Femininity is patriarchy’s biggest sin. That has always been on my mind. I remember back when I was a child and was bullied for my perceived effeminacy. The other kids would call me ‘sotong’ and ‘Sally’ from the Upin Ipin series and I would retaliate back with more name callings because that is what kids do when they are mad.
But the thing is, I did not even realise I was an effeminate child. And I was disgusted myself to be associated with femininity. I thought that it would be wrong for me as a boy to act like a girl, have limp wrists and play dolls. The Drama series Sutun taught me that effeminacy for a guy is a laughingstock matter and to be associated with it is the biggest downfall for your dignity.
But as I grew up, I got into an all-boys boarding school and was given the opportunity to man up. But still, I could not escape effeminacy from my environment. In the boarding school, the effeminate boys were the pariah, the exiled. They were treated even worse than dirt and were bullied relentlessly for their effeminacy, by students and teachers alike. At that moment, it shattered my perception towards educators. I thought educators were supposed to teach kindness, yet they gave out hatred and vengeance towards the effeminate boys. But I decided not to play along, unlike other students, I gave myself a chance to be sympathetic even though I was still not keen on being associated with femininity.
That was years ago, and now I’m in my twenties and I am still bearing witness to a show of effeminacy as society’s ultimate sin. But I grew out of my hatred for effeminacy and began to learn more about the patriarchal system we are so deeply in.
But why am I talking about all this femininity issue? A while back, Libresse announced an advertisement campaign ‘Know Your V’ that aims at the Malaysian community with the batik motif on the design of the pad. Not surprisingly, it became a contentious issue for many. Majlis Wanita Islam YADIM decided that it was immodest and indecent and exploitation of women. Oh, to be a woman these days, even pads can cause a commotion.
However, in what way does my story relates to the advertisement campaign? Well, the way I see it, there is a group of women that is not happy with a showcase of femininity. They deem it unjust to our culture to showcase the female genitalia so publicly and so unabashedly. They would rather see femininity be something that is kept behind closed door. They would rather have decency and modesty be a barrier to a campaign that has its goal only to educate. Oh my, what a bunch of bull crap.
And I thought to myself, why are these women themselves punishing what should have been a part of themselves until I realise that these women themselves are part of the patriarchal system that oppresses and subjugate. They themselves are subjugated to this narrative that a showcase of femininity in the eyes of the public is wrong and thus become an oppressor. I wonder whether the Majlis Wanita Islam YADIM even cares about themselves or are they letting the patriarchal narrative regulate and police their viewpoints.
To be in a society that is so male-centric is exhausting because it magnifies male perception and masculinity and tones down the feminine aspect of life. It punishes the feminine selves that showcased itself in its truest neutrality as feminine selves, and it uplifts feminine selves that decided to turn their back on their femininity. And it is a Sisyphean task for us to counter this narrative when the women themselves are the ones that police femininity.
What frustrates me even more is the fact that it becomes a barrier to access sexual and reproductive health rights education. With Malaysia’s current understanding of sexual education, we are going around in circles trying to combat issues that could have been handled if and only if we could escape the narrative of our culture being modest and decent.
All I am saying is, there should not be a problem with the Know Your V campaign. It should have been celebrated for its wonderful amalgamation of education and our cultural art. But instead, all we got is a pulled-back campaign because someone decides that it is too offensive for the vulva to be depicted on a pad. A vulva that was so contentious that it shook the core of the lines of ustazah at Majlis Wanita Islam Yadim to the point of using human rights language to counter an educational effort.
What is even wrong with the V? I believe that it should have been an opportunity for womanhood and femininity to be celebrated alongside the effort to educate the masses. But instead, we got Majlis Wanita Islam YADIM to tell us that it is an exploitation of a woman’s image. I wonder what more do Majlis Wanita Islam YADIM got in store for other women’s issues such as domestic violence, gender-based violence, tedious divorce proceedings, and many more? Or their energy does not suffice for that other problems?
Ahmad Yasin is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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