The Sessions Court of Kuantan delivered its sentence on the road rage case involving Siti Fairrah Ashykin 'Kiki' Kamaruddin with admirable swiftness, earning praise from Malaysians and netizens (The Star, 22 July / Malay Mail, July 23). While I believe I am not alone in applauding Sessions Judge Zainal Abidin Kamarudin for imposing a high fine and community service order, I am dismayed by his choice of words when he reminded the accused to "behave like a lady".
This request, although well-intentioned, hints of subtle misogyny and gender policing. As a judge, His Honour should be aware that his words carry a lot of weight. The implication here is that it is acceptable for a man to lose his temper and react in an aggressive manner. The notion that women are inherently gentle, submissive and peace-loving and that aggression is a masculine trait is an affront to the dignity and intelligence of both men and women. Asking an accused in court to behave in a 'ladylike' manner is patronising, especially considering that it is highly doubted whether the court would ask a male accused to behave 'like a gentleman'. In a situation involving a male accused, the court would predictably instruct him to manage his anger, make better choices, or refrain from particular behaviours. The focus would be on the accused's behaviour and not his gender.
The language used by those in a position of power and influence must demonstrate the values of equality, fairness and integrity. An act that is wrong for a woman must necessarily be wrong for a man. The words used must focus on the individual's actions and choices, not gender, ethnicity or other irrelevant criteria. The judge in this case could have advised the accused to be "a responsible motorist" or "a good citizen" instead of "a lady". Kiki Kamaruddin's actions were wrong because criminal intimidation and property damage are criminal offences, not because it is "unseemly" or "unladylike". Her actions should draw the ire of Netizens because of her inordinate anger and aggression and lack of consideration and concern for other road-users, not because she is a woman, is a Malay-Muslim or because she wears a headscarf.
All of us, regardless of gender, ethnicity, faith and persuasion, need to learn to manage our emotions, resolve conflicts peacefully and live as mindful and responsible members of society. People should be courteous, helpful and rational not because it is appropriate for someone of his or her particular gender or ethnicity, but because society would not be able to function if everyone succumbed to their anger, emotions and impulses all the time. Men should not be held to a lower standard of courtesy and decency than women. Women must be acknowledged to be fully capable of anger but also fully capable of restraint and decorum. Language matters, because it is the way we explain the world to ourselves and others around us.
WONG EE LYNN
PETALING JAYA, SELANGOR