Why fear feminism?

Graffiti on feminism

Men should not and need not fear feminism.

The feminist movement refers to a series of political campaigns for reforms that seek the state’s recognition of women’s rights and welfare, and among the top agendas are women’s reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, women’s suffrage, sexual harassment, and sexual violence.

The movement’s priorities vary among nations and communities, and while the feminist movement has gone through several stages of evolution, the notion of feminism itself is rather new in most Asian countries, Malaysia included. And the misconception of feminism in this region unfortunately seems to equate it to women losing their femininity.

Feminism or the feminist movement should also not be confused by certain groups as women seeking to replace the role of men in society. It is merely human nature that the state should treat women as equal citizens, and that their interests, rights and life choices should be accorded the rightful protection of the law. Some men, especially those espousing values of the chauvinistic male, tend to view the feminist movement from a more narrow perspective and that women should not abandon their responsibility at home and to the family.

So, during the Women’s Day march last month, a big hoo-ha was created over the presence of the LGBT community at the event until it warranted a police investigation. As a progressive country, this was certainly an over-reaction and in a way a stumbling block to feminism in the country.

The Women’s Day March started in 2017 in the United States and has become an annual worldwide event to create awareness and to advocate legislation and policies on various issues relating to women. In conjunction with International Women’s Day, the march in Malaysia was held with the main purpose of addressing women’s rights and the much needed protection from sexual harassment, domestic violence, child marriage, and preserving the rights of a mother towards a child in the eyes of the law. The movement in Malaysia was focused on ending stereotyping of women as the weaker and lesser gender, and to seek legal reforms that would give Malaysian women a stronger voice as a parent.

This event was supposed to be a meaningful platform and a stride forward for women to stand up and to have their voices heard but instead of taking note of the messages these women were carrying, certain segments of the society (and politicians) decided to pick a bone with the organisers on the presence of the LGBT community.

Same-sex marriages and relationships may not be generally acceptable in an Asian society like Malaysia, but they were there because they too, are women! And they too have a right to speak their mind and voice their demands.

Instead of putting the LGBT issue on centrestage, let’s try and swing the focus back to the fundamental purpose of the Women’s Day March.

The event is supposed to highlight women’s right to decide over their own bodies, life, and marriage, as well as to strive for equal treatment as men in society. Men, children, and family members, other interest groups, people with disabilities also joined the march and put their foot forward in solidarity for this movement.

So why was the LGBT community singled out and put under scrutiny, stealing the thunder and marring the whole delight of the march? Shouldn’t the physically challenged community, who overcome body barriers to attend the march, be given just as much limelight? Equally, men and families who are willing to stand together with women to strive for gender equality should be loudly cheered too.

For many years, women have been oppressed and discriminated in various circumstances. It takes great courage for them to take their voices to the streets in a peaceful and civil manner. Rather than taking action against women marching for their basic rights and nit-picking on the LGBT community, the Malaysian government should take this march as a wake-up call to the pertinent issues faced by women in this country, and live up to the expectations of the new world.

Feminism is here to stay. The feminist movement is fighting for our mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and the list goes on. Men should be proud of it. Period.

The powers that be must look over and beyond the rainbow (pun intended)!