It takes not knowing enough (or choosing to ignore) about the ways of the world to make a foolish optimist. This is the lesson I learned about sisterhood, in which the ways of the world happens to be ‘just how people are’ in Malaysia – too busy for activism, frustrated, idealist non-doers, too scared to make a stand for one’s beliefs, apathetic. But is saying ‘feminism in Malaysia is dead’ a fair assessment of the movement today?
It may be. When the feminist movement first got its rightful attention, the spotlight shone on upper-middle class women in Britain and Egypt who had plenty of time to realise that they were being short-changed by society for far too long. They had the time to think, write, and organise. The latter part – organise – was and still is the bedrock of social justice movements. However, organising as a team much less a movement is not exactly a strong trait amongst Malaysian feminists I know who have invaluable things to say and share, whose experiences can be beacon of inspiration to others.
Time is a privilege, and admittedly, I perhaps have more time than others do. Or do I really? I’m constantly job-hunting, applying for jobs, reading insane amount of books, writing up my upgrade chapter, writing a paper for publication, and preparing for a conference paper, all while living a modest, incredibly frugal life with little time (and money) for shopping, meeting with friends, and to be a normal laidback persyn. But it’s a fulfilling life and one that I’ve chosen to commandeer. My more active form of feminism fits in momentary gaps between work when I write. Its latent form runs continuously through my thoughts and speech. I don’t have much time, so I *make* time for feminism.
Writing on feminism as a Malaysian is a lonely, sometimes pointless process. Nonetheless, some form of documentation on feminist activity and thoughts need to exist in Malaysia and therefore needs more than a single writer to make it happen. Written work on our ideals, principles, hopes and fears become proof that we exist. A webzine that functions as a reservoir for current Malaysian feminist politics will place us in a network of other media-savvy social justice activists who write and argue remarkably well on issues that matter to Malaysian feminists. In other words, we are not one issue navel-gazers but belong to a constellation of inter-connected, always buzzing social justice movement in Malaysia.
A webzine was proposed by a friend who called upon other opinionated feminists to become founding members. Names for the webzine were suggested, voted for, and then … a long silence. Ten e-mails darting out from my furious fingertips to re-ignite interest made no difference whatsoever nor did taking upon myself to create the founding blocks of our webzine was enough to get a hint of excitement. Everyone else is too busy to care. But perhaps it was my over-enthusiasm and my single-minded determinism to “take over” the project that ruined the collective mood and motivation. Only the Al-Mighty knows.
In a country where we’re used to being spoonfed, lulled into being followers and not take risks, taking charge is not our best suit and thought to be best left to attention-seekers. Hierarchy is apparently the enemy of equal relationships, but without a working structure consisting of constitutive members who are delegated roles (some more important and responsibility-heavy than others) to materialise a dream project, nothing will happen.
The Malaysian feminist movement, as it were, is also burdened by the problem of inter-generational differences that don’t always see eye to eye. While younger feminists are not heard in activist circles on the ground, they have the advantage of using new media to gain attention and mobilise. The liberal activist scene in Malaysia has relegated ‘gender’ to the backburner of social injustices as race takes centre stage. Feminist activist-writers are poised to rectify this, only if we care enough to make the effort to organise, organise, organise.