Across almost every country in the world, this invisible platform is called the patriarchy, and its success relies on the fact of its invisibility. But in Malaysia this week, several Facebook and Instagram posts from the country’s Women, Family and Community Development Ministry have fractured the walls and exposed the ugly sexism experienced daily by women.
The social media posts began on March 18, accompanied by #WanitaCegahCOVID19, which translates to #WomenPreventCOVID19.
The very fact of its existence – offering advice specifically to wives on how they should ‘behave’ during coronavirus lockdowns, is cause for concern. The tips included;
– Don’t nag your husband.
– Don’t speak in an infantile voice.
-If you must request your husband to do something, adopt the voice of Doraemon (a Japanese cartoon robot cat)
– If you’re working at home, wear makeup and dress neatly, rather than in casual clothes.
Avoid wearing home clothes. Dress up as usual, put on make-up and dress neatly. OMG! This is what Rina, our Minister of Women, Family & Community Development thinks is important during the #COVID19 lockdown? No tips on how to deal with #DomesticViolence? Just state DV is a crime. pic.twitter.com/FfswtPBIPH
— Honey Tan (@honeyean) March 31, 2020
One of the images showed a man sprawled across a couch with an accompanying text advising women not to be “sarcastic” if they needed help with domestic chores.
I laughed when I read this one. In many Asian societies, one’s thoughts, feelings, demands and desires usually remain unspoken. One is required to ‘read the mind’ and be initiative. When I was growing up, I lived under a militaristically conservative household, and saw firsthand the complex psychological manoeuvres my father had to make to anticipate every task my mother wanted him to do, but could never put into plain speech.
This last ‘tip’ – to ‘not be sarcastic’, was a dig at culture, but of course, they aimed the pistol at society’s least powerful citizens; women.
Reading the translations of other posts, I found myself laughing, then cursing, then laughing and cursing, like a deformed female iteration of Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck in Joker.
Of course, when I finally stood back and assessed what was happening, I realised that this was once again, another example of what it means to be a woman in 2020.
Though it may look humorous, slightly facetious and non serious, these messages operate on a system that ultimately spell one simple truth; the easy, casual, dangerous order of controlling women.
It’s especially harmful during this time of the COVID-19 global pandemic, when a spike in domestic violence has been reported across several nations, including Malaysia, which currently has the highest number of reported COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.
The government’s national hotline for domestic violence have reported receiving double the usual number of phone calls since the restrictions on public movement were implemented two weeks ago. That is twice the number of vulnerable individuals (mostly women) who are reaching out for help, in a country where speaking out or asking for help is often judged with prejudice.
Malaysia is lowly ranked in the latest World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index, coming in at 104 out of 153 countries.
The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry have since issued an apology.
“We apologise if some of the tips we shared were inappropriate and touched on the sensitivities of some parties.”
The posters have now been removed.