Comments on comments

In the last year, I’ve been getting plenty of Islamophobic comments on my blog. Some of which are unpublished here for my own peace of mind, and some I went on to tackle personally with the commenters who wrote them. Granted, I do not have a policy on comments and perhaps that is a mistake on my part for flashing a green light to those who feel the need to vent their Islamophobic frustrations online, or anti-feminist or racist frustrations for that matter. But on the other hand, explicit guidelines on how to comment on pro-Islam, feminist, and anti-racist blogs are often ignored anyhow. I cannot put a stop to this but the most I can do is to remind readers who feel that they do not respect my faith and other faiths and my politics is to go elsewhere and reflect on humanity a little more. Readers who do not respect Islam or feminism or anti-racist politics on the discursive level but claim to hold nothing against some of its adherents also will not have anything useful to say here. Yeah, I’m tough on “enlightened” haters.

To make this clearer: in the future, what I don’t need is any of the following..

The allure of the foreign or “exotic” as outline in the chromosomes and you want to call it Racism?

when a man (or a women) is attracted to something different, seeks it out, this is looking for something to be created between two consenting adults. Consenting meaning it would be mutual.

So repelled by something different, it is racism.
Attracted to, it is racism.

yes its the same simple biology at work isn’t it? And your  solution is…?

In addiction medicine, addiction is defined by consequences. I’d like to know the harsh consequences of this racism….because i’m sure every lynched slave from American history is “rolling in their grave” at your posted disgust.

Sloppy pseudo-scientific analogies for examples of racism do not work. Difference is not just the issue here, but something that is more diffuse, invisible – power relations – is at work in various types of inter (and indeed intra) ethnic relationships. For better or for worse, we represent to the world more than our individualities or autonomous identities. There are cultural tags and history connected to our gender and race/ethnicity (other visible analytical categories add here) that we cannot wish away and work against us in different circumstances, and with that there is an imbalance of power differentials manifested in the way groups of people are treated or talked about. As for the anxiety of racism from being repelled or attracted to somebody different, cultural tags and history of an ethnic group (White people is an ethnic group too) need to be weighed up to understand why certain qualities of an ethnic group are considered desirable / repulsive, and most importantly why there are those set of qualities there in the first place. Biology has no part in this.

I also don’t want misogynist bile like this:

As long as you continue to regard the myth of Patriarchy as having substance then, “the source of female oppression” (which is females themselves), will never be addressed but  continue to act as an excuse for self oppression and the avoidance of real issues.

Like the unicorn and the gnome, a myth involves things that no one has seen in real life but is perpetuated in common everyday discourse. Patriarchy cannot be seen, too, but it endures in our collective systems of thought and discourse. It is also not just one thing, which is why many men handwave this as pure mythology. I don’t want to go further into the dry definition of patriarchy, but rather would like to say this: defeating the patriarchy is not about beating down individual men and expect men to hate themselves for simply being men. No. But let’s put it this way: people who think that few women get the best-paid jobs or elected to highest ranks in government is because they do not try hard enough or just don’t go for them, or believe that women are better at looking after babies are complicit in perpetuating the pervasive cultural norm called patriarchy. Men do it, and so do women. It exists. Deal with it.

And finally, none of this please:

Shariah law in Malaysia:
RM5000 fine and imprisonment of up to 3 years and 6 lashes for consuming alcohol
And RM4000 fine and imprisonment of up to 2 years and 6 lashes for forcing one’s wife to be a prostitute!
Is there any wonder why Islam is viewed with ridicule and contempt?

My view of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism is valid and not inane. I remain an unashamed islamophobe but I have nothing against you personally. I feel sorry for all victims of religious endoctrination and persecution, and I wish you well.

Incidentally, I have read the quran and the bible old and new testaments. If you are not afraid to challenge your faith, then I recommend that you read “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins.

Richard Dawkin wrote the sociobiological nonsense called The Selfish Gene. No further comments.

Thoughtful quote of the day

“When talking about aerospace, you ask somebody from NASA, not someone in Somalia,”

The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) president, Abdul Hadi Awang, on the party’s democratic right to ban the Muslim Feminist NGO Sisters In Islam for ‘unqualified’ involvement in Islamic law. [Source]

Men and feminism

One of the things anti-feminists find hard to swallow is the idea that patriarchy permeates the mechanics of our society. Okay, correction: far from existing as just an idea or theory as many would believe, the patriarchal problem is very real and it hurts men, too. Some would rather be persuaded to use another term to describe certain injustices women face, like ‘discrimination’ perhaps, and ignore that male-dominance in certain positions of power (in politics, religious organisations, film and media corporations, literature, etc.) is really the problem.  A great article by Laurie Penny at Liberal Conspiracy tells us that anti-feminist men should get over the myth of male-bashing feminists and embrace feminism without risking losing their Y-chromosome.

In recent weeks, I’ve faced a lot of accusations of misandry for daring to point out that some bad things that happen are perpetrated almost exclusively by men, and for having the temerity to suggest that in some situations women get a raw deal simply because of their biological sex. I thought I’d respond to the critics with a few reasons why feminism and misandry are not synonymous, and why male and female feminists need to work together to break tired economic models of gender.

As feminists, the liberation of the y-chromosomed half of the human race has never been high on our list of priorities – historically speaking, we’ve had enough to worry about. However, it’s high time that we started a serious recruitment drive. Although the feminist movement has faced many obstacles and lost many battles, women have now won themselves enough social and economic capital that we can finally start to address the other half of the equation: the emancipation of men from capitalist patriarchy.

There are many urgent reasons why socialist feminists of all genders need to concern themselves with popular misandry and the subjugation of men, especially when we’re facing down the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. A recession is never a good time for women’s rights. Economic crisis moves economic equality from the agenda, and a great deal of women’s struggle in and out of the workplace revolves around the battle for equal economic status. Cuts to welfare benefits and part-time employment hit women with children hardest.

But most importantly of all, any recession creates a large body of justly angry, disenfranchised working men, men who are encouraged implicitly and sometimes explicitly to take that anger out where it will do least damage to capitalist hegemony: to whit, on women. It is a well-known and oft-repeated fact that domestic violence against women increases in times of economic crisis, usually, as is the case now, contiguously with a cut in state spending on women’s refuges. But another backlash against feminism itself is also to be expected – and as feminists, the fallacy that the problems that men face in a recession are the fault of feminism is something that we need to turn and face.

Read the rest here.

Cinema of sexism: Misogyny in Malay films

Because woman did not fight back, man quickly took over the advantage and made her the scapegoat for all his vices and fears. […] He was intimidated by woman’s sexual desire, and so he invented the mutually exclusive virgin and whore. […] He was ashamed of growing old and ugly, and even more ashamed of being ashamed, and so he invented female vanity to exorcise and account for these fears.

Molly Haskell, excerpted from Reverence to Rape: The treatment of women in the movies

Haskell wrote her stinging review of sexism in film over thirty years ago but a similar scenario in current film-making still rings true: a male-dominated film industry will always make films that maintain the patriarchal heteronormative dynamic. And although she was talking about Hollywood film-making in general, negative cinematic representations of women can be found in mainstream Malaysian (read: Malay) cinema. If speaking in broad terms, it is perhaps the only form of representation accorded to Malaysian actresses.

From 1990’s onwards, burgeoning modernity (e.g. market-driven conspicuous consumption) and resurgent religiosity (i.e. Saudi-inspired interpretation of Islam) in the country became the conflicting forces that usually fought over the bodies of women. This resulted in a rather schizophrenic representation of the new NEP Malay (men and women) in film – full of capitalistic aspirations but rooted firmly in traditional, patriarchal orientations.

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Malaysian mail-order brides: what fairy tale?

Excerpted from The New Straits Times:

Once upon a time, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella had to battle witches and overcome spells to find Prince Charming. Now, young women are discovering that the road leading to “happily-ever-after” is wider, shorter and much less of an obstacle course.

In recent years, a large number of the fairer sex have chosen to sign up with matrimonial websites to increase their chances of meeting a knight in shining armour. The mail-order bride industry has been around for ages. However, limited to print ads in monthly magazine, singles had a slim chance of finding their perfect mate.

There is something decidedly twisted about comparing mail-order brides to fairy tale princesses. But perhaps due to sheer naivety, the news report ignores the fact that mail order brides have long been an established object of racism, poverty, sexism, and comedy. Despite Malaysia’s notoriety for pompous display of first-rate infrastructure and tall buildings, it shares with a number of foreign bride exporting-nations the kind of urban and rural impoverishment that invariably affects women the worst.

So, for the many women involved, the reasons are largely economic. But there is nothing romantic about meeting and marrying someone you barely know for the sake of an improved standard of living. Except for Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella were, after all, born from affluence, not economic refugees. For the men who search through mail-order bride websites, however, it’s all about accomplishing an impossible romantic dream:

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Understanding anti-feminism in Malaysia and where it comes from

Nearly there. Image source via Wikimedia Commons
Gender equality: Nearly there. Image source via Wikimedia Commons

Okay. This is going to be a super-biased piece from the get-go. I feel the need to write about this because I am TIRED of trying to talk to people about what feminism really is about. There is just so much misunderstanding and lack of information out there in the real world.

Feminism is, as it were, hidden in Malaysia*. There are self-proclaimed feminists aplenty, yes, and also academic conferences in gender studies, and a couple of feminist women’s groups. But the inception of a homegrown feminist movement can be best allegorised as a pregnancy aborted in its first trimester.

From the beginnings of the country’s national independence in 1957, politicking women had  relegated themselves to roles suitably subservient to their male counterparts and even voted out the equal pay bill lobbied by the Labour Party of Malaya just three years prior. Female leadership, except in women’s issues (read: children and family stuff), would be overstepping the boundaries set by patriarchal ideals – this goes on perpetuated by women as simply doing the done thing.

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Reinforcing stereotypes through romance – Mills and Boon style

I have never read a Mills and Boon novel in my entire life, and am proud of it. I can go as far as to say that touching them might soil my hands. Even during my girls school days – a time to channel all that naughty hormones into sleazy paperbacks, I hardly knew about it, but its presence was made felt through whisperings in coded language; “M and B”, or simply as “the goods”. Now it seems that there is no letting up of the archetype romance novel as it celebrates its centennial at the Guardian. But please, is a photo gallery of truly appalling titles with seriously offensive racial/gender stereotypes that necessary?

Image from the Guardian

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I know I'm not supermodel material, but please objectify me too! aka my feminist rage against naked calendars

A few nights ago I sat down in a brainstorming session with a group of very eager female Oxford undergrads where we talked about the next Ladyfest Oxford programme next May and about who was going to organise what. You might be pleased to know that yours truly has volunteered to organise a workshop on sexuality in pop culture and its effect on ethnic minority women – yay! I realised how important and urgent the issue of diversity and cultural acceptance is in Britain and the fact that Oxford University – the cradle of many world leaders and intellectuals – has its share of utter racism – it had to be the right place to address such issues.

The meeting produced a range of somewhat interesting, if not bland ideas for the festival: from life drawing-cum-‘love your body’ lessons, belly dancing tutorials (brace yourselves, anti-orientalists!), feminist poetry sessions, film viewing and discussion, and then came naked calendar for charity … and my jaw dropped.

There is a saying that was said very often during religious lessons as I was growing up which was, if inversely attributed to Machiavelli, ‘matlamat tidak menghalalkan cara‘ or “the ends do not justify the means”. In this case the phrase ‘the charitable ends do not justify the sexist means’ rang in my head. How disappointed I was to meet young, educated and very privileged female proponents of the absolutely degrading naked calendar. What right-minded woman would accept ‘fun’ and ‘frivolous’ as justifications for just another form of objectification of themselves and others? As the only graduate student and perhaps being the only firm feminist present at the meeting, I felt like a miserable and prudish unmarried aunty.
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Lipstick feminism is not feminism

There are a couple of reasons why feminism has a difficult time taking root in many places; first, it’s because there is widespread suspicion of its origins. Historically and currently (by the Bush Admin), it has been abused to spread imperialism. It has strong associations with the privileged and ironically, paternalistic women who like to tell Muslim women what not to wear. Also, because it is home to lipstick feminism. Renee at Feministe has posted a good argument against women who claim empowerment from fashion and make-up but often forget the many other women who are tragically disempowered to keep lipstick feminism alive:

When women who are middle/upper class engage in a debate as to whether an article of clothing, or makeup is suitably feminist what they are ignoring is that they are  in a position to engage in this particular conversation, because they exist with class privilege.

A woman who is making less than 1USD per day does not have time to concern herself with whether or not patriarchy is informing her clothing choices.  This woman must deal with trying to provide subsistence for herself and her family under brutal economic slave labour.  Her class location informs her position, as the realities of her daily lived experience extinguish the angst that lipstick/utility feminists engage in.

Regardless of your position regarding performing femininity through make up and or  clothing, what cannot be denied is that any purchase within our capitalist economy is predicated on the exploitation of women.  The cult of I blinds us from the reality that in  our debate about agency and autonomy, we are completely obscuring the degree to which we personally are responsible for the impoverishment of others.  Class position we posit is based on meritocracy, but I must ask, who works harder than a sweat shop labourer?  Though feminism is a movement to end oppression against women, often times the failure to acknowledge privilege leads to the marginalization and exploitation of the most vulnerable within our society.  Class division is not a  flight of fancy, and to ignore the ways in which the Cult of I, turns us into oppressors is to decide unilaterally that only certain women matter.

You can read her full article here.

Update: Here’s an article posted at The F-Word that got me questioning about how I identify myself as a feminist and here’s a bit of defending the post’s title (Lipstick feminism is not feminism): I like lipstick and I do believe that to some extent it boosts my self-confidence, it assures me that I look pretty. There I said it, I need make-up for self-esteem sometimes. But then again, without make-up and new clothes I’m still me, the same self-assured woman-Muslim-feminist-daughter-lover-cook-pianist-artist who does not need to put everything I enjoy into boxes labeled feminist or not, ‘cos that’s just silly.

Azly Rahman is an idiot

I’m surprised that I did not discover this earlier. I’m also shocked that an academic of his stature is completely ignorant about what Feminism is generally about. Azly Rahman really thinks that women of Malaysia needs “Kampong-ism” to combat problems like sexual discrimination and other gender-biased conundrums. In this piece in Malaysiakini he uses Islamic principles and his own conjectures to support this brilliant philosophical branch.

He says:

1. Women are not inferior to men; they exist in “smart-partnership” in a “win-win” situation to men, both in practical living and in religion. Only biologically and in social function there may be slight variations.

I say:

There is a danger of abusing this so-called “smart-partnership” between (Muslim?) men and women. I have strong reasons to believe that this is what he means by the concept of “Equity” between the sexes, then he’s got serious issues to contend with. In “Equity”, men and women have specific and separate gender roles to fulfill, with hopes of ensuring peace and harmony in the land. Each of their roles (remember: different) have equal value. For example, the role of husband as breadwinner has equal value as wife who does the domestic duties at home. This can create pressure on the man whose “rightful” duty is to provide for his wife and children, and for the wife if she chooses to work outside the home. What does a man under pressure to do? Predictably, he might consider seeing other women, and almost certainly, causes family breakdown. It is unfortunate that patriarchal societies insist on the man being the head of the family, instead of promoting equal partnerships between husband and wife, mother and father.

Mainstream feminism on the other hand, recognises “Equality” for both sexes, in that (using the husband-wife model again) spouses share equal responsibilities in all aspects of homemaking and childcare. There is less pressure and more flexibility for both.

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