The Department of Bah

March 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

A lazy Sunday morning is not the ideal time to get one’s knickers in a twist, but knickers will be twisted when and where they will. I suppose it was good to have a bit of bitter ire to go with my cup of coffee, the ire courtesy of New Straits Times in an article titled ‘Where is Mr. Right?’ and a companion piece, ‘Gorgeous and looking for love,’; the coffee courtesy of Nescafe (sadly).

Let’s start with the companion piece first. It begins with these lines:

“She is a full-time model and Miss World Malaysia 2009 finalist, but Malaysian men shy away from Kyanmay.

The beauty acknowledges that she gets a lot of attention from foreigners, however.”

Further on, the article alludes to the foreigners as being ‘white.’ There’s a shitload of baggage that comes with that – white expat men coming to certain parts of Asia precisely to be able to date long-haired sweet-looking Asian girls – that I won’t even bother going into it, because I can’t talk about it at length in any reasonably logical way. I start foaming at the mouth. (Not that Kyanmay doesn’t have other attributes besides physical ones that make her attractive to white men – or men of any colour, for that matter – but I thought it was interesting that the whole Miss Saigon syndrome was just overlooked and summarised as “Malaysian men are intimidated by hot girls, white men are not.”)

GAAH. No, no, no.

Not to mention the tone of the entire article that belabours the point of these being beautiful, attractive, successful girls who are single. Can you imagine that? Why would any female choose NOT to be part of one-half of a couple? And yes, most of these women talked yearningly of wanting to be in a relationship, but there was no room in the article for debate about the structure of romantic relationships in general, especially in capitalist yet traditional cultures like in Malaysia – where we’ve got one foot going forward chasing abundant riches and another planted firmly back in age-old beliefs and principles.

One of the women interviewed comes closer to the actual state of things, I reckon, when she says, “They are attracted to these two things [beauty and intelligence]. It is always the women who have high expectations.”

Meaning… be as beautiful as you can (naturally) and be as smart as you want, but don’t actually use your brain? What are these ‘high expectations’? Isn’t it just another way of saying that you know what the fuck you want out of life? Is that so bloody wrong that a woman uses her smarts to think about what SHE WANTS?

*Foams at mouth, wipes with tissue, takes a minute to calm down*

I really don’t know about this “men are intimidated by smart, beautiful women” thing. It could be another myth designed to keep women dumb and docile, or men dumb and aimless, or both. Wouldn’t having a partner that’s both beautiful and smart be something that men want? I think it’s more to do with women’s personality traits and character types, and how they choose to exercise agency in running their own lives. Perhaps this offends some people very much. You know, when women choose to strike out on a path that’s very divergent from the prescribed path.

That’s why you get an article like “Where is Mr. Right?” in every damn magazine or newspaper every few months. Women’s attitudes towards relationships have been gradually changing (for better or for worse, I’ve still not decided). But men’s attitudes towards relationships have not. If women have started to relate to men differently because of increasing amounts of economic independence, then isn’t it fair to say that men have not yet caught on that they’re expected to adjust/change their expectations and attitudes, as well?

I’m serious. I think they’ve really not caught on. And that’s a position of privilege. When you’ve always been the one to call the shots, you won’t have to seriously consider changing anything about yourself.

One dating service agency director interviewed in ‘Where is Mr. Right?’ says that “Hollywood is partly to blame.”

Right. (Okay, Hollywood is the symptom, not the cause, but it’s a very potent symptom.)

But also, women. Women are to be blamed for having too-particular expectations (wanting a tall man, or someone who chews his food with his mouth closed) or for making the mistake of “overlooking submission.” She goes on to say:

“Successful women find it difficult to strike a balance between independence and femininity. Many feel they’ve got far in their career because of certain characteristics, which they try to apply to their relationships.

“For a man, attraction on a first date lies in the femininity of a woman. Every woman should showcase this.

“She may want to portray the ‘tough’ image at work, but at home, it might be better to play the ‘small woman’ role — indulging in her femininity.”

Did the cave-woman mother say this to her cave-woman daughter? “Daughter, I don’t care how many bears you’ve successfully killed on your own. In front of potential husband over there, if a bear comes at you, cover your face and scream delicately. THAT is how you get to mate in a nice, cool well-ventilated cave and have offspring.”

No matter what you do, you still need to fit into the mold of ideal femininity, or be what turns on heterosexual men. Imagine that. It’s 2010 and you still have to do that! Years of feminist rah-rahing later, we still come back to this. Women can bend over forwards and backwards to do a million things at once and they still have to please men the right way, while men simply don’t have to do a thing. What’s this called again? Oh yeah. Patriarchy.

That’s not to say that certain women don’t have unreasonable expectations, as do men. I’ve got a friend with a paunch who’s still holding out for a Naomi Watts-lookalike, and I know some girls who think Brad Pitt is going to come along and shower them with diamonds while giving them a footbath twice a day. But aside from those nutjobs, most human beings have normal human expectations of the person with whom they’d like enter into a relationship.

Besides, her comment ignores the fact that people are complex, and no one fits into the “manly” or “feminine” molds because those are just idealised constructs based on a warped system. A desirable relationship is one where both partners can show both their strengths and weaknesses, where the power structure is not rigid or swayed to one particular partner, but flows comfortably between both.

In that same article, another dating agency manager says this: “I have asked several career women to describe their ideal mate. Most of them gave me answers such as; emotionally secure, financially stable, intellectually stimulating, a good sense of humour, ready to commit and responsible.”

Does that sound wrong in any way? Like you’re audaciously daring to reach for the stars? Maybe the “ready to commit” part is a bit much. Because as we’ve been told over and over again, all men are little boys at heart. And all little boys want to do is play. Bonus points if he’s ‘responsible’ – it means he makes money first, plays later.

The fact that it still has to be women who need to adjust their attitudes, their expectations, their looks and their behaviour is a telling sign that we’re NOWHERE near any sort of tangible equality between the sexes. Women are still the afterthought sex (“Oh, look… here are some winsome, sexually-alluring creatures with their puny arms and their awesome breasts!”) while men are the default sex by which all societal norms are continually rehashed and perpetuated.

None of the women interviewed talked about the actual pleasures and freedoms of singlehood. No one talked about opting to have alternative relationships to the exalted, socially-sanctioned Heterosexual Couple. No one talked about the joys of having single sex with whomever you want, male or female, whenever you want – or the joys of not having to have sex. All their other accomplishments – a strong career, thriving passions, solid friendships, good family ties, or any other thing – was secondary to the ultimate goal of a romantic relationship.

It’s fascinating, really, because throughout this article readers are indeed left wondering about the whereabouts of Mr.Right. No men were interviewed at all. No room for debate about men’s attitude in love, no battle-cries for men to alter their expectations. I know young Malaysian women who work all day, bring home the bacon, cook it up, and serve it on a plate to their husbands who sit in front of the TV with their feet up on a stool. Malaysian men like having their wives bring home the bacon. They don’t want to give that up. But many don’t see why this means that they might also have to take turns cooking the damn thing. Depressingly enough, it’s women who are also holding on to beliefs that have long passed their use-by date. And scarily enough, they’re out there running dating agencies and being politicians.

And articles like this in our national media just keep going over the same topic over and over again, and no one really has to think about how we can change the actual structures that underlie our social relations. How can we do it? I have no blinking clue. But let’s start talking about it thoughtfully, instead of summarising it tritely just so it sells better, just so we can all just pay lip service to ‘feminism’ and ‘equality’ and carry on, same as before, without ruffling any feathers.

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