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What Is It to Be a Man? Violence in the Time of Modernity Before we move onto cinematic representations of masculinity, it is productive to explore the perception of feminism in Malaysia through a brief analysis of the film Femina (1993) because this will help to explain why so-called authentic masculinity is under threat. Feminism is often represented as an anomalous import obstructing and redefining Malaysian gender relations. New Wave filmmaker Aziz M. Osman's work Femina centres on Tina (played by Erma Fatima), a radical feminist who works for a women's magazine of the same name. By the end of the film, she is forced to modify her hostility towards men through her initially reluctant romance with a minibus company owner, Pyan, who, despite his sexist views, brings a young runaway girl to Tina to escape her pimp. Pyan is played by Eman Manan, who represents "authentic Malay masculinity." The response to the film by Malay film critic, Hamzah Hussin, is interesting . He argues that the film is not representative of Malaysian culture.1 Moreover , he believes that the script was probably based on a pre-existing Western script, as are most Malay television dramas and films. This remark precludes any discussion of the film's content, because feminism, being conceived as Western, has no real influence on local gender relations and therefore merits no serious analysis. I interviewed Pak Hamzah on his views about feminism two years later (8 July 1998).Although he seems to believe in gender equality and sympathizes with women, his understanding of feminism is somewhat 158 6 reductive, because the definitions he gives for the term - gender exclusivism and women wanting to be better than men - arguably pertain to a common misreading of radical feminism. The representations of Tina and her boss Anita Daley, played by Susan Lankester, support this reductive definition. A power struggle revolving around ideological differences and varying interpretations of feminism ensues between the two women, with Anita being the antagonist. However, Anita is an antagonist only because she is power hungry, manipulative, hypocritical, and does not do things the Malay way, which is to maintain a non-confrontational position in polite speech. Her words are provocative but not ultra-radical: she points out that husbands abandon their spouses and families, and this has nothing to do with Western influences. She also states that it is difficult for men like Pyan to accept that women can be fathers but there are very few men capable of being mothers. Pyan's wrongly conceived sense of Anita is that she is totally against men and heterosexual family values. (Viewersknow he is wrong because Tina catches Anita in bed with a man in a scene prior to this.) Pyan insinuates that Anita's feminist concepts cannot possibly shape a future generation. He asks if she wants to return them to the period of "Arab Jahilia"when children were buried alive, except that this time, boys would be the victims. His patriarchal hyperbole spawns passionate anger from male members of the audience for the film within the film, who stand up and cheer him on during their public debate. Despite his leap of logic in twisting Anita's arguments to conform with his biologically essentialist and conservative view, it is clear that Pyan (or Aziz M. Osman, the filmmaker and scriptwriter) does not stand alone in the act of demonizing feminism in Malaysian popular discourse. Pyan's intention is to suggest that Western feminism will upset gender relations in Malaysia and bring back the chaos and savagery of the pre-civilized past. But it is perhaps doubly ironic that the temporal results of contemporary women's emancipation , introduced via Western modernity (represented by the Eurasian actor, Susan Lankester), are conceived as similar to the conditions found in what Muslim feminists like Nawal El Saadawi and Fatima Mernissi would regard as a less patriarchal era, the pre-Islamic "Arab Jahilia." As for Tina, she loses her militant edge when she breaks the rule of nonassociation (kaitari) with men that she had set for members and employees of Femina via her involvement with Pyan. As the point of spectatorial identification for Malay viewers, Tina's character must ultimately be resocialized into heterosexual Malayness. In the climactic scene, she makes a speech during a televised public forum on women's rights in Malaysia. Taking an opposite stance from Anita, she announces rather paradoxically that women want civil rights (hak saksama), not equality (persamaari): "We don't...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780774853668
MARC Record
OCLC
180704563
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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