First published on The Malay Mail on 7th February 2014.
When you think about it, most rights have been won by women in Malaysia and all citizens are rendered equal before the Federal Constitution. Malaysian women didn’t even have to fight for the vote. Technically, men and women are almost equal. Needless to say, the margin between the sexes is very small as to be negligible.
It would therefore be a travesty to suggest that men are not allowed to play an important role in feminist activism. In fact, there is no reason to deny men the role of leaders of the feminist movement. Besides, denying men such a plum position would be a form of gender-based discrimination.
Women have dominated the Malaysian feminist movement for several decades and many lessons can be learned from their legacy. But why hasn’t true gender equality arrived yet? The most plausible reason why feminism has reached a stalemate is because of the lack of men’s involvement.
Because the main aim of feminism is to transform men’s views about women, it is obvious that men are entitled to an instrumental role in the movement. Men who hold feminist values can talk to other men with chauvinistic views and change them through the effective deployment of the authoritative male voice. When women’s credible complaints about sexism are ignored unless pointed out by a man, the men in the feminist movement can intervene and act as the spokesmen for women.
Feminism offers men the opportunity to highlight and champion long neglected concerns, such as sexual harassment that men say they also experience. Other issues can also be raised for worthy attention, such as the under-representation of men in domestic work and the nursing profession. An important victory would be the establishment of a ministry for men’s affairs.
There are still risks faced by bold and strong-willed women of being branded ball-breakers and viragos. Men in feminism, most of whom are born with testicles, can bypass these put-downs effortlessly and convey the good word of equality across the gender divide.
When women are afraid of appearing over-sensitive and hysterical about objectification and rape culture, men can step in with their objective, unemotional views. This makes men make the perfect brokers in a society led by unenlightened male dinosaurs who are less inclined to see women as equals. To put simply, men are indispensable to feminism.
The liberal men with feminist beliefs may scoff at the prime minister Najib Razak when he assumed the headship of the ministry of women’s affairs in 2012. But they do so in unequivocal agreement that they are more sensitive about gender issues than the prime minister. This is proven by the fact that the liberal men have female feminists as friends and partners.
As men, they can channel certain skills useful for the women’s organisations, such as rational thought and a strong background in second wave feminism, having read one book by Angela Davis. Men are known to be more assertive in the gruelling world of social activism. Blessed with greater levels of physical strength, men are better equipped to deal with the long strenuous hours of NGO work. These are all valuable attributes that can be put to good use in feminism rather than discarded as stereotypes.
Having more men working alongside female feminists in equal partnership is a win-win situation. Liberal men adore empowered female sexuality and want more women to attain it. Being enlightened and empowered is not about being prudish, because prudery is no more different than the moral conservatism of the Shariah police who wish to curb the civil liberty to sexual expression.
To put it pithily, liberal men with feminist values are very supportive of sexually liberated women.
It is entirely possible that the country can witness substantial progress by putting men in charge of the Malaysian feminist movement. By making feminism more inclusive to men, it will lose its fearsome anti-male reputation and instead make feminism very men-friendly. Women have led the movement for some time now, it is only fair that men be given their turn so that true equality can be achieved.