First published at Loyar Burok as part of #LoyarBerkasih’s Valentine edition.
When one cares enough to wonder about the moment a woman becomes a feminist, their overheated imagination conjures a woman done wrong by a male lover or wronged by simply being overweight and unattractive by society’s arbitrary standards, or imagined as a homosexual misandrist who wants to tilt the world’s balance in favour of womankind. Though powerful enough to endure the test of time, these stereotypes are thankfully few. But what about the many other feminists who love romance, Mills and Boons, chocolates, roses, and dare I say it – men?
Many will be surprised that flesh and blood feminist individuals are some of the happiest people you know who, rather than wanting to stamp out the hearts and flowers of Valentine’s Day, want to celebrate love and their loved ones albeit in all its kitsch, consumerist glory. There is of course nothing intrinsically wrong with accepting flowers and taken out for dinner on a day hazier than usual with romance. I join the misunderstood category of feminists who enjoy romantic dinners by candlelight with cheesy Whitney Houston piped in the background, not caring perhaps for one day much of the superficiality of Valentine’s Day.
Feminist fall in (and out of) love, but many are also realists. As Audre Lorde once prescribed: “Each time you love, love as deeply as if it were forever / Only, nothing is eternal.” But taking the step to actualising and maintaining acts of love is notoriously difficult for anyone of any political and ethical inclinations. A few times I had withheld the possibility of starting relationships simply because I was neither prepared nor religious enough to wear the tudung for a potential male partner, despite the fact that the demographic of guys I found attractive were not exactly the portrait of saintly masculinity. It became clear that coming across as demure, restraint, and exceedingly modest was most comely for an available young Malay woman, but to neither any of these traits did I bother aspire and for others, that was my tragedy.
This recurring episode of self-restraint from a chance at love was set in a small college in rural Perak years ago and is perhaps only representative in backwater towns of the recent past. And so experiences such as mine cannot possibly extrapolate in broader, more generic terms the demands a man can make on how a woman should look, or can it? Do many “open-minded”, successful, outspoken, feminist Malay women have more difficulty finding a Malay guy who will accept her for what she is lest she challenges his “manhood”? There is undeniably a pattern out there that concurs with this knotty issue.
But the feminist continues to find love even when their love may prove to be unrequited as we are apparently unlovable angry people. Why are feminists are so angry, not to mention oversensitive and argumentative? For the same reasons why people love. They say that the closer someone or something is to you, the more sensitive and hurtful you become when something goes wrong. Feminist individuals are no different in this matter, and often take social injustice to heart with fire and passion. Who likes a cold, dispassionate lover anyway?