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Articles, Commentaries, Feminism, Penang Monthly [formerly Penang Economic Monthly]

Of Female Liberation and Suppression

By OOI KEE BENG

[Editorial in PENANG MONTHLY, April 2012]

For all movements of liberation, the key to successful initiatives lies in identifying what the means of sustained suppression are, and to know which area is the most strategic to attack at a given time.

No doubt, some areas are more fundamental than others and will always exert an influence on activists. Some are more easily presented in a quantitative manner, and are therefore more easily discussed, especially with politicians.

However, where feminism is concerned, the goals are fundamentally of a quality nature. In effect, feminist goals, properly formulated, cannot help but challenge society’s cultural basis, because societies today are practically without exception, male-based.

Being male-based, they generate traits, traditions and rituals that express and perpetuate values favouring the male sex. Even where feminism has had great success, male society’s will to dominate never sleep.

Let’s takeSwedenfor example. There, feminism has been highly successful in many ways. But agreement on what is wrong and what needs doing differ greatly even there. It was strongly tied to the Leftist Wave of the 1960s ad 1970s, and to the advent of the contraceptive pill.

Post-AIDS, and after the gender gap as expressed in quantitative terms has been significantly narrowed, what remains is an issue of individual choices; and the woman’s right to decide over her own body.

This concern with the female body is a central theme to any feminist movement…or should be. From it issues society’s duty to provide top-level pre-natal care, post-natal care and kindergartens; from it issues legislative liability to fight biases on the labour market against pregnancy and motherhood and to allow divorces and protect sexual preferences; and from it issues social acknowledgement of the centrality of mutual aid between the two sexes.

Male dominance is most often expressed through keeping women away from chosen spaces, diminishing their role to inferior and supportive ones or turning them into sexual objects and/or means of reproduction.

Alongside this subjugation of women emerges the male role based on competition and conflict. This apparent balance between gender roles is in effect an imbalance, since it diminishes the potential of both to develop as rounded human beings.

One could summarize the worst elements in male dominance under the term Social Darwinism, where human relations are driven by cutthroat competition, and all the obvious evolutionary advantages of mutual aid are dismissed.

To my mind, feminism is the biggest challenge that can be mounted against such an ideology.

Feminism is about developing democracy; it is about freedom from violence, at home or on the streets; it is about economic fairness; it is about acknowledgement of difference; it is about the individual right to determine over her – and his – own body; and yes, it is about recognizing the centrality of human sexuality.

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About Ooi Kee Beng

Dr OOI KEE BENG is the Executive Director of Penang Institute (George Town, Penang, Malaysia). He was born and raised in Penang, and was the Deputy Director of ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute (formerly the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISEAS). He is the founder-editor of the Penang Monthly (published by Penang Institute), ISEAS Perspective (published by ISEAS) and ISSUES (published by Penang Institute). He is also editor of Trends in Southeast Asia, and a columnist for The Edge, Malaysia.

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