I grew up listening to my mother’s advice: “Jaga mulut. Kerana mulut, badan binasa.” * It’s an old Malay adage that tells us to be mindful of our words. When we say the wrong things, our body will suffer the consequences.
I could not understand fully what this means. I was naïve. I thought that I must be silent and obedient in order to protect my own interest. But I was terribly wrong. I have seen how this saying has been used to perpetuate wrongful doing. Like the story of Sofia.
Sofia is a 38-year-old women who is married with three children. She has been in an abusive relationship for more than 12 years. Her hot-headed husband would often get mad at her for the slightest things. When she argued with him, he would get physically violent. The troubles, the physical abuse, started five years ago. Today, she has learnt to keep quiet and obey the biddings of her husband. The beatings got less frequent. “Jaga mulut kau!” her husband would shout. Sofia would hear the same words uttered by her family members who were, with good intent, trying to help her. To avoid the beatings, she has learnt to, literally, shut up.
Surely, something is wrong?
Recently, I came across a podcast series. The hosts were passing sexual remarks on women whom they interviewed on their show. They would comment on women’s body parts and made jokes on them. Some people were saying that this is how men talk.
But I am a man. I have not heard my father talk in that manner. And I will not tolerate my son talking in such a manner either. Even among friends, I would be embarrassed to utter or hear such comments. (The podcasters received a massive rebuke from the public. They have since apologised.)
Could this be the other meaning of “Kerana mulut, badan binasa?” In other words, what the old Malay adage is trying to tell us, is to be mindful and utter only good words. Bad words will cause harm to our good selves. This new meaning dawned upon me and I now understood what my mother was trying to tell me all along!
I understand now that our words reflect what lies within our hearts and minds.
If I were to think of women as sexual objects, I will have no qualm about commenting on their body parts in demeaning ways. But what if I think of women respectfully, as individuals, the way I would see myself? I will certainly not make sexual remarks the way the podcasters did.
That is why I will not allow other men to pass the same sexual remarks on my mother, wife or daughter. In this case, I love and care for my mother, wife and daughter. They are not objects to me. I am mindful of my words to them.
This is what Sofia is facing. She is an object in her own house. Her role is to satisfy the biddings of her husband. And if she fails in her duty or she rebels, her husband “has the right to punish” her, including “the right” to beat her. To my fellow men, is this how you would want to treat your spouse or intimate partner? Remember, your answer is a reflection of your mind and heart.
As men, we often grow up being told that “men will be men”. In other words, passing sexual remarks on women’s body parts is normal. No, it is not normal. If it appears normal, it is because we have a prevalent culture of disrespect towards women. And this kind of culture allows people like Sofia to feel that they have no choice but to tolerate and live with the wrongs perpetuated by men.
As men, we have a duty to change that.
To Sofia, I hope you will read this and reach out for help.
* Literally, “Watch your mouth. Because of the mouth, the body will perish.”