Let’s start talking about the truths and reality of sex without the judgement, the glamorisation and the fear, says Yasmin Bathamanathan.
After years of making new year resolutions and breaking them within a few days (more exercise and dieting, less lazing around and watching TV), I gave up at the ripe old age of 25.
Instead, I let my anxieties take over, hastily listing all that I have accomplished for the year and dwelling on missed opportunities and regrets. Instead of “New Year’s Resolutions”, I do “Old Year Mopping”. Yes, I can be quite the downer at times.
Eight years later and spent from ushering in the new year with a grey clouds hovering over me, I decided to throw caution to the air and surprised myself by setting some feminist resolutions. And what better way to start the year than to share them with you and hope that you would join me in this journey, whether you identify as being feminist or not.
Let’s get intersectional
I began this very column on 11 January 2015, outing myself as an intersectional feminist in my very first column. In the year since, I’ve learnt so much more about myself and the world I live in by applying the intersectional lens.
I’ve come to understand and accept that womanhood is not a domain exclusively held by people who are born with vaginas, but womanhood encompasses all those who identify as women. That men are just as oppressed by patriarchy as women are and that patriarchy alone is not all of women’s problems – we face issues of classism, racism, sexism, religious and cultural oppressions and so on. And these struggles are faced by everybody, only in varying degrees and intersects or overlaps.
So in 2016, let’s all be as intersectional as we can. Let’s see the world not in black and white, but in the varying shades of grey along the spectrum. Each one of us lives unique lives, and therefore so are our struggles. Just because you have access to certain opportunities does not mean others do to; recognise and check your privilege before dishing out advice (looking at you, Malaysian politicians).
And perhaps, just perhaps, we will not look at migrant workers and refugees as threats coming to steal our jobs from under our noses?
Talk about sex
Safe sex, that is.
Sex can be sexy if done right, but is that the reality for most of us? Living in a country with an abysmal approach to all things sex-related, it is very likely that we treat sex a) with disgust, b) with misguided enthusiasm ala GQ and Cosmo, c) with menace and abuse.
If we think by not talking about sex, teenagers and unmarried adults will not have sex, we are only deluding ourselves. Lack of information on safe sex will not stop sex-related issues such as spread of infections, unwanted pregnancies, and abortion, but instead fuel unsafe sexual behaviour.
Also, marriage, especially child marriage, should never and can never be the solution for sex and sex-related problems.
So let’s start talking about the truths and reality of sex without the judgement, the glamorisation and the fear. Start talking about consent, what it is and how it looks like, especially with the young. Talk about health and responsibility, instead of what is normal because what is normal to one can be hell for another.
Get real about gender-based violence
Gender-based violence (GBV) is real, and does not seem to be getting any better. Domestic violence, rape, stalking, sexual harassment, cyber bullying, restrictions to access to resources such as money, time, and food, forced marriage/pregnancy/abortion/virginity test, threats of violence are just some forms of GBV.
Often times, in the conversation and activism on GBV, the focus remains on violence against women, mainly because most of the people affected by GBV are women and girls. GBV is the result of unequal power relations between genders (re: not just man and woman), and existing structures of power – law enforcement, judiciary, economy, health – do not protect the interests and rights of women and girls. And yes, violence against men is a thing, and it is not funny at all.
While we are at it, the institutionalised harassment and violation of transgender people in Malaysia, that is sanctioned gender-based violence – it needs to end.
What can we do then? For one, not laugh or take GBV lightly.
Two, let’s talk about violence against men without derailing the conversation on violence again women.
Three, let’s stop talking in binaries – masculine/feminine, man/woman and straight/gay; holding on to gender binaries and its expected norms means we are feeding into the rape culture which tells us women are “asking for it”, men for their “lack of masculinity” and queer people are “perversions of nature” (re: they don’t matter at all).
2015 was a year in which we Malaysians started having a bit more honest conversations about race/class/economy/politics. We saw Malaysians banding together to lend a hand to flood victims in the East Coast, get serious about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers who live amidst us, and be more vocal on issues of rape, child marriage and teenage pregnancies.
On the global level, we heard a lot more talk on gender equality (hats off to Canada and Justin Trudeau for showing the world how gender equality can look like), feminism and feminist principles entering mainstream discourse and pop culture, and some exceptional female representation in media.
You don’t have to be a feminist to be intersectional, to advocate for safe sex and be concerned about gender-based violence.
We all have a part to play in making our world a safer, more tolerant and peaceful place. Hopefully 2016 would be a better year with more victories.