Yesterday (30 March), Malaysia’s Women, Family and Community Development Ministry shared a few pieces of advice onto their official Instagram account, telling women to wear makeup while they work from home and other suggestions that had angered the Malaysian community.
The string of advice was targeted towards wives and mothers who had to work from home during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period. Since families are being confined in the same space for a prolonged period of time, arguments and disagreements are inevitable between couples.
The post was titled “Building a Happy Family Together”, and it had the intention to teach women how to cut down on arguments with their spouses. This post contains three images that suggest three ways for women to follow to create joyful moments in the household. A hashtag #WanitaCegahCOVID19 was used, and it meant “Women combatting COVID-19”, implying ways women can help improve the situation at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministry’s first advice about “informing” the spouses on their duties if the spouses failed to carry out house chores at home. Wives were also told that if they do not “inform” the spouses on things to do, the spouses may not know about the duties they’re supposed to handle.
“If you notice that your spouse isn’t helping you with the chores at home, avoid slandering them. Ask for help and let them know about it (chores). Sometimes our spouses needed to be “informed” on their duties only they would know what to do,” wrote the Malaysian Ministry.
The second advice from the Ministry was about the way women should speak to their spouses. In the image, women are suggested to be “humourous” with their spouses when their spouses do not do something according to their expectations. The Ministry told women to mimic the voice of the cartoon character Doraemon and to be cute around the spouse.
“If your spouse is not doing something according to your needs, avoid blabbering. Instead, you can use ‘humourous’ phrasings like ‘this is the way you should hang the clothes, my dear’. Try to mimic Doraemon’s tone and giggle coyly!”
The third uploaded image was a piece of advice to cut down on fights and disagreements between spouses. According to the Ministry, if a problem arises between the couple, he or she is encouraged to count from “1 to 20” before giving any responses.
“If there is an issue hurting your feelings, count from 1 to 20 before giving any responses. Within the period of 20 seconds, your brain will be more rational and calm to take further actions,” the Ministry advised.
This was not the end, as the Ministry had another set of advice specifically targeting mothers, asking them to avoid wearing “house clothes” and to groom as usual. Mothers were also being suggested to dress nicely and put on makeup as they work from home.
“Avoid wearing house clothes. Groom yourselves like usual, wear makeup and dress neatly,” wrote the Ministry.
Other than that, mothers who work from home were also told to set up their temporary workstation. The Ministry suggested that working at the dining table, kitchen or living room will be able to “set their minds”.
In response to these “suggestions”, the people were upset about it as these pieces of advice were deemed sexist as they were only targeting women.
Carmen Beaty questioned why the advice given by the Ministry was targeted at women and not men. Malaysian men were not suggested to suit up at home as well as to speak like a gentleman.
Ain Izzati expressed that these suggestions were sexist as the responsibilities in a household belong to both her and her husband. She had also stressed that she is married to a man and not a boy, implying that men who require their wives to “inform” them on doing house chores are immature.
Yazri Yatim commented that he expected his wife to be his equal partner who does not talk to him like a child with a “Doraemon voice”. He emphasised that he has daughters whom he wants to raise to be strong and independent and the message conveyed by the Ministry was contradicting.
Questioning the ability and capability of the Ministry, Ivy Yap Khai Leng expressed that it is unfair that women are expected to act and speak within a masculine-oriented framework. Ms Yap was also concerned that the Ministry chose to focus on how a woman should behave, instead of handling and taking care of the vulnerable people in society.
A few people raised concerns about how the Ministry failed to address the increased abuse cases during the MCO period.
Minmin Chez expressed that a lot of women and children are forced to stay with their abusive husbands and fathers during MCO and they are experiencing troubles to report them. She requested the ministry to focus on handling these abuse cases especially during this period of time.
Ivy Tong thought it was ironic when a Ministry that was set up to empower women is now doing the exact opposite.
Helena Ooi said that the suggestions given by the Ministry were sexist. Mr Ooi had also touched on the abuse cases, hoping the Ministry could help the women and children who are abused in their own homes.