Although males MPs have repeatedly hurled sexist remarks against female MPs, such behaviour must never be considered normal, Mustafa K Anuar writers.
We have been here before. Male lawmakers hurling sexist and derogatory remarks with a straight face against their women counterparts in the Dewan Rakyat.
As we all know, the recent incident involved a racist-sexist slur that was directed at Batu Kawan MP Kasthuriraani Patto. It appears that the perpetrating lawmaker found “fault” with Kasthuriraani for her dark complexion, and he then offered the “solution” of face powder for supposed better visibility.
After much insistence and reprimand, he grudgingly apologised but that was only to be accompanied by the lame excuse that he was merely talking about the dark spot in the House where Kasthuriraani was seated.
In another incident in 2007, a lawmaker from Sabah unabashedly used the term “bocor” to refer to a leaky ceiling in the Parliament building, which he then alluded the “leak” to then MP Fong Po Kuan’s menstrual cycle.
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A lawmaker, who was then also deputy minister, made a sexual insult in 2016 out of the surname of MP Teresa Kok, saying: “The only woman with a ‘kok’ is in Seputeh.” Seputeh is Kok’s parliamentary constituency.
The identity of these perpetrators will not be disclosed here, as to do otherwise would be to glorify them unnecessarily and undeservedly.
The point is that although such derogatory remarks have been expressed time and again, they should not and must not be considered normal. Nor should they be recognised as the new normal.
By mocking fellow women lawmakers in this manner, the male MPs not only belittle them but also peel away the seriousness of the issues that are brought to the table.
Kasthuriraani’s tiff with her fellow lawmaker is a case in point. Levity was mischievously imposed on her legitimate and serious query as to why there was no women representation on the select committee mooted by law minister Takiyuddin Hassan recently, especially at a time when qualified and competent women professionals have been displaced by male politicians in government-linked companies and other government institutions.
Incidentally, the silence enveloping women lawmakers on the government bench when Kasthuriraani was fending off the slur, was deafening compared to a few male politicians who came to her defence.
Furthermore, making women politicians the butt of a joke may carry a sinister objective for these purveyors of patriarchy. It can be a convenient tool to distract people away from the core issues of the day, as shown in Kasthuriraani’s case.
Given the gravity of such misconduct, the male MPs should not be given a mere slap on the wrist. The Speaker must be firm and apply sterner punitive measures, as provided for under Standing Order 36(4), which states: “It shall be out of order for members of the House to use offensive language or make a sexist remark.”
Derogatory remarks, which in turn prompt lengthy justification for such slurs, could also serve as a filibuster in an attempt to delay the passing of a bill or the deliberation of any matter in the Dewan Rakyat.
Equally serious is the repercussions these negative remarks have for larger society. They would lend legitimacy to gender prejudice and ethnic bigotry that still exist in society.
That said, the brouhaha in the Dewan Rakyat should not put a damper, especially on young women who are keen to enter formal politics.
If anything, the thought of women politicians being on the receiving end of male domination and intimidation should instead spur them to harden their resolve to get into politics and make substantive change to gender power relations in politics and in the larger society..
Women, who make up about half of the nation’s population, have an enormous potential to make significant contributions in decision-making and nation-building – a fact that should not be easily trivialised by the boorish behaviour of certain male politicians.
The nation, whose economy is battered by the pandemic, among other things, has no time for such a cheap spectacle.