Women are not things

We – as a society – need to stop enabling male entitlement and tolerating violence against women and girls. We need to stop viewing women and girls are objects, asserts Yasmin Bathamanathan.

We were in the midst of observing the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign to work towards the elimination of violence against women and girls, but it sure does not look like it.

Since the start of the campaign on November 25, we have had our international trade and industry minister make a sexist joke comparing women to buildings at a public dialogue; and the news of the police arresting a man who forced his 14-year-old wife to film him raping her 11-year-old sister. The video was circulated on WhatsApp and found its way to the girls’ father.

Then there is the circus that is Mohammed Rizalman Ismail. A military attache at the Malaysian High Commission in New Zealand, Rizalman has made the headlines these past few days for all the wrong reasons.

From stalking a woman just because she smiled at him to defecating in front of her house and entering her house without wearing pants or even underwear, Rizalman has given the world a look at how VAW is done, Malaysian style.

Many laughed at Mustapa Mohamed’s joke about women and buildings when he said it:

“It gets boring staying in the same building for years, just like being married to the same woman. Once you are bored of your wife/building, dump it and marry/move into a new one” (I paraphrase).

Rizalman’s case invited a lot of guffaws too, as on the surface, it is a bizarre one that has been sensationalised because of some of his outlandish remarks and in much part his position as a diplomat. But clearly, Rizalman’s idea of a women’s smile as an indication of interest translating to an invitation to follow her is frightening.

So is the joke about replacing wives.

The way the two men think and talk about women shows how entitled they feel over women, who are seen as passive participants in the world they live in. One thinks of women as products for consumption and for their amusement – once the users (i.e. husbands/men) are bored of the products (i.e wives/women), the next move is to find a replacement. Nothing is said of the life they have built together let alone the personhood of the woman, but then again, if they are viewed as products for consumption, their personhood is negated.

The other blames his victim for his actions, justifying his harassment as invited by her, who asked for it by smiling at him. It is as though all a woman needs to do is smile and that to him is her giving consent to whatever he may want to interpret it as and his following actions. It’s exactly like slut-shaming and victim-blaming victims of rape.

Unfortunately, male entitlement does not occur in a vacuum.

Just take a look at the aforementioned child rape case. The horror of the situation is multiple:

Rape of an 11-year-old that has been documented and circulated for others to watch, her rape relived each time someone watches the video. The victim’s sister – a child herself – made an accomplice of the rape by the victim’s husband who is the rapist.

What kind of system enables the marriage between a 35-year-old-man to a 14-year-old? Not only is the girl married to a man more than twice her age, she must have been living a nightmare. And for the father (of the victim) to have found and seen the video of the rape? The father who must have played a part in marrying off his young daughter to a grown man.

Where does one even begin to make sense of the horrendous harm done to the two girls? Will they be able to heal from such abuse? What about other girls in our country? What assurance can we give our girls of safety if they can be married off to adults and put in situations that leaves them vulnerable to abuse?

We live in a world that has fostered a patriarchal system with a huge power disparity between genders. This breeds an environment that is hostile towards women and girls, who are thought of as nothing more than objects for consumption, a fact echoed in the statement issued by the United Nations this year on the 16 Days Campaign: “Across the world, violence against women and girls remains one of the most serious – and the most tolerated – human rights violations, both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality and discrimination.”

We – as a society – need to stop enabling male entitlement and tolerating violence against women and girls. We need to stop viewing women and girls are objects.

In the words of Mad Max – Fury Road: “WE ARE NOT THINGS!”

Women and girls are not things; they are every bit as worthy human beings with equal rights and access to freedom, health, opportunities, etc., as men and boys.

The Malaysian Insider

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