Being Woman, This Day and Age: An Optimistic View

Note: This is a post I originally wrote on International Women’s Day 2016 in March, updated and modified for submission as part of my application to an upcoming writing workshop. 

It’s International Women’s Day. Here’s to all the amazing and inspiring women in my life. And of course, to the wonderful men who have supported and enabled the success and liberation of women over the years. I am privileged to have them in my family and circle of friends. From my dad and brother, to the male bosses who hold doors and dates who share ideas and appreciate my intelligence while offering to carry heavy grocery bags for me, and close platonic male friends who are almost like brothers to me.

As a woman in this day and age and this part of the world, I have much to be thankful for. We have so much liberty. The liberty to run after our dreams. To succeed, and to define our own success. To vote and to speak up. To command a boardroom while going ga-ga over the latest kitchen gadgets and recipes. To run marathons, climb mountains, drive fast cars, paint our nails and lips bright red.

To own properties and stride our stuff on red carpets. To have polite men serve us coffee in VIP lounges. To be different from men and still be regarded with equal respect.

To wield influence in our own spheres, and still acknowledge the leadership and strengths of the worthy men in our lives, knowing that it will only bring out the best in them.

Oh what an exciting time to be a woman! As long as we support one another and are not held back by our own fears, or the words and judgement of the less progressive, both men and women.

I write all this as a woman who have led a reasonably comfortable middle-class life, in a reasonably privileged and peaceful part of a developing South East Asian country, where gender inequalities exist as tolerable undercurrents rather than blatant injustice. And perhaps, most of all, I write all this as a hopeless optimist who can’t help but see the glass as half full. Or maybe I am just too stubborn and carefree to be bothered by ridiculous policing attempts, or perhaps I have been sheltered from them.

Whatever the reasons may be for my optimism and upbeat attitude with regards to my place as a woman, complacency is certainly not one of them.

I now want to explore the other side of the coin – take a closer peek at the lives of people who may not have been as sheltered or privileged, and to walk in their shoes to find out what it really feels like to be discriminated against purely based on their gender.

To find out for myself – what the oft-mentioned systematic oppression of Malaysian women is all about, and finally, hopefully, to have empowering and uplifting conversations about what every individual woman can do to change her own life for the better.




My Little Sis and I

My sister is ten years younger than me. And I do not know what’s with the family and community that apple-to-apple comparison seems to be the automatic response the moment they are faced with sisters. Especially in my case where our age gap is so big.

It’s silly and destructive. We may have been borne of the same parents, but we are unique individuals in our own right.

Being the eldest, it is quite natural for me to have some active pursuits growing up — and poor little sis sometimes found herself having the same expectations placed on her. (Not by our parents, thankfully, they know better than that). But by nosy people around us, people who shoot off comments from their mouths the way old dogs suffering from incontinence fart ever so freely.

Little sis has been growing up and I am proud of her and see completely no reason for her to be like me.

We look different. I inherit strong features from dad’s side of family who have some Thai heritage. She inherits mom’s delicate features and resembles my brother more. At brother’s wedding, my sister was mistaken for the bride’s sister! Apparently little sis’s fair skin and sweet features make her look more Korean than Malaysian. (Our sister in law is Korean).

We both enjoy writing but my sister’s style is completely different from mine. I will never be able to emulate her catchy titles that use contrasting words so cleverly, not to mention her refreshingly candid voice. Even our cooking styles are different. When little sis began experimenting at the stove I was amazed how she made fried vegetables look almost like a complete meal with gravy from the juices and generous chunks of deftly cut carrots, pumpkin, capsicums and what have you.

And while I get lost easily, she has a superb sense of direction.

So there, the contrast that is us–the reason why no two sisters (or any two individuals, for that matter) should be compared. If anything, the ten-year gap simply means I serve as an example for her — good practices to emulate and mistakes to avoid.

While, of course, growing and spreading her own wings, making a difference in ways that only she could.


Stellar doesn’t have to speak
Nor say “Hey look at me”
Stellar can be meek
As only the strong can be.

Stellar seeks not an audience
She doesn’t have to
Stellar stays in her radius
Gracious in all her ways
Runs her race on her path even if desolate
She doesn’t crave but she emanates.

Stellar is a paradox
Quiet yet unequivocal
Unassuming yet august
Carefree yet assertive
She hears no chatter yet listens when you speak
She acts silly and remains courtly.

Stellar is sexy.

Beauty, a Curse!

Once upon a time, a girl was born
And as she grew, it became clear
That she would look quite fine.

Friends and family flatter and fawn
“Ooh” and “aah” over large eyes
And brows that they say
Won’t need penciling, ever
And my, double eyelids!
“The envy of your fellow Chinese”
Then her limbs grew longer, and it became
“Oh you could be a model someday
And have many admirers.”

The girl grew up
But guess what she found
Life isn’t easy, and
“Beauties” aren’t spared misery
And how hollow are mere looks
If beneath the veneer
The mind, will, and spirit stay in infancy!
And how empty the heart
If mere appearance
Were to be the ticket
To happiness, love, acceptance
And behind the scenes
Models work like dogs, fight like cats
And get admired–but as mere objects.

Oh what lies!
Albeit unintentionally told
Beauty, talent, intelligence, pedigree, wealth–
All strokes of luck with no proof of pluck
Tell me I am worthy because of that
And you stroke my ego while raising suspicion of my uselessness.

Turn back the clock
Give me a mountain
And praise my determination
Challenge me to altitudes
And praise me for my fortitude
Tell me I can have it all
If only I would work hard
And get up when I fall
Tell me I would walk tall
Only if I survive the lowest ebbs.

Turn back the clock
And never again harp on the skin deep.

I would rather you spin a story
Of courage, strength, kindness
And other womanly virtues I can work on… and be proud that I finally stand out on a level playing field.

Empty surface beauty is a curse.