One of the things I realised with great despair is that the vast majority of Malaysian feminists and supporters of gender equality are not interested in blogging and writing about their experiences within feminist and women’s rights movements in Malaysia, whether they’re coming from the inner sanctum of such movements or around its periphery. Why this is particularly despairing is because writing is a powerful medium to spread ideas, inspire, and document feminism in Malaysia, however too few Malaysians take to the art of blogging and do these things. The result is: too few will know and care about gender equality and feminist issues in Malaysia.
One of the most profound quotes that I keep close to me and remind myself with during the darkest hours of blogging is “If you cannot eliminate injustice, at least tell everybody about it” by the indomitable Shirin Ebadi. Out of the hundreds who trawl the pieces by the scant number of Malaysian feminists each month, one or two readers will learn something new and perhaps become inspired by feminist social justice.
If not some news about oppression occurring in a far-flung country or just around the corner from their home, readers and future writers will learn that some issues are worthy of articulation. There are so many issues and concerns that we as women and girls assume as trivial and inconsequential, but that’s because we have drummed into thinking that our opinions and voices do not matter, or at least secondary to opinions and voices of men. We are silenced on a daily basis by others who know they have authority to keep us silent; political, religious, and parental figures, our friends, and not seldomly, our own partners.
Blogging can be therapeutic. It keeps the busy, overworked mind to rest when words are neatly placed in a blog post. Once those words are put down on paper or on the glimmering computer screen, we attain a feeling of gratification for having produced an original piece of written work. What’s even more valuable, they are your words. They cannot be silenced nor easily erased.
There are two major challenges that Malaysian feminist blogging face that I can identify; one, our latent sexist, anti-intellectual culture that is often averse to reading “serious” writing due to our increasingly attenuated attention span. And two, the established feminist and women’s rights movement in Malaysia are perhaps “too cool” for feminist blogging done by those outside the tightly-knit activist circles seeing as they’re at the “nerve centre” of where feminism as legitimate activism lies. There is the other (more suspect) reason for the unpopularity of feminist blogging in Malaysia, and that is the claim of time constraints. Also, many of those who have a greater share of influence and control over NGOised feminist discourse are older cis-women who are not keen on harnessing the power of online social media to spread the good word of feminism to the nation.
The result of keeping feminism in Malaysia simply as “oral history” and inside knowledge is the cocooning of women’s rights from the interconnected feminist discourses in Southeast Asia and beyond that can be reached through the internet. Social media-savvy Singporean feminists are keen on learning about and spreading Malaysian feminist discourse, but too few of us Malaysian feminists do the same for Singporean feminism. Yes, I get that access to the internet is still a privilege for 10 to 15% of the world’s population, while the use of social media within these slim numbers may be far lower. But there is a real problem when a movement restricts the sharing of feminist knowledge to a small coterie of a select few. To be fair, not everyone has a flair for writing. But writing is not a gift one is born with, rather it is developed and sharpened through practice and careful observance of the writing style of other good writers.
It is important to note that the lack of interest in feminist blogging is not an isolated problem; it is reflective of centuries and decades of poorly documented histories of our own nation particularly written material about those within the margins of society are lost. We know little about the lives of ordinary trans and cis, disabled, and / or lesbian women in the early history of our land. They were either never documented or deliberately suppressed from public knowledge through the double bind of trivialising women’s history and our culture that is wholly suspicious of intellectual pursuit represented typically through the act of writing for writing’s sake.
Malaysians are quick to forget, goes the saying. That is because we have no sense of or much appreciation for history, or wanting to archive our experiences for posterity not just for others to learn from us but also for us to learn from our past selves. Feminist and women’s rights activism invest much time and energy in organising events and projects for the now, with little time and interest in exploring the issues their events and projects raise through critical lens and document them for younger and future activists’ benefit.
I urge Malaysians who are interested in feminism and gender equality to write about their thoughts, experiences, fears, and hopes and resist the self-punishing belief that our opinions do not matter or offend the perceived sensibilities of others. Record and document the injustices you face and know about through blogging and vlogging so that more people will know about them. In our culture against academic freedom, of book banning, and clampdown on freer speech and on citizen participation in nation-building, greater knowledge and its far-reaching influence strike fear in those who oppress by imposing ignorance on others.