Not trying to mansplain gender equality, but we need to fix things


Not trying to mansplain gender equality, but we need to fix things
By Zan Azlee

The recent issues that have cropped up about the ill-treatment of girls in schools have been quite atrocious. Firstly, there was the period spot check on female students conducted by teachers. Then there was the teacher who made rape jokes in school, and when the student complained, she was threatened with rape.

Although the recent news can be considered a new exposé, it has been happening for a very long time. Period spot checks have been happening for decades. Inappropriate jokes made at the expense of women have been happening for a long time. Gender inequality and the mistreatment of women have been happening forever.

The problem is systemic and naturalised into society and every human being – not just in men but also in women. I am part of the problem and you are part of the problem. I don’t want to be mansplaining gender inequality because that is not fair. But I do realise that men are more the problem than women.

Men will always be the problem because no matter how “feminist” we say we are, we can never truly know and understand what women have gone through and are still going through. What men need to do is to listen to women and be as supportive as possible in their efforts to fight for equality and justice.

When I say that women are part of the problem, it is because unfortunately, they have been conditioned by a patriarchal society for hundreds of years. But they are also the only ones that can truly understand the oppression and inequality that exists. And so, as I have said before, they are the ones that we need to listen to if we want to fix things.

I recently attended a webinar organised specifically for male journalists, by women’s rights NGO Empower called “Unpacking Dominant Masculinities”. It was conducted by Undariya Tumursukh, a gender activist. The webinar deconstructed the experiences that men have had throughout their lives that would have contributed to their patriarchal mentality.

It was definitely an eye-opener and I would recommend everyone to attend such seminars and workshops to improve themselves. I am a bit luckier though because I have a gender activist in my house who happens to also share my bed with me and our pillow talk usually consists of her schooling me on all these women issues (my wife Sheril)! And that is really an eye-opener.

As a journalist and content producer, I have to say that it is very important for gender equality to be put into the mainstream media. We need to make these issues as visual and noticeable as possible. It shouldn’t just be in news reports, but it needs to also be ingrained in other forms of storytelling like TV shows, movies, novels, cartoons, etc.

Since it is also Hari Raya season, I would like to pull attention to a good example of how this is being done in the mainstream. Julie’s Biscuits came up with a Hari Raya advertisement that is really unique and different from all the cliched ones that play on sadness and cry-ability! I would implore all of you to check the video out on YouTube.

The story is about how an entire cast of a Hari Raya advertisement is trying to defy a script that calls for a mother to pine for her children to come home for Hari Raya (Hey director! Mother has a car. Why can’t she drive over and see her kids instead?), or when an aunty is supposed to grill her young niece on why she still isn’t married (Hey director! Why does aunty have to ask about marriage? Can’t she ask about gender issues, the economy or politics?).

It’s entertaining, funny, captures the Hari Raya spirit and also an intelligent piece of social commentary as well. It’s quite the breath of fresh air. Now, all we need to do is make sure that other content creators will inject this into their work as well. TV dramas need not tell stories about a wife who endures abuse from her husband, talk about strong and independent women characters instead.

When society sees the normalisation of women being treated well, fairly and respectfully, it will become systemic and natural. This is opposed to how, for so long, society has been shown the normalisation of women being disrespected, mistreated and oppressed.

How is a rape joke okay to be told in a classroom? It is seen to be okay because, for so long, the oppression and mistreatment of women have been systemic and normalised. How is period spot checking accepted as common practice in schools? It is accepted because, for so long, the oppression and mistreatment of women have been systemic and normalised.

It’s time to break the chain of normalcy. It’s going to take a lot of effort. I know, because even though I actually have made a conscious decision to do something about it, the ingrained perception in my mind is a hindrance. But Sheril will always pull me back onto the right path. Besides, I have to make every effort. I’ve got two daughters and a son. I want them to grow up in a better society.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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