The ruckus at last weekend's Women’s March was a result of a long-standing discrimination against women. But the recent uptick in prejudicial and patriarchal acts might have been prompted by the outrage from Neelofa’s hijab launch at Zouk.
These past few weeks saw Malaysian women become easy targets of harassment and abuse. Conservatives have been voicing out their displeasure for everything that concerned women’s rights, their appearance and their status in society. And, as last weekend’s ruckus at the Women’s March showed, the fight against discrimination against women has never been more openly and angrily opposed.
The debate on women and their place in society hasn’t stopped since the outrage that came from Neelofa’s hijab launch at Zouk. Much was discussed about the social codes that a Malay Muslim woman such as her should keep to, when she (inadvertently) cast aside the fragile sensibilities of the Malaysian Muslim and launched her new line of hijabs at Zouk, in favour of cost and convenience.
Make no mistake - what Neelofa did a week ago was unwise, but not wrong. Nevertheless, did her actions warrant a whole week of internet fury from conservative muslims, a pending investigation from religious authorities, AND a letter from the Federal Territories mufti?
The short answer: no.
Neelofa’s incident was merely one of many examples of selective outrage towards women and their appearance. There was the perverse case of Farah Ann’s gymnastics attire, the humiliation of a female student for wearing too much makeup, and the resentment towards actress Uqasha Senrose, for her decision to stop wearing the tudung. All of these women were targeted for bringing shame to their community because of their appearance.
Women are easy targets. Tudung-clad or not, they are expected to conform to dated social codes as written and enforced by muftis and a mob of fellow muslims trying to secure their place in heaven. If a woman is to step outside those boundaries, they’re inevitably subjected to weeks of abuse that’s disguised as “friendly advice”.
This obsession with women hinders good judgement. Case in point: as a result of Neelofa’s incident at Zouk, her Instagram account suffered an exodus of followers, which curiously did not happen when she obtusely promoted beauty products for infants. The preferential treatment can also be seen through their deafening silence with regards to the heckling of an Archbishop, the brutal murder of a maid and the alleged molestation of a woman on the LRT.
This austere version of Islam that prioritizes a woman’s appearance more than the enlightenment, kinship and ethics emphasized by the religion, clearly illustrates the skewed priorities of religious authorities and the Malaysian Muslim. Not one tweet or trace of ink was spent by them to address the rampant nature of sexual assault, abuse and oppression, which ironically, hasn’t led to the realisation that their absence of outrage can serve to normalize those disgraceful acts.
If only we could harness the unfettered enthusiasm by religious authorities for controlling women, their behaviour, and their attire, and direct it instead towards exposing the deep-rooted bigotry that plagues our society. Then, perhaps, we could finally find the peace and harmony that the current government thinks is present, and justifies the powerful existence of religious bodies and their ever-increasing portion of the federal budget.