Written by Aida Rashid
It is no doubt that a lot of urbanites in Malaysia have moved towards more progressive ideas including gender & economic equality, the need for sex education and others. However, there are still those who have not gotten themselves to see the larger picture of an issue, and would rather be defensive over whatever identity that’s ascribed to them. Empowerment is often times seen as merely Western propaganda as opposed to something to lift up the long disempowered.
pErTahAnkAn mAruAh LeLAki
(kalau terasa maksudnya…) pic.twitter.com/mkjJ4SIPnN
— . (@takaharasuiko) February 20, 2019
This was ridiculously obvious when Takahara Suiko released her song called ‘Pertahankan Maruah Lelaki’ under her moniker VIONA. The song is a snarky remark towards fragile masculinity, especially in a world that has progressed to normalising the idea of women working, hold high positions in high-paying jobs, having power and being the best versions of themselves. It’s a critical yet comical commentary on the ways and narratives men have used in exerting their dominance, using religion and culture to keep women in their homes altogether limiting their growth. It also delves into the tendencies of society to victim blame women whenever something bad happens to them, despite knowing men have always been the root cause of these abuses.
“The song is based on bunch of things I’ve seen over the years. What triggered the writing of the song was when I saw the woman who got mugged in the lift at the MRT and following up to that I saw women who tell other women to be careful. Although I’m sure they were not victim blaming but this is some annoying thing where you keep on telling us that we have to jaga diri elok elok and beli pepper spray. But I don’t see the men in my family carry a pepper spray around. I have a knife in my bag even — it’s a huge thing and it has been going on since I was a small, whereby I was told by my parents, sisters, friends, teachers that you have to be careful when you go out. These guidelines you need to bear in mind when u step out of the house. And those things are rarely said to boys. My mother does tell my brother to like jangan tidur rumah orang, jaga curfew but she was even more strict with her girls — that sorta annoyed me.”
I vibe with this statement so much. I grew up being told to cover up, to not mingle w/ men, n guess what? I became a socially crippled kid, n I still got harassed n molested. I spent 10 yrs blaming myself n questioning what I didn't do. STOP. Do something about predators, not us.
— Anna Banananana 🍌 (@yuuarehere) February 21, 2019
“The entire song is not just about people telling girls to be careful but there are some men who say like perempuan kena do this and that sebab lelaki tak boleh jaga nafsu. Like you always have to tell the girls all those things but never the boys to start behaving like a human being. The song came about based on all the advices flying all over twitter and the reactions people spewed in regards to the lady who got mugged.” Takahara Suiko said. It’s about the culture of shifting blames, and how women would always be on the losing end – having to take responsibility for everything that befalls them regardless of whether they’re at fault or not.
The two-minute summary of the whole #MenAreTrash narrative garnered more views than expected, and the reactions toward the song were a mixture of utmost respect and support for Takahara and her music, and also borderline harassment. Some people were scrutinising her for generalising men and making them the bad guy as opposed to trying to understand the bigger picture – the rooted reasons as to why so many women, and gasp* some socially aware men agreed to the lyrics sung by Taka.
Half the men replying to this tweet are like:
Abuse towards women happen on a daily basis and we know that it's wrong BUT GOD FORBID WOMEN ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT
— Noor Aiman (@ManKilat) February 20, 2019
“I think I never see it as something controversial until I finished the song. I was like ‘shit this is gonna attract attention but I don’t give a shit I’m gonna say this out loud’. Because it’s just an undertone that has been going on in everybody’s lives. It’s just that people never bothered bringing it into light. I get triggered emotionally that I wanted to write this song. Lagu Mari Pertahankan Lelaki tu, I knew those who were gonna get triggered were mostly Malay-speaking males hence even the target of the song is to those people so I sorta needed to get that thing out to those people.”
Lagu best, mesej mmg ngam, sbb org llaki ni kbykan bodoh tak pakai otak, aku yg lelaki ni pun tk terlepas juga, lagu ni jadi peringatan kpd diri sndiri utk saling hormat tk kira jantina🤘🤘🤘
— 🙂 (@filthymalone) February 20, 2019
“That was like the bigger aim although I’m sure I was not gonna get to them anyway cos they’re gonna have their ego and its difficult to change them until they get the short end of the stick. But regardless, I knew it might change some of the people’s minds about this matter that’s why I decided to put the song out there. The backlash wasn’t bad, it wasn’t life-threatening so I’m thankful for that. So far the backlash had only been online and the only way I respond to that is how my husband would respond to haters and unreasonable people. He’d respond to them with weird, unrelated GIFs, and when they see that they’d feel like ‘aw man she’s not responding to my arguments’.”
There is an inherent culture within the society we live in today whereby people would more likely be defensive when women or any oppressed individuals speak out about the issues concerning them rather than listen and introspect about the problems they might have caused. Not only that, they also have the tendency to shift the blame to women when women are the ones constantly harmed and made to worry about everything. Doesn’t matter what the issue is — sexism, racism or any form of discrimination, it’s important for privileged individuals to lay their guard down and take time to understand what the other side is like.
For centuries, women have been conditioned to think whatever harm befalls them, they are to blame for it. When they are out alone, they are on constant alert just in case anything happens to them. When they are out on a Tinder date, they can’t really enjoy their time as they are made to second-guess gestures and signals just in case they are in danger. Because at the end of the day, when they are faced with an unfortunate event, society never fails to find them blame-worthy.
We won't tolerate with any kind of misbehaviour and sexual harassment in this scene. Kita tak akan bekerjasama dengan individu, band ataupun label yang ada kena mengena dengan sexual predator!
— Violane Booking (@officialviolane) March 5, 2019
Conversations that spark controversy may enable us to carve a better path for women – and they need to happen more often. So it’s great how artists like Takahara Suiko use their art to forward such message. “I think what you guys largely see are the people who disagreed with that song. Like ‘hey guys these are the people who think differently than you and I, so please realise that we don’t live in one monotonous society, we live in a multi-everything society.’. So you kinda need to deal with these kinda people.” It is also great that the independent music community are stepping up to protect women from sexual harassment at gigs that they perform in. The community needs to not only raise awareness about the prevalent cases of harassment, but also it needs to actively lend a helping hand when it comes to providing a safe space for women and hold the perpetrators accountable. Art and art spaces are not merely a form & source of enjoyment, but they can also be a tool to push for change, and change will happen when more people care about the disadvantaged.