by Joshua Teh Honguan
May 29, 2014
THE response to the nomination of Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud for the vacant Teluk Intan parliamentary seat has shone an uncomfortable light upon our society and the way in which we view women.
The smear campaign, the cat calls, wolf whistles, labels of ‘pretty face’, ‘cheap candy’, and ‘puppet’ are symptomatic of the deep running sexism prevalent in Malaysian politics and society as a whole.
In objectifying women and refusing to perceive a woman as something more than a pretty face, we disregard her intellectual capability and personal worth. As long as we continue to judge women solely on their looks, we will never be able to embrace their true value.
The uncouth reaction towards Dyana Sofya coupled with an inability or refusal to see beyond her appearance does her a disservice as an individual and as a political candidate. Worse, it exposes a backward collective mindset that we should be ashamed of.
There have been attempts to categorize Dyana Sofya within one of two gender stereotypes: either as attractive and available (i.e. unmarried), or as the damsel in need of protection. This need to place women within neatly pre-determined boxes is both sexist and degrading. It also needs to be questioned why Dyana’s ‘attractiveness’ or ‘being Malay’ have been given so much emphasis when neither of these are qualities essential for a competent political candidate.
Surely a parliamentarian’s competency has little to do with looks and ethnicity. Why then are these attributes highlighted during this political campaign?
The entire treatment and reaction to Dyana Sofya begs the question of where such shocking behavior and attitudes are learnt. We must recognize that our current collective value system, either explicitly or otherwise, treats the subordination of women as the natural order of things.
If our leaders are genuine about promoting gender equality and including women in the political process, it will require more than merely increasing the number of women candidates. Change will not occur through lip service alone. What must happen is a tangible shift in the way women are viewed in this country. We as a nation must grow in our respect for women even as we seek to increase the number of women involved in nation building and policy making at the highest level.
To that end, we must prioritise the eradication of sexism, sexual harassment and misogyny at every level of our society while learning to embrace diversity and equality. It is only when women are afforded parity with men that our nation can begin to practice a legitimate form of democracy, where women representation is deemed vital and women’s voices are given a chance to be properly included and heard.
Let us strive to become a nation where our political candidates are judged upon their merits, track record, and ability to serve the people, not on their appearances, gender, or ethnicity.
Joshua Teh Honguan is the advocacy officer for Women’s Centre for Change, Penang (WCC)