common belief that Muslim women, particularly those who wear the hijab, are liberated from the media-driven standards of beauty that values the thin and the willowy. But it’s a belief that couches on the idea that head-coverings and modest clothes provide little incentive for showing off a great looking body in public. In other words, Muslim women are supposed to live blissfully unaffected by media and social pressures that both distorts our body image and damages our self-esteem. So when levels of anorexia amongst teenage girls in the U.A.E. were reported to nearly double those in the U.K., the phenomenon was described to be “astonishing”.

The news report I refer to is something Fatemeh had posted up on the Friday Links last week. It revealed that the occurrence of anorexia nervosa amongst young women aged 13 to 19 years old in the Emirates were found to be around 1.8 percent, compared to the 1.0 percent in Britain. Although the article does not explain what drives Emirati teenagers into self-starvation, it does attempt to highlight a little known fact: that women and girls outside the West  also suffer from eating disorders, and that the global nature of the disorder is partially attributed to Western influences. According to one psychiatrist, these influences infiltrate in foreign-made films and other forms of media:

“We have so much influence from other countries, we have the same movies and [the same] messages in the media like in the UK and USA, however there is not any form of understanding about the meaning of the illnesses which are said to be linked to these.”

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It's been quiet here, hasn't it?

Good grief. It’s been pretty quiet here, hasn’t it? My own fault really. It has been a busy week consisting of a friend’s PhD viva picnic party, another friend’s massive choir performance, my college dinner recital, video-editing lessons and late night chocolate chip cookie baking.

I should still be in one piece to write something up very soon.

Update: Can’t get enough of me? Connect with me outside the blogosphere via Facebook and Delicious.

Review: Walking the precipice: Witness to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan

Crossposted at Feminist Review:

A deluge of books on Islamic fundamentalism had swamped the world’s bookshelves following the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Some 100 books and 5,600 articles were written on the subject, many focussing on the lives of Afghan women under Taliban rule. I chose to review Barbara Bick’s Walking the Precipice: Witness to the Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan despite knowing well that another book on Afghanistan and its peripheral issues would fill me with some apprehension. Would it be yet another sob story about those poor burqa-clad women and how much they need to unveil their faces, I wondered?

Thankfully, Bick’s book is a little more than that. Walking the Precipice is a fascinating insight through the eyes of a long-time feminist activist in a country devastated by war and deprivation. Bick’s keen observation and intrepid spirit for someone her age (she was 65 and arthritic on her first trip to Afghanistan in 1990, 78 years old on her last) is inspiring and makes reading a well-trodden and tiresome topic easier. In her memoirs, readers will learn quite intimately of her arduous travels and passion for the local women’s liberation groups that began as nothing more than her “one last, unforgettable journey before ‘old age’ kicked in.”

Once in Kabul, Bick, together with a small group of American women made their rounds in orphanages, schools, international health agencies, and support organisations for women widowed by the war. Not surprisingly, the burqa would immediately come to her attention – both a symbolic and physical form of repression she feels impassioned to lift.

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My daughter's keeper: Nahid Persson's Prostitution behind the veil

Crossposted at Muslimah Media Watch

For a relatively high-brow TV channel, BBC4 is known for providing top quality programs and dramas. So when the BBC commemorated the 30th anniversary of Islamic Revolution in Iran, I became glued to the channel’s string of intriguing documentaries on all things Iranian, post-1979. There were plenty on Iran-US nuclear politics and the fall of the Shah, all testosterone-fueled stuff. Sticking out from the rest for bearing themes that were uniquely female was the unfortunately-titled Prostitution Behind The Veil (2004). Yes, nothing captures the definitive spirit of being a woman in modern-day Iran better than a program about sex work with groan-inducing references to the veil.

Directed by Nahid Persson, who brought us Four wives – one man (2007), the documentary follows the grim day-to-day lives of two women, Mina and Fariba, in an equally grim corner of the capital city. Making ends meet as sex workers in a country notorious for its curtailment of women’s rights, the two friends juggle their roles as single parents and negotiate their way around the prohibitive laws against prostitution. With their husbands in prison for an assortment of crimes, no relatives willing to help, and a drug habit, the clandestine flesh trade is their last and only resort.

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