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Of women and doormats

July 4, 2011

I read the New Straits Times. Have been doing so for many years (I read the Star at the office. That’s what they provide me with). I look forward to Sunday’s edition, The New Sunday Times. Apart from the usual news, there’s the Cars, Bikes and Trucks pullout. So as usual today, I got my copy. As I flip through the pages, I saw this article of an interview with a distinguished lady who is the current NAM Institute for the Empowerment of Women Malaysia (NIEM) Tan Sri Dr. Rafiah Salim. The article is entitled, “Men, your wives are not doormats“. It’s part of a series of articles pursuant to the Government’s newly-announced policy of women making up 30 per cent of corporate decision-making positions by 2016.

I have nothing but respect for women and I believe beyond the shadow of a doubt they’ll make good decision makers wherever they are. I have seen some at work too. My superior at Group level when I was at my previous employment was a lady. In fact, at Group level there has never been a male boss (as long as I was there). And I connect well and have a great amount of respect for all of them. As such I honestly believe they should be given a fair crack at the whip. The oft-mentioned example is the current Central Bank Governor, Tan Sri Dato Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz. I think she’s doing a good job and she’s here to stay.

OK, back to the above article. To be perfectly honest, I take issue with a few of the remarks made by the learned Tan Sri. If you don’t find the time to read it, I’ll reproduce some passages of said article and comment on them (note that this is not selective prosecution. It’s not a long article anyway). The first one is where she said,

For a change, it’s about time men realise that they are equally responsible, they should share the burden for the sake of the country. Why should the man come home in the evening, sit happily in the living room and read the papers while the woman, who has been slogging in the office, rush home to care for the baby and cook all the meals for her family.”

I don’t think the above statement is a fair one. At least not in the city anyway. For starters, most people have helpers at home now (the popular term is “maid”. I just felt “helper” is a more dignified term. They do “help”, don’t they?). And the women who come back and cook are usually helped by said helpers who in turn, helps with caring for the children. Although I do know of some women who fits the description of the statement above. For these women, I have the highest level of respect. Their job is a 24 hour one. They work hard (women do work hard. It’s a fact), and then go back to tend to their families. These women deserve a great deal of appreciation from their spouses. Husbands who don’t respect and appreciate these women are frankly, jerks (or any other derogatory term of your choice). On the other hand, there are men who help out as well. They do not lounge around and expect that everything is laid out for them. They don’t “sit happily in the living room and read the papers…“.

The Tan Sri goes on to say, “Even worse, there are men who sit down and say to their wives, ‘ambilkan air untuk saya’ (get me some water) — they sound like invalids. It’s about time these types of men change their lifestyles. This mentality is purely cultural. Don’t just know how to make babies, also learn how to take care of them; take equal responsibility.” I have an issue with this one. And I’m not quoting this because it fits my argument. In fact, the statement follows the previous one. Does the mere fact that a man asks his wife for water when he reaches home from work warrants a change in lifestyle for the guy? Come on. We men are not slave drivers. Sure, get your own water. I have no issues with that. But putting the request for water in isolation like it’s some sort of a male-chauvinistic way of treating your wife is just not right. And sounding like an invalid while we’re at it. Obviously I don’t condone treating your wife like a slave (and I do know some men who still do, the jerks) , but “don’t just know how to make babies, also learn how to take care of them?” I’m sorry, but dear Tan Sri, but that’s rather harsh, don’t you think?

Honestly, I know of some men who really take the trouble. Waking up at night when the baby is crying, preparing the baby’s milk, that sort of thing. Some people have really got to get in touch with reality and stop generalising, because that’s exactly what I think the Tan Sri is doing.

She proceeds to say, “Who says she needs to cook every day? These days, you can order food to be sent to your home. If her husband doesn’t like it, maybe he can try cooking for himself. Women must learn to manage.” With this, I cannot agree more (although I can’t cook to save my life). However, let’s think about this for a second. Some women love to cook. And so they do. Some men like their wife’s cooking, as do children love their mother’s cooking. I know women find great joy seeing food they cook is enjoyed by the family. So I do not see the problem there, unless the cooking bit becomes a chore. There’ll also be problems when say, the wife doesn’t feel like cooking and suggests that the family eat out. To which the husband flatly refuses and insists that she cooks because “that’s what women do. It’s their responsibility.” Then that’s wrong.

I’d like to quote more passages from the interview, but it’s late now and I’m rather tired. And I apologise if this rant is offensive. Although as I said, the statements made mirror generalising a little bit too much for my liking. And it’s not really the prevailing reality. Although I do realise the fact that there are men out there who take for granted the roles played by their respective spouses and just refuse to play an active roles in family development and general well being. Of course I’m no angel myself but I always try to improve. It is a shared responsibility and as the saying goes, you never appreciate something/someone until it/he/she is gone. So to those still in dreamland, it’s definitely time to wake up and smell the coffee.

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