It had to happen sooner or later. With Barbie and now Hannah Montana merchandise dominating the tween to early teenage market in Malaysia, products for young Muslim women in hijab are starting to appear, particularly on the bookshelves. And they look very pink.
There are also whiffs of collusion with the Disney conglomerate’s marketing strategies; princesses sell. Now, I’m not the only one who thinks that princesses make one of the worst kind of role models. They’re expected to be beautiful, rescued by Prince Charming, and either acquire or inherit wealth and royal status patrilineally. But then, stories of princesses and other beautiful heroines make an obvious progression towards the Malay novel and its main theme: romance. The contemporary romance novel is pretty much the only form of Malay fiction writing popular today. So pervasive is the Malay romance novel that it’s even taught in schools as ‘Malay literature’.
I’m assuming that this is part of the mainstreaming of ‘Islamic culture’ to reach out to younger Muslim-Malaysians. It’s saying that you can be hip and with the times and still be a good Muslim. But here, to be hip is to be a sad carbon-copy of Disney princesses with blue eyes and fair-skin and colluder of Western gender stereotypes.
Other examples of ‘pink and feminine’ novels for Muslim young women:
Last time I was back home in KL I was eager to find out whether there were any good books written in Malay. Being in the UK for a while made me miss all things Malay – so I started with books. I know for a fact that KL in particular is a host to a number of good bookshops, and some can be pretty darn huge (though I wonder who even buys books nowadays?). However on my return to my Malay-speaking homeland I was disappointed to find a dismal number of books in the Malay language. If you’re asking, “What about all those novels with lots of ‘Cinta’ and ‘Rindu’ on the titles? There are loads of them!”. Oh yes, there are many, but they are, to put it kindly, fit for the bin.
My first (and hopefully last) visit to the mammoth-sized waste of space, The Pavillion, in Bukit Bintang presented to me the possibility that Malay writing has no space in this shopping orgy we call Malaysia. Upon discovering Borders (yet another unnecessary American import), I skimmed past aisle label after aisle label looking for “Bahasa Malaysia”, and gave up. I couldn’t find it. So I asked one of Border’s very few staff to show me the goods.