A lady’s right to choose

I’ve often felt, if one is born a woman, one is somehow short-changed.

Coming from a conservative Muslim family, despite my Father’s liberal belief in sending his daughters off to tertiary education, and in having our own independent lives, it has ever been clear that we are bound by both religion and culture that:

  1. You, by virtue of being born female are directly related to the family honour;
  2. Virginity is honour. A woman, who has had sex outside of marriage, be it by rape or consent is a dishonoured woman and a source of shame for the family;
  3. You are the responsibility of the dominant man in your family; therefore, your Father’s word is absolute. In absentia of Father, brother or male relative is your guardian;
  4. Once grown, it is a woman’s duty to be married, preferably before the age of 25;
  5. Arranged marriages are not an alien idea. Your Father can and have the right to marry you off without your consent to a man you may not like. Yes, this still happens in some conservative Malay (and Pakistani) families;
  6. Once you’re married, your husband’s authority is absolute and by the way, you belong to your husband’s family now;
  7. As a woman, if a man finds you attractive, it is your fault for being so effing pretty. Dress accordingly;
  8. If you dress immodestly, any direct response to it is due to your own unsolicited invitation to the man. If you are sexually harassed, it is your fault for putting yourself in a position of vulnerability. If you foolishly place yourself in a position where you are alone with a man whatever happens to you is because you have ‘misled’ the man into thinking that you are ‘that type of woman’;
  9. One should not salam or hug a man not your muhrim, ever;
  10. A lady should behave modestly and treat others with courtesy at all times. This ruling lapses if the other party is rude and uncouth. Then he or she deserves a good tongue lashing;
  11. In sum, the world is not safe to be a woman.

Weirded out yet? There’s more.

I am subjected to listening to remarks like the late Dr. Lo’ Lo’, who was once described as “itu lah kalau MP perempuan, susah” (Excuse me if you don’t have the guts and grits the woman had, you chauvinist sexist dude), “perempuan belajar tinggi mana pun atas katil dan pergi dapur sahaja”, or having to listen to ranting of men and even worse, women who call other women derogatory names.

It is interesting to note that amusingly, the ‘liberals’ who feel that they are ‘empowered’ because they think nothing of giving their bodies freely to men out of personal choice would call conservative women ‘frigid’ or ‘missing out’ for making a personal choice to abstain from it. It needs not to be said that ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ would be the comeback from the conservative women. Ironic, I find it.

Key term being personal choice, I always find myself walking a fragile tightrope between the mine field of two opposing sides. Why are people so caught up in other people’s personal businesses? Why can’t people see that in the end it has always been about women making informed choices for themselves?

My stance has always been consistently clear:

My body.

My life.

My decision.

My path.

No one has any right to choose my destiny unless I consent to it.

Before I am accused of having a butt plug stuck up my rear end, let me make it clear that my point is this: in this diverse multi-cultural nation that is Malaysia, there are differences, even within the Muslim communities in how we live our lives. I do not necessarily agree to all the points I listed above, the list is in truth a point of lively and at times fiery debate in my house.

Said differences in opinion do not, and will never make one faction superior or inferior to the other. It just means that we have different ways of expressing ourselves, of how we view ourselves, of how we think we should be treated and so forth. If you are a conservative like me, manoeuvring the labyrinth of what is socially acceptable or not, things can and have gotten tricky.

I, for one, have cheerfully forgone men in favour of working in the causes I believe in. However, if one day one walks into my life, someone to whom I want to devote my life to as an equal partner, I am not averse to the idea of staying with him.

I’m fortunate that despite the conservative values my parents consistently attempts to instil in their three headstrong daughters, they are loving enough that they are willing to concede to ‘changes in modern times’, though I must admit it was a rocky path, and still, a matter of compromise between the desires of a modern 21st century woman and the hopes and dreams of parents who subscribes still the old ways.

It’s about balance.


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This young lawyer harbours hope that one day Malaysians irrespective of ethnicity and religion have equal rights under the law, as we all are before the eyes of God. She is moving with UndiMsia! (http://UndiMsia.com) and will always be an Anak Bangsa Malaysia. (http://SayaAnakBangsaMalaysia.net)

Posted on 8 December 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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