Saturday, May 21, 2022

When calling out sexism gets stuck at political lines

Often, cancel culture becomes a means of attacking those seen as out of sync with a given ideology.

Other News

Comments with sexist undertones are nothing new in Malaysia, with salvo after salvo criss-crossing the political divide even in settings as formal as the Dewan Rakyat in Parliament.

So-called classics include the famous “bocor” remark made by Kinabatangan MP Bung Moktar Radin in 2007 in reference to menstruation.

Pasir Salak MP Tajuddin Abdul Rahman meanwhile caused an uproar in 2016 by speaking of “the only woman with ‘kok'”, an allusion to Seputeh MP Teresa Kok.

And in 2020, Baling MP Azeez Rahim stirred up a hornets’ nest by commenting on the complexion of Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto.

The three men, all from Barisan Nasional, received a huge backlash over their comments with women’s groups and MPs from the opposition coming together to call them out.

But while criticism flew thick and fast in these cases, the same is not necessarily the case when the person at the receiving end of the sexist comments is from the opposite side of the political divide.

Recently, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rina Harun came under fire on social media over pictures of her hosing down a school affected by the massive floods in December with a crew of people standing behind her with video cameras and phones.

She was also previously targeted for her weight, with social media users appearing more interested in this than her responsibilities and performance as a minister.

In neither of these circumstances did she receive much support or defence to speak of from political leaders.

When, during the furore over her “water jet” pictures, former minister Zaid Ibrahim asked in a comment on Twitter if she was married, only PKR’s Maria Chin Abdullah came to her defence from the opposition camp.

She said while Rina should be criticised for not doing a good job, sexist comments should not be used against the Titiwangsa MP.

She said fair and even sharp comments could be made but that the majority of remarks instead involved personal, racist and sexist attacks.

“We need to learn to respect others as well as to be brave enough to give comments or have a disagreement,” Maria told MalaysiaNow.

“Most of the time, comments are not only sexist towards women but also scathing, with the intention of bringing down a person and/or silencing the so-called other.”

She said she did not agree with Rina’s act but that she should not be demeaned by sexist statements.

“What does her marital status have to do with the event in question?” she said in response to Zaid who has frequently put himself forth as a liberal Malay.

She also said that stands against sexism should cross party, individual and group lines.

Communications lecturer Shafizan Mohamed said when it comes to social media, many believe they can say what they like without giving a second thought to the implications of their words.

“They don’t realise that they are responding in an indirect manner,” she said.

In Rina’s case, she said many were already unhappy or angry and had given vent to their emotions without thinking.

She also said that on social media, it is easy to separate the physical self from what is being written or said.

“If we were face to face with her, would we say the same things that we write? Probably not, because we would be there in person,” she said.

Women’s NGO Sisters in Islam meanwhile said that the culture of exclusion – or “cancel culture” – was one way to ensure that a person would be held accountable for their actions.

“But criticism of women politicians and ministers is often riddled with sexist remarks,” its spokesman Aleza Othman told MalaysiaNow.

“The criticism hurled at Rina should have concerned her performance and responsibilities as well as her actions as a minister.”

Shafizan meanwhile said that cancel culture is driven by the internet generation which sees itself as “woke”, or digitally literate and aware of current issues.

“They think they are different from the previous generations,” she said.

“Whatever they think is not in line with their idealism, they will attack in the name of political and cultural consciousness.”

Follow us on Telegram for the latest updates:

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news and analyses.

Related Articles