Thinking about how I would write this post, I envisioned starting with ‘I respectfully object, Your Honour’, with ‘Your Honour’ being the very honourable and knowledgeable people behind such messages. But when I finally started typing, I suddenly find myself at a loss as to how I should start this post, and I actually typed and deleted, typed and deleted a few times! Would this be a writer’s version of stage fright? Perhaps the enormity of the task is making me have cold
Whatever it is, I pray God help me remain calm so that I can put forward the reasons behind my objections with minimal sarcasm and a neutral tone, no matter how riled up or exasperated I feel about such messages. I am aware I can be very expressive when it comes to things I feel strongly about, which the mister has reminded me about several times. He thinks a highly sarcastic or aggressive tone, which I can be prone to, could turn readers off and prevent them from being receptive to what I am trying to convey. To be honest, his well-meaning but unsolicited advice irritates me as I believe it is perfectly reasonable for me – and every other woman – to be angry, but fine, this time round I shall approach it differently and (attempt to) control my emotions.
Alright, *takes deep breath*, here goes:
1. Isteri mesti berhias untuk suami… jangan berhias untuk keluar sahaja, tapi di rumah rambut tak bersikat, mulut busuk, pakai baju kelawar..
(Wives must doll themselves up for their husbands… don’t do it only when you’re going out, but at home your hair is uncombed, your mouth smelly, you wear that long flimsy dress with bat sleeves.)
Some people would not find this message objectionable. They would say, ‘No husband wants a messy and unkempt wife, an attractive wife would make a husband happy and loyal to her, so what is wrong with this piece of advice?’
Firstly, I believe each and every person has a desire to look good and presentable, in our own individual definition of looking good and presentable, because it makes us feel good and confident about ourselves. That desire may become more pronounced when we have significant people (parents, relatives, friends, romantic partners) around us whom we would like to please, impress or get approval from. However, the basic desire to look good and presentable exists regardless of the presence of significant others. Advising wives to doll themselves up for their husbands is redundant and patronising, because just like anyone else, they would already be making an effort to look good and presentable for themselves, without having to be reminded or needing anyone else to give them a purpose for doing so.
If wives needed husbands to give them a purpose to look good and presentable, what happens then should their husbands be away from home for long periods of time (working overseas, for example), or die? Wives stop caring about looking good and presentable because they no longer have a purpose (i.e., for their husbands’ pleasure) to do it? This is what I mean when I say such a message frames a wife’s worth in terms of her usefulness to her husband, and by extension a woman’s worth in terms of her usefulness to a man. She is akin to an object like a crystal vase, for example, to be kept in a polished state for its owner’s viewing pleasure, and when the owner is away or gone, it no longer needs to be so, because who is going to see it anyway? Such objectification of women is not only degrading, but also provides lame justification for extramarital affairs along the lines of ‘my wife is no longer attractive (and hence is no longer of value to me), that is why I turn to other women’.
Secondly, combing one’s hair and practising daily oral care is basic hygiene which applies to every person, be it woman, man, husband, wife or child. To remind wives about not leaving their hair uncombed and mouth smelly, is to imply that women either naturally do not do so
because they are not quite whole persons like men, or are like children who forget, and therefore need such reminders. Talk about patronising! A wife is an adult who is ready to take on additional roles and responsibilities beyond those that concern herself; basic hygiene is a no-brainer and she does not need to be reminded about it like she is a child.
Thirdly, if attractiveness were all it takes to keep husbands happy and loyal, then logically, no attractive wife would ever be cheated on or divorced. Obviously, conventionally attractive divorcees in the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Nora Danish and Rilla Melati illustrate that this is simply untrue. Marriage is a partnership between two adults who need to work together to make it work. There is so much more to making a marriage work than good sex. Even if one is to argue that sexual attraction and fulfilment is an important factor for a good marriage, let me say again that marriage is a partnership between two adults. Both adults have needs and wants, so as partners they should work to fulfil each others’ needs and wants. Why is it only wives who have to look good for their husbands? Aren’t wives also human beings who have sexual desires and are deserving of partners who take effort to look good for them too? Yet what we see is that the emphasis is always for women to look good for their husbands, and rarely the other way around.
Lastly, who is the speaker to define attractiveness for other women and their husbands? It is possible that some women feel more sensual or attractive in baju kelawar, or that their husbands find them to be so (imagine how easy an access it provides, haha). Each individual has his or her own preferences. To cite such an outfit as being unattractive is just exposing your own prejudices.
Don’t even get me started on analysing WHY some wives end up neglecting their physical appearance when they are at home. To keep it short, it boils down to disproportionate allocation of domestic responsibilities (which I will cover in the next objection, in the next post).
Anyway, detractors could always point out that all my objections above are mere nitpicking and are of no worth in the face of zero alternatives. Like, what better advice could there be for Muslim wives?
Here is one:
‘Dear wives (and husbands), as Muslims, we are taught that God loves cleanliness and beauty. If you start by loving and caring for yourself the way God loves you to be, only then would you be able to extend love and care to the loved ones around you.’
Or, how about this one:
‘Spouses should strive to please each other because they are partners who share all aspects of their lives, including the sexual / romantic. Take the effort to look good for your spouse, to keep her / him interested and the romance going.’
It just needs some deeper thinking.