Policing boys for masculinity in Malaysia

// 19 April 2011

(Trigger warning for child abuse, transphobia, homophobia, enforced gender performance.)

Via @huiminmagdala, here is an utterly horrifying article from Malaysia’s New Straits Times, about a camp in the state of Terengganu for boys who, according to their schools, “have displayed feminine qualities”.

[Education Department director Razali Daud] said the remedial effort was prompted by the rising number of effeminate schoolboys in the state.

“The severity of the symptoms vary, but the 66 schoolboys were showing behaviours that is not usually displayed by a normal male of their age.”

Razali said the link between effeminate behaviour among male students and transsexuality should be a matter of concern that should not be ignored. […]

The students will be attending physical education and religious classes conducted by motivational speakers.

“The students must understand that there are choices in life and we want them to know all the options available to them.

“We understand that some people end up as mak nyah (transvestite) or a homosexual, but we will do our best to limit the number.”

Not only schools have been mobilised to monitor their students for behaviour that is deemed insufficiently masculine – Razali also urged parents to “observe the slightest effeminate tendency in their male children from an early age”.

The entire exercise is an all-singing, all-dancing congregation of so many forms of wrongheadedness. Did the people who made this policy sit down and earnestly ask themselves: just how many forms of fail can we smoosh together?

First off, the idea of seeking to “limit the number” of young people who don’t fit the one true (heterosexual, cissexual) model of acceptable development is grotesque enough on its own. As is the gender essentialism of dividing the whole wide universe of human behaviour and individual expression into “masculine” and “feminine”. (The New Straits Times itself gets in on the act, uncritically describing these kids as “effeminate”, throwing “sissies” into the headline to boot.)

But there’s no point just having two bad ideas, sitting around being bad on their own, right? Better to prettily weave all this nonsense together. So failure to conform to arbitrary notions of “masculine behaviour” can be read as some kind of risk factor for having the “wrong” gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

And then to wrap it all up nicely, a state institution drafts schools and parents in to police these schoolboys for the “slightest” deviation from compulsory masculinity standards “from an early age”. So the two authorities with whom the boys spend most their time will be continually assessing their every move for manliness. That’s going to make for a great educational environment and a wonderful family life.

Razali also comments that this programme is not “intervening with the process of nature”, presumably by way of defence although this is not very clear. It’s difficult to see why this matters one way or another, but you know, it doesn’t say very much for the notion of what you consider “natural” that you have to force a bunch of schoolboys to listen to lectures or run around in their PE kit before they’ll conform to it. If they even will.

[Edited to add: Malaysia’s Joint Action Group for Gender Equality have released a statement: see here. (Hat tip @huiminmagdala again)]

[Further update: Malaysia’s The Star reports that the Women, Family and Community Development Minister has criticised the camp. Razali Daud has responded to this and the JAG criticism with more extremely dubious and offensive remarks about “effeminacy”.]

Comments From You

Alicia // Posted 20 April 2011 at 9:21 pm

This is truly shocking. Malaysia has always had moral “rehabilitation” centres but none have been this extreme in addressing ‘non-masculine’ boys. I really wonder where this aggressive reaction is coming from. I know for a fact that Malaysia has never really been a trans or gay and lesbian-friendly country (or women-friendly to boot), but policing non-normative/non-hegemonic masculine boys is new territory.

JP // Posted 23 April 2011 at 9:19 am

Ok, so this is obviously utterly vile. But it’s also screamingly stupid. Why would anyone CHOOSE to be queer, or to display behaviour or character traits commonly associated with queerness, when it leads to so much difficulty in life? All they will succeed in doing is creating distress. Poor kids :(

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