Sexist politicians are a universal pain
Let’s stop blaming Donald Trump for our misogynistic world. Even without him, there are plenty of men in leadership positions who think women are just fair game.
Before Trump, there was Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who was an early post-truth politician.
He was just 1.65 meters tall but Berlusconi thought he was God’s gift to women, and his list of sexual scandals and sexist gaffes is legendary.
Former British prime minister David Cameron was roasted in 2011 when he told Labor MP Angela Eagle, “Calm down, dear,” which critics pounced on, declaring that his response revealed what he really thought of women: emotional and hysterical.
Asian male politicians are just as prone to making sexist remarks.
Last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a visit to Dhaka, lauded Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her “unshakeable resolve” in fighting terrorism. But then he went and spoiled it by adding, “despite being a woman.”
Another Indian politician, Mulayam Singh Yadav, reportedly said at an election rally: “First girls become friends with boys. Then when they have differences, girls level rape charges. Boys commit mistakes. Will they be hanged for rape?”
Over in Japan, a Tokyo city councilor made international headlines in 2014 when he was forced to apologize to a female colleague for heckling her during a meeting. Akihiro Suzuki told Ayaka Shiomura to “hurry up and get married” when she raised questions on measures to help pregnant women and young mothers.
And then there is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
The latest incident had him making inappropriate remarks to Vice President Leni Robredo on her looks and “nice legs” at an event marking the third anniversary of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) in Tacloban City.
But all these sexist jibes pale in comparison to the unforgivably nasty barb a Malaysian deputy minister threw at an Opposition MP, Teresan Kok, in Parliament last month.
It happened during a heated debate over a rally organized by Bersih, a movement calling for electoral reform.
The deputy minister for agriculture and agro-based industries, Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, sniggered, “Why is Seputeh going ‘kekekeke’? The only woman with a ‘Kok’ is in Seputeh.”
He was obviously making fun of her surname, a common Chinese family name which sounds the same as the slang word for male genitalia. Kok is a fourth-term MP for the Seputeh constituency in Kuala Lumpur.
Tajuddin’s tasteless remark ignited a firestorm of protest from the Opposition. He refused to apologize and went to make fun of another woman MP by mimicking the way she spoke.
Tajuddin’s sexist remark actually topped backbencher Datuk Bung Moktar Radin’s crude dig at a woman MP in 2007.
The then MP for the Batu Gajah seat, Fong Poh Kuan, had complained to the Speaker about the roof in Parliament leaking every time it rained. Bung, the MP for the Kinabatangan seat in Sabah, jumped up to make a crack: “Mana ada bocor? Batu Gajah pun bocor tiap-tiap bulan juga.” (Where is the leak? Batu Gajah leaks every month, too).
Yes, we should expect better from our elected representatives. But from the many examples we have, such behavior and attitudes in male politicians are quite universal.
So what’s the best response to misogynistic men?
Michelle Obama’s advice is: “When they go low, we go high.” That may be a great sound bite, but if going high means maintaining a dignified silence or ignoring the perpetrator, I don’t think that’s enough. I say give back as good as you get.
Instead of getting angry, get even because showing you’re hurt is exactly what these men want to see.
Years ago, as a teenager walking home, I was followed by a man who had been seen lurking around in the neighborhood before. He turned out to be a flasher.
I managed to remain calm, put on a sneer, and even laugh at his pathetic display. The shock on the man’s face was priceless. Instead of me running away in tears and fear, he ran off instead.
I never saw him again.
Giving men like him a taste of their own medicine might just be part of the cure.
June H.L. Wong, is COO for content development at The Star, Malaysia.
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