Monday, July 25, 2011

Perempuan vs. Lelaki

Went for a marriage guidance course last week, and while observing a floor-to-ceiling shelf of books, this bright pink one stood out:

The text on the back says in Malay:
Teknik Berkomunikasi Supaya Lelaki Tidak Salah Faham
Buku 'Perempuan vs. Lelaki' dapat membentuk seorang perempuan menikmati keistimewaan-keistimewaan berikut:
  • Menguasai etika berkomunikasi secara lisan mahu pun tanpa lisan.
  • Mengetahui cara untuk menghadapi dan menangani lelaki: Rakan sekerja, kekasih, suami dan anak.
  • Mampu menawan lelaki ketika berbicara.
  • Mengetahui cara menghadapi ajakan nakal dan gangguan seksual.
  • Disenangi dan difahami oleh rakan sekerja.
  • Mampu menawan suami yang bersikap panas baran.
  • Menjadi isteri yang romantik dan selalu dirindui suami.
  • Lebih bijak dalam menghadapi kehidupan sosial.
  • Lebih bersikap positif terhadap kehidupan dan orang di sekitar.

Which roughly translates into English as :
Communication techniques to prevent men from misunderstanding
This book can help a woman enjoy the following benefits:
  • Learn the ethics of verbal and non-verbal communication.
  • Know how to cope and deal with men: colleagues, lover, husband or son.
  • Be able to charm men when speaking.
  • Know how to confront cheeky teasing and sexual harassment.
  • Be liked and understood by colleagues.
  • Be able to capture the heart of a hot-tempered husband.
  • Be a romantic wife who is always missed by her husband.
  • Be smarter in facing social life.
  • Have a more positive attitude towards life and surrounding people.
This list is fascinating for so many reasons, but I'll just pick on two points:

1. Women are responsible for dealing with sexual harassment and quick tempers from men.

Some men commit sexual harassment, but there are no books (self-help or not!) that address their behaviour. Women just have to put up with lascivious stares, wolf-whistling and name-calling (unless they have a man walking with them) that some men continue to make.

A common argument is that some women are asking for it (e.g. the case of US high school cheerleader Joanne Bamberger), but there are also many other women that dress normally and are still stared at. For example, in Morocco, I've observed women being harassed whether old or young, dressed in a djellabah (thick Moroccan outer cloak) or not, wearing hijab or not.

Wives with hot-tempered husbands? Instead of promoting communication or some anger management for these men, they are just left alone. Their women are the ones that have to pacify and learn how to deal with the ways of their men. One way to apply natural selection? Don't marry a hot-tempered man in the first place, haha.

2. Women should be charming, romantic and generally likeable in their interactions with men.

This serves to heighten differences between men and women. While R. W. Connell has written about hegemonic masculinity, there has not been any academic writing (as far as I know) of hegemonic femininity - in other words, what type of woman is the most common and receives the most privilege in a certain society.

From my own observations of Singaporean Muslim women, it seems that the shy, modest, sweet, pious, and demure woman has the most privilege among Muslims here. In theory piety can trump all other traits, but it works only for the truly pious men.

To end this post, let me just say that I'm not a fan of books that make nice, sensitive and sensibly communicative men the exception in society.

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