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

Respect All Persons, and Gender and Other Equalities Will Follow

By OOI KEE BENG, March 2022 Editorial for Penang Monthly.

IT IS UNFORTUNATE that in most minds, the term “Feminism” more often than not, merely raises issues regarding the relatively-disadvantaged status of women as measured against male conditions and criteria.

First of all, what’s gallingly wrong with this is the inherent absence of a critical attitude about maleness itself, and on the experience of being male in a society in the grip of long-term unbalanced gender relations.

This line of path is an easy—and therefore attractive one to take. Benchmarked against male advantage, and therefore supposing little wrong with those privileges themselves and that assuming that most men love being in that position, that the problems are easily understood, communicated and debated, and that the goals are manifest and palpable.

Secondly, that approach is prone to disregard evolutionary dynamics within the long-term stability offered by gender imbalance, and to ignore the significance of manipulation and counter-manipulation in situations of unfairness.

We should not kid ourselves. Symbiotic dysfunctions always emerge and evolve between the strong and the weak, the majority and the minority, even the slave and the slave-driver, and these dynamics are in essence the very perpetuating process of the pathological relationship in question. Breaking such debilitating complexes takes more than opportunistic tweaks.

Thirdly, the piecemeal successes of feminism over the last 100 years taken together are far from being tantamount to a dismissal of male chauvinism and gender profiling.

The liberation of women holds the potential to be a liberation of mankind—of men, women and everything in between. A revolution is needed, and by that, I am not advocating violence. Instead, reflection over how inequalities of any kind are bad for all parties involved needs to be encouraged, starting in the home, and of course, in the earliest years in schools.

Just as liberation in general is the mere and immediate practicing of liberty itself; equality comes from the everyday practice by each of us of treating each other with respect. With respect? But how?

In the words of Immanuelle Kant (1724–1804), the great German philosopher and influential ethicist, “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end”.

In short, this maxim requires us to prioritise the inherent value, and not the instrumental value, of each. Where gender inequality is concerned, I presume this to mean that we avoid seeing people in the mode of maleness or femaleness—or transvestite-ness for that matter—and consider them as beings beyond whatever social roles they may now and then perform.

Women placing that demand on their men, and men doing likewise with their women, and having that practised women among women, men among men, so that it becomes the norm among children—that is the revolution I imagine Feminism needs.

The freeing of women should not exclude the ambition to free the human mind from the yoke that all major inequalities bring to all sides. If it does, then it is but a tweaking of an injustice whose effect is ultimately the perpetuation of greater injustices.

The Covid pandemic slowed humanity down in many ways. And women, especially single mothers, have suffered greatly from the subduing of economic activities. Domestic violence increased as well, as one might have expected.

Out of that health crisis, during which all of us were glued to our physical and social surroundings, one may hope that some wisdom learned in that reality will prevail. What we have is what is close to us; what we should learn to value should be what is immediate in time and space, and of direct psychosocial and philosophical relevance.

Also, real change, it would seem to us now, comes from real crises on one hand, and happens generationally, on the other. The old, both men and women, should definitely watch and advise as actively as they can, but it is the young that will embody it.

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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