When I first arrived in Malaysia, I did not expect to find such a wide divide between the value of men and women. I thought the country was modern and sophisticated, and I just assumed that ideas about equality and respect were universal. Unfortunately, I was entirely wrong. Discrimination is more than alive in Malaysia.
The longer I stayed in the country and traveled with my friend Reena, the more I was exposed to overtly rude comments and gestures as well as offensive behavior. You see, despite being born and raised in Malaysia, Reena doesn’t fit the stereotypical “look” of a Malaysian. So when we’re together, people assume we’re tourists and think they can get away with scams, lies or offensive language and behavior.
I was shocked one day when Reena turned around to tell off some taxi drivers. They were soliciting us for a ride in English but we politely declined. When we did not agree to a ride, they apparently made extremely rude comments about us in Chinese, and she turned around and told them how ashamed their mothers would be if they heard what they were saying (in Chinese). The cabbies were shocked that: 1) she understood them as they thought we were tourists, and 2) someone even tried to tell them off. They did not apologize or act remorseful for their behavior. Instead, they went on to comment on how appalling she was for talking to them that way. In my opinion, her tone was quite firm but nowhere near yelling or shouting, which is what I would have done had I understood a word they said. And I would’ve used a few choice swear words to get my point across.
When we discussed it later, she said this is normal behavior for some Malaysians. They were ignorant and just treated women this way no matter what. When I asked why she didn’t shout at them, she said it wouldn’t have mattered. They wouldn’t even understand why we were so angry at them. This concept just floored me! She also added that before she traveled to New Zealand, similar incidents would happen to her and her friends and they’d just keep walking. No one would even address the insulting manner in which some men would address them. But having lived and worked in New Zealand for a year, she had grown more outspoken and was not afraid to stand up and say something. The idea that women commonly experience this type of treatment and did nothing about it was shocking to me.
This antiquated attitude toward women is not only limited to the Chinese population. As I became more aware of my surroundings, I noticed this type of behavior from Malays, Indians and minorities as well. It seemed as though this attitude was prevalent no matter what ethnic group you belonged to and that it was just a universal mindset.
When we were at the train station, guys would blatantly look at our (and all the other girls for that matter) breasts. When you caught them looking, they didn’t look ashamed or try to pretend they weren’t looking. Frustratingly, they just continued staring. And, it was completely focused, utter staring, in my opinion, even when girls weren’t wearing anything provocative. It just left me feeling violated and angry. I wanted to swear at them and tell them off, but Reena said it wouldn’t change anything.
This inability to change anything was the most upsetting thing of all. A society must change and grow with the times, and the idea that Malaysia won’t progress beyond this barbaric behavior saddens me. Is it because society continues to condone it? Is it that the government doesn’t prosecute against it? Or, is it just the way of this particular culture?
I realize that within this country there are limitations on freedoms that I take for granted due to religious, historical and cultural differences. But how can a country allow its women to continue to be treated this way? It’s shocking and appalling and disgusting.
This experience really tainted my view on the country, and if I did not have friends there, I would consider never returning again and tell others to avoid ever visiting. This disgusting treatment of women in Malaysia must stop!