The minister thought I was a girl

The minister though I was a girl
By Zan Azlee

It was 2002, I was only a couple of years into my career as a journalist and I was covering press conferences by cabinet ministers on a daily basis. The flock of journalists at these events could swell to the dozens sometimes.

One press conference by a then minister at that time is a particularly memorable one for me. It had just ended and I was standing outside at the lobby with my cameraman as the minister was walking out to his car.

I had my back facing the minister. I can’t remember exactly what I was doing. I could have been chatting with someone. Suddenly, I felt a hand grab my forearm and pull me away. It was the minister and he was coaxing me gently to follow him as he stepped into his car.

I had already started wearing my hair long then, and at that time it was around shoulder length. As we got nearer to the car door, I turned around and the minister finally got a clear look at my face. He immediately let go of my hand.

Oh, jantan rupanya! Ingat perempuan. Ha… tak apa lah!” he laughed (Oh no, you’re a man. I thought you were a girl. Never mind).

I guess I am lucky because I am a man and sexual harassment doesn’t usually happen to us. But what I’m trying to get at with no intention to ‘mansplain’ the issue is that things like this have been happening for a long time.

It is a good thing that we are now finally talking about it and acknowledging it. At the same time, it is also a sad thing that we are only now beginning to talk about it and acknowledge it. But I guess it is better now than never.

It’s good that the reporter who was interviewed for the expose story on sexual harassment published by the Asian Correspondent was brave enough to do so. Sure, many people have criticised her for staying anonymous, but I think I can understand.

NUJ stand appalling

Being in Malaysia, we all know the intimidation that can follow you if you are anti-establishment. So I don’t even want to imagine the stress and pressure that this reporter is facing. I’m just glad that she did bring her story forward.

I, for one, am standing in solidarity with all journalism colleagues and everyone else who has faced sexual harassment in the course of their work, whether it is in the journalism field or not. No individual should have to go through that uncomfortable and sometimes scary situation.

I am particularly appalled by the stand taken by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) on this issue. In an official statement released earlier in the week, the NUJ said female journalists should dress more appropriately and not go to places that would invite harassment.

“For example, do not wear clothes that are too revealing or sexy, decline interviews at inappropriate places such as nightclubs or a politician’s home.

“Female journalists must have strong integrity and use appropriate ways to obtain news stories,” said NUJ president Mohd Taufek Razak.

This is ridiculous, because they are taking all the blame away from those who are actually committing the offence – those who are doing the harassing. Instead, they put the blame on the women for the way they dress and where they go.

This is a barbaric and misogynistic view of the issue and I cannot believe that it is happening today. But then again, we are living in Malaysia, and I can’t be so naive to actually think no party would behave as such. I just didn’t think the NUJ would be one of them.

I think we should all now call these culprits out, whether they are cabinet ministers or whatever kinds of VIP. If we all stand together in solidarity, there is nothing their positions of power can do to protect them. Even better, we are journalists, and we have the platform to be heard.

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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