Trigger warning: This article discusses issues of domestic violence and abuse. Reader discretion is advised.
Hooo boy. Let’s unpack this.
On 15 November, the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) went live on their Facebook page to present the findings of their first-ever nationally representative study on Malaysian public attitudes and perceptions towards violence against women.
The study takes a look at the underlying contributing factors of violence against women that is measured through the general understanding of Malaysians regarding the matter, including domestic violence, child marriage, rape, and other issues.
Let me tell you now, the results are not pretty.
Show Me The Numbers
With a sample size of 1,000 Malaysian respondents, the study showed that 46.3 percent of Malaysians support gender equality while 52.7 percent are opposed to violence-endorsing attitudes.
The study also found that 53.5 percent believed that domestic violence is a ‘normal reaction’ in moments of stress or frustration, with 43 percent believing that women are the cause of said anger in men that they have no choice but to hit them, even when they don’t mean it.
About 30 percent believed that flirtatious women are to blame for causing their partners to hit them out of jealousy, with 26.5 percent believing that domestic violence can be forgiven if it was caused by blind rage and loss of control.
Now when it comes to the question of understanding the circumstances of abuse, 37.1 percent believed that leaving an abusive relationship isn’t all that difficult, with 44.9 percent believing that women who stay in abusive relationships are responsible for the ongoing abuse.
In a (somewhat positive?) finding, 83.4 percent of the respondents believed that rape happens when men can’t control their desires.
51.3 percent also felt that sexual crimes such as these happen because of how a woman dresses.
Are Women Really to Blame?
As someone who has been a victim of abuse, seeing these numbers hurts.
Now, I know that it’s a sample of 1,000 Malaysians and it doesn’t speak for everyone. But that doesn’t make it any less impactful knowing that out of these 1,000, a vast majority feel this way about domestic abuse.
My experience with an ex (yes, I got out) for the most part was non-physical, save for the times he would shatter glasses or break doors and said glass shards or splinters would cut me as ‘collateral damage’.
It was years of being told I was a loose woman who needed attention from other men because of what I wore, regardless of what I wore, controlled with what I could do, where I could go, and who I could see.
Me, being young and impressionable, thought, “Oh, maybe if I changed, he wouldn’t have resorted to doing these things or being angry and sad“. You might think, “Why didn’t you just leave him?“.
It’s not that simple.
Let’s play it out: Picture your significant other, the person who has said they love you and care about you. Think of all the great things they’ve done and all the memories you’ve had together. Now imagine that person gradually saying you can’t do a certain thing, or that you’ve been acting a certain way and it makes them sad and angry, while still being that loving person who cares for you and your wellbeing.
Would you think it was abuse or cause to leave in that frame of mind?
For the longest time, I was made to believe that it was my fault when it really wasn’t. Now, seeing that people do believe that women are at fault in cases of domestic violence is disappointing and disheartening.
It feels like the experiences that I went through and a lot of other women out there who have had similar, if not worse experiences, are invalid and void.
An Eye For An Eye
Now all this has got me thinking: what would the response be should women start acting like men in these situations?
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m very much against abuse and violence, and believe it should never even be an option, not even as a last resort.
But let’s say hypothetically if a man were to enrage a woman so much that she lashed out and hit him, would the attitudes still be as forgiving towards women as they have been towards men?
This is not to discount the fact that there are men who face domestic violence. Yes, men get abused and raped too, let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen. But let’s not sidetrack from the issue at hand, shall we? If you’d like to know more about how men face this issue, we’ve written an article about that too.
Would we still be saying things like, “Men shouldn’t make women angry” or “It’s the men’s fault for wearing such things to make them attractive, they made their partner jealous on purpose”?
To add to that point, why do we blame the victim when it comes to crimes of this nature when we don’t do it for other crimes?
Raise Men, Not Abusers
If you’ve made it this far, here’s a little food for thought:
Maybe we shouldn’t always blame women for ‘misbehaving’ and perhaps teach men to respect women as, I don’t know, fellow human beings?
Why should all the blame fall on one party and completely absolve the offending party who actually commit these crimes?
I mean, it’s 2021 people. How long are we going to keep disregarding the rights and lives of women as lesser beings?
If you’re a parent, teacher, or just in general, an adult able to impart knowledge on the younger generation, teach boys basic respect for other humans. Help them recognise that women are just as human as they are, who deserve to live good lives as they do.
If you’re a man, speak up and stand up for the women in your life against any instances of such behaviours. Be an ally on the right side of history.
If you or anyone you know (regardless of gender) is in a difficult situation and is in need of help, know that you’re not alone. Help is just a call, text, or e-mail away:
+603 3000 8858
Text TINA on WhatsApp/SMS to +6018 988 8058
+6016 237 4221
+6016 228 4221
TalianKasih at 15999 or WhatsApp +6019 261 5999
And if you’re one of those who choose to remain neutral and passive about these situations, then, in my humble opinion, you’re part of the problem too: