#LoyarEqual: The Long Road To Equality

This is Part II of Feminism’s Myths, Misconceptions, and Realities. Read Part I.

Credits: Sam Fakhreddine via Flickr Creative Commons.

Among other things, a big concern of feminism is the existence of negative stereotypes and social stigmas that are clung on to society as truth, as unquestionable facts of life that must be adhered to. Some of these stereotypes include :

1) That for a woman, her appearance is her most valuable asset. From a very young age, girls are taught that their looks are the most important thing (very subtly – subliminal messages are sent via perfect dress-up dolls and princess movies), and boys are taught that this is the most important thing about girls. What this sets up is a culture in which women are objectified, and there is a definite lack of appreciation for intellectual or athletic women.

No matter what other achievements a woman has attained, no matter how significant and groundbreaking these achievements are, they will still be criticised for their appearance (should they *gasp* forget to put on their make up! Or gained a bit of weight!), and people will still judge them based on what they look like.

2) That a woman’s job is to stay at home and do all the housework. I believe that this culture has its roots in religious texts, and it was held onto during the age before the first wave of feminism gave women the right to work, and for some reason continues to exist today. This line of belief has two versions – one, women shouldn’t work, and two, women who do work are still responsible for all the housework.

Again, this is something we want to dispel – women, especially working women, are some of the most under-appreciated people in the world. They, like their husbands, work full-time to earn money, and come home exhausted – but wait! They have to cook for their families! While the husband, people believe, has the right to flop on the old couch and watch TV while his dinner is brought to him by his wife.

We question why this belief exists. It’s not as if women are actually biologically more efficient/better at cooking/cleaning/housework. This stereotype was challenged long ago when people stopped thinking it was stupid for a guy to be a chef or a fashion designer – men proved a long time ago that they can be brilliant at cooking and sewing, which are tasks traditionally associated with women.

So why then, is the onus of responsibility for the housework, still on the woman, working or otherwise? We want to remedy this issue by encouraging a culture of shared housework, where both the man and woman take responsibility for the daily house chores.

3) That a woman should not have authority over her husband, and is not in a position to give orders. Again, this has its roots in religious texts. If there is actually a rational and logical reason for this, then it wouldn’t be an issue – but, as the only reasons people have been able to come up with are variations of, “The *insert holy book here* says the man is the leader”, then we have a problem, and the only reason we believe this still persists is, among other things, to protect the perceived “higher authority” of men and preserve the patriarchy.

4) We still live in a culture of “Marital rape is ok”, and “A woman who dressed ‘provocatively’ is simply asking to be raped”. There are two major problems with these two statements – for one thing, saying “Marital rape is ok”, is to say that once a woman is married, her husband owns her body and is entitled to have sex with her whether or not it receives the consent of the wife – just like the woman is the husband’s own personal sex slave.

The culture of victim-blaming when it comes to rape cases is one that insults both men and women, as it also paints men as heartless, thoughtless barbarians who have little to no self-control. A culture of victim-blaming also shifts the responsibility on women, who make the majority of rape survivors, to protect themselves by behaving and dressing “appropriately”.

And with regards to terminating an unwanted pregnancy, or abortion (of which feminists are generally pro-choice), here is a quote shared by a lovely friend of mine that sums it up quite succinctly :

“When you peel back the layers of the anti-choice motivation, it always comes back to two things: What is the nature and purpose of human sexuality? And second, what is the role of women in the world? Sex and the role of women are inextricably linked, because if you can separate sex from procreation, you have given women the ability to participate in society on an equal basis with men.”

GLORIA FELDT, attributed, Huffington Post

5) There are people who actually think it is reasonable that women are paid less than men for the same job because women are often assumed to be less committed (what with domestic commitments that women are perceived to be under obligation to shoulder, see above), retire early when they’re no longer attractive, and lose their jobs when they get pregnant. These are the things that we question – if there is real meritocracy in the workplace when it comes to the distribution of wages, why, then, do women always get the short end of the stick?

Some people try to shrug off this issue by saying “Oh, the pay gap isn’t that big!” or “Women tend to get promoted more easily”. The size of the pay gap does not matter, whether it is a few hundred ringgit or a few thousand ringgit – fact of the matter is, women receiving less in wages for doing the exact same work as men, no matter how hard they work, clearly displays society’s view that, despite having allowed women into the workforce and claimed that gender equality has already been achieved, a woman’s status is still beneath that of a man.

6) Female abuse, often by their own partners. People who support male superiority sometimes quote verses from the Bible or Quran about how men are granted more strength – but I’m very sure that God never meant for that inherently better strength to be used to physically abuse their partners. Cases of men abusing their power to dominate over their female counterparts and keep them in submission is not something uncommon :

– According to the Malaysian Bar, 1 out of every 6 women has been battered by her husband or boyfriend.

– Statistics of Domestic Violence Against Women obtained by the Polis Di Raja Malaysia show that from years 2000-2006, around 3000 cases of domestic violence are reported annually.

– The Women’s Aid Organisation statistics for the year 2010 show that 70.4% of the women who sought shelter from the Organisation had suffered from domestic abuse. 94.3% of the women who reported abuse suffered from physical abuse, and 96.6% of them reported also having faced psychological abuse.

– 44% of the women who sought shelter considered suicide, while 36.4% of them had previously attempted suicide.

Note that this isn’t even an exhaustive list of statistics – like rape cases, many cases of domestic abuse go unreported, because of the various stigmas associated with reporting them.
As stated in Part I of the article, in order to solve this issue feminism hopes to achieve the integration of a culture of mutual respect in relationships – we do not condone abuse against women, but neither do we condone abuse against men. Abuse is abuse, and in all circumstances it should not be condoned at all.

In conclusion, third wave feminism picks up on the unfinished work of the second wave of feminism. The main concern is to ensure that women are accorded their rights, and that they are treated with the same respect that men are given. So I hope both Part I and Part II of this article clearly defines the true nature and core of feminism, the issues that feminism is concerned with, and why it is still, indeed, quite relevant to modern society.

We cannot deny that feminism has come very far by giving women the right to work and get an education, but there is still much work that needs to be done before true gender equality is achieved – and right now, we do not have true gender equality.

This is why we third-wave feminists still exist.

This is why we refuse to back down.

References :

  1. Women’s Aid Organisation Malaysia statistics – http://www.wao.org.my/Annual+Report_20_6_1.htm
  2. Polis Di Raja Malaysia statistics of Domestic Violence Against Women, 2000-2006 – www.niew.gov.my/ppt/Malaysia/VAW2009_Malaysia_ppt4.ppt
  3. Malaysian Bar – http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/domestic_violence_.html

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Kamilia Khairul Anuar is a mad blogger, a romantic scholar, a humanist, feminist, an idealistic individual, and still in high school. She is often said to have grown up too fast and everyone around her thinks she's weird for ranting about current events, but she loves to do it anyway. She strives to advocate unity and better application of human rights in Malaysia, as well as to promote awareness of ongoing issues.

Posted on 20 October 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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