Being ‘sexually aroused’ by a cardboard cutout
By Zan Azlee
Shell has decided to pull out the life-size cardboard cutout of a female attendant that has been “shocking” people while they filled up their vehicles. But the pullout by the petrol station was not because of the shock. It was more… sexual.
Malaysian men have been taking pictures and videos of themselves kissing, groping and doing indecent acts with the cardboard cutout of the woman and then posting them on social media platforms. And what else? They all became viral.
The woman whose image was on the cardboard cutout, Nor Shafila Khairusalleh, expressed disappointment and embarrassment at what has happened. Shell decided to pull out the cutouts because it disagreed with the indecent acts that were carried out.
What this really shows is the deep-rooted misogynistic traits that our Malaysian society have where men think that they can do anything to a woman and there is nothing wrong with it. This is beyond patriarchy and is just plain disgusting.
One of the men, Shahril Azmi Abdul Shukor, who posted a photograph of himself kissing the cardboard cutout in a WhatsApp group (and eventually going viral) has apologised for his lewd behaviour and said that when he took the picture, it was just meant as a joke.
His video apology does sound sincere even though it came after the public threw all kinds of insults his way. But the fact that he had thought it was a harmless joke is again proof of how ingrained the problem of patriarchal misogyny is here. At least, he learnt his lesson.
To show how problematic the issue is, we can go back a couple of months ago when Member of Parliament for Tasik Gelugor, Shabudin Yahaya, made a statement regarding child marriages. He said that it was okay to allow rapists to marry their victims so they wouldn’t have a bleak future.
Although there were loud protests from many quarters, including women and youth, against what Shabudin said, he did not apologise for his statement, but instead argued that it was all taken out of context by the media.
Recently, there was an online video advertising campaign by international pharmacy chain Watsons that was condemned for being racist and degrading to the perception of female beauty. The video used “black face” techniques to allegedly make fun of women who are dark-skinned.
It was about a rich man who was searching for his future wife and he made a call for all the beautiful women around the land to come to him. I would say that this premise alone is already patriarchal and misogynistic.
Although the video was eventually taken down, Watsons’ first apology (it made two apologies) was really a non-apology where it said sorry if there were people who found the video offensive and that it was not its intention.
Putting men on the pedestal
Our television and film industry is also at fault by constantly producing content that degrade women and put men on the pedestal. Programmes like Suamiku Paling Sweet, Suamiku Mr Pilot, Suami Aku Ustaz and Suamiku Encik Perfect 10 just reeks of sexism.
All this also shows a certain degree of suppressed sexuality in our society where talking about sex openly is considered taboo. This manifests itself in lewd and distasteful jokes and behaviour, such as the aforementioned videos and pictures by immature individuals.
And this would be a best-case scenario because suppression of sexuality like this could lead to even worse actions, such as sexual harassment, abuse and rape (I would like to say that it doesn’t happen in Malaysia, but it definitely does).
One argument that is often made (usually by other men) as to why men would act so lewd with women is because women are the ones inviting it upon themselves by acting and dressing suggestively. This is nonsense.
Nor Shafila is dressed in a Shell attendant’s uniform and is wearing a headscarf. I don’t how more decent or conservative she could have dressed. As for acting suggestively, she is holding a mineral water bottle and giving the thumbs up, and she is a cardboard cutout, people!
In my opinion, the decision that Shell made to take down the cardboard cutouts does not actually solve the problem. It is just treating the symptom and not really getting to the bottom of the actual problem, which is a serious defect in societal behaviour.
I do understand that it was out of respect to Nor Shafila. But this just proves to the perverted and misogynistic men out there that it really isn’t their fault. They would be thinking that it is all Shell’s doing for putting a cardboard cutout that has aroused their sexual urges a little bit too much.
[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]
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