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Breastfeeding in public?

Participants of a public breastfeeding campaign after an event in Kuching in 2013 - Photograph; The Star

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How noble are the intentions of these infuriated Malaysians, who spend their valuable time just to advocate the morality of women, wonders Barathi Selvam.

With upright heart, steadfast look and ideas that are not afraid of anyone in the World,
The woman does not falter as she has the delight of wisdom.

– Mahakavi Bharathiyar (translated)

Human beings supposedly should be evolving into more rational and progressive thinkers as we become more worldly-wise with increasingly sophisticated technologies that offer a vast spectrum to explore knowledge, ideas and alternative perspectives.

Unfortunately, a plague of conservative thinking is grappling the minds of the masses and struggling to reinforce the idea of male chauvinism, which tries to subjugate other genders, especially women. (Well, I believe in the Queer Theory, which argues there are more than binary genders.)

As a student who is exposed to exploring gender portrayals in the media, I know that women tend to be ‘objectified’, especially as sexual icons. For decades, their body parts have been portrayed sexually in films, musical videos, advertisements, reality shows, etc. It is difficult to understand the relevance of portraying women in a sexual way in, say, car advertisements. The ultimate goal is to sell the car, right – obviously not the women.

The conservatives who acknowledge and practise the patriarchal system are inclined to dominate other genders by deciding what the roles of women in society are and how they should behave in society. This group of people lives in a dreamland by playing the role of “moral police” who control and command so-called moral values.

Looking back into history, women were denied the right to voting just because they are women, and their primary and only role, as constructed by society, was to be a good homemaker. Yes, it is always about cooking the husband’s favourite meals, washing the clothes, taking care of the children, and being kind and nurturing. The ‘Ideal Woman’, so to speak.

In the Malaysian context, a few days ago a group of women staged a flash mob on public breastfeeding, and many Malaysian netizens became infuriated as they felt this could tarnish the value and image of women.

How noble are the intentions of these infuriated Malaysians, who spend their valuable time just to advocate the morality of women? Hold on, where were they when sexist remarks were made by parliamentarians against women? Where were they when women were portrayed as weak and dependent on males? Where were they when women were portrayed as sexual objects?

Thinking about cultural taboos and social restrictions made me to ponder about Yasmin Ahmad, who courageously and creatively resisted most of the social taboos through her films and advertisements. Even though she was condemned as the “Corruptor of Culture” by religious conservatives for directing ‘Sepet’, she was keen on speaking out against hypocrisy and unjust practices in our so-called civilised society.

The culture of restricting others’ rights should be diminished as we always use the biased norms of society, which have proven to be tools of subjugation of the minorities in many other societies.

Barathi Selvam, an undergraduate student majoring in journalism at a local university, is enraged with the social injustices he sees around him. He hopes to use writing as a medium to advocate for anyone who is discriminated and oppressed and to empower the marginalised.

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