Q & A: Discuss the presence of gender discrimination in Malaysian society with reference to two stories you have studied.
For Malaysian Form 6 students.
Q: Discuss the presence of gender discrimination in Malaysian society with reference to two stories you have studied.
Birthday by M Shanmuhalingam
Through the Wall by Pretam Kaur
Gender discrimination has been a common topic of discussion throughout the ages in literature. Birthday by M Shanmuhalingam and Through the Wall by Pretam Kaur give us a vivid portrayal of gender discrimination in Malaysian society, where people are exposed to such discrimination from the day they are born.
In Birthday by M Shanmuhalingam, we see that gender discrimination is more prevalent in the older generation. This is shown through the parallel between Arumugam and Ganam. Arumugam is Ganam’s father-in-law and represents the older generation while Ganam represents a younger, more open-minded generation. While in the hospital, Arumugam insists that the baby must be a boy, and even goes on to predict that the baby will be a doctor or an engineer. Ganam however does not bother to speculate and worries about Santha because she has been feeling weak, and does not mind as long as Santha is all right and the baby is healthy. When the initial verdict arrives that the child is a boy, Arumugam and the others busy themselves with observing the child and predicting the child’s future as a specialist, completely ignoring Santha’s wellbeing. Ganam on the other hand is more relieved to hear that his wife and the baby are all right, as that is his primary concern, and not the child’s gender. The discrimination becomes even more obvious at the end, where the hyped discussion of the baby stops abruptly when it is revealed that the child is actually a girl. This shows that to Arumugam and the others, there is only reason for discussion or celebration if the child is a boy. We are unable to see Ganam’s reaction, but it is made clear throughout the story that he does not see anything wrong with having a baby girl, which is what Santha wanted, and he respects that wish.
Next, we look at Through the Wall by Pretam Kaur, where gender discrimination is shown to limit the freedom of expression of women. The Chinese mother is never seen to be able to express her thoughts to the men in the family, due to the concept that women should be only be seen and not be heard. When the Chinese grandfather and father argue over the birth of the baby girl, the mother remains silent. However, when she is alone she cries with the baby in her arms, evidently proving that she cannot bear to sell her baby, disagreeing with the men’s decision. This is shown again when the Chinese grandfather shouts at her for crying when the baby is taken away. She is not even allowed to feel sad over the loss of her child, whereas the grandfather can vent his frustration over things as and when he likes. As observed by the Punjabi girl, he often grumbles when he comes home, and only the Chinese father talks or shouts with him. The Chinese mother remains silent on all occasions.
Furthermore, gender discrimination causes women to be undervalued for what they are worth and may be seen as objects rather than humans. This phenomenon leads to baby selling in Through the Wall by Pretam Kaur. The Chinese family in the story is not a well-off one, and they sell their baby girl for $90 to a Malay family. In contrast, the Punjabi family does not sell their newborn calf even though they are just as poor, and the Punjab father even says that no one would pay him $90 for the calf. For a baby girl to be valued less than a calf and sold off only goes to show that in certain communities, in this case the Chinese and the Malays, women are objectified and can have a price tag in them, to be bought and sold. The baby girl becomes a victim of gender discrimination in her own family.
In addition to this, there are trace elements of objectifying women in Birthday by M Shanmuhalingam as well. Arumugam and the other people in the hospital see Santha as the person who will give birth to a boy, and they do not think about her health while conceiving, not even asking Ganam about her. When they do mention Santha, it is to accentuate their ideas that the assumed baby boy will be better and brighter than her because it is her child. Apart from that, Santha is also seen as a burden to her parents because of the dowry required to marry her off. They solve this problem by marrying her off to Ganam simply because he is a clerk and does not ask for much dowry. Earlier in the story, Ganam’s boss also sees daughters as caretakers of parents when they grow old, which is quite true, but should not be seen as their primary duty.
In conclusion, gender discrimination has had a great impact on the role of women in society. It has put barriers on their speech and their function in society. However, things are changing for the better and gender discrimination is not as serious as it was just after our independence. Nowadays, people treat women more equally, but gender bias still lurks in the background. Hopefully, our society will move towards treating men and women equally in all fields in the near future.