“Go back to the kitchen!” said a man jokingly to us as we were filling the car tires with air.

Few years ago, my sister and I had this incident at a gas station when we were struggling to set the right pressure at the air dispenser. A man came up to us and was nice enough to offer us some help and we were grateful for it. As he was helping us, I thought to myself, “the world needs more kind people like him,” but that thought immediately turned sour when he had the nerve to say “Go back to the kitchen!” to our faces. Not only that, this “joke” was accompanied by his laughter before he left to get his car. Out of politeness, my sister and I responded with a simple smile although we were actually infuriated by his insensitive remark.

But we decided to let it go, because it was not worth our time and energy to be infuriated by a guy who might not had been in his right mind or, was just a complete ignorant. We discussed about it in the car but for most part, our speechlessness was all that kept us from saying the wrong things that may had made matters worst. I even wondered if we were being too sensitive but I believe a respectable man will not say anything offensive, especially to a stranger.

His words did not scar us for life, but it remained as a lesson to me: How could a kind person who stopped to help us say something as sexist as that? Is that why he helped us, because he’s a sexist who didn’t think we were fit for this “manly” task?

It’s not the fact that someone who works in a kitchen is perceived as degrading but it’s the way that the man said it to us and the meaning behind it. I don’t understand where this ‘women belong in the kitchen’ thing started. Of course, our culture has injected us with the idea that wives are supposed to feed the husbands and not the other way round. Especially in the Asian culture, it is embarrassing for a girl to not know her way around domestic duties, cooking and cleaning in particular. There are other cultures out there that demand women to only stay at home and take care of the family, and this is often misunderstood with our religion. Instead of perceiving this ideology in a positive connotation, it could be misused by men who use this remark to get back at women for the sake of their egos. When in reality, taking care of the family is a compromise between the two.

On the other hand, I was filled with the ideas of feminism depicted by the western media that are equated, by some, to women empowerment. Sometimes, it is to an extent where men are excluded altogether and in the end, it doesn’t really create a positive impact but a more complicated one, as if we are living in a world of gender binary- men vs. women. At the same time, in the same society that promotes feminism, I’ve also observed how boys catcall girls as if their catcall will magically turn them into somebody special. We’re so complicated, we neglect the basic problems.

I am confused, but at the same time, curious.

(And with utmost respect, lower your gaze, bro)

Coming from a nation that emphasizes education and how work salary is not based on one’s gender but qualification, I didn’t take this matter seriously as I’ve lived a comfortable life as a female. But this happy bubble of mine burst when I was exposed to this ideology whilst living abroad where Islam is often misunderstood. People have their own perception of Islam and our way of life, or rather, gender ideologies. They think that women are silenced in Islam, and that we are inferior to men in a degrading way. We are well aware that a society that violates women’s rights, first of all violates basic human rights. Such a society is typically associated with poverty and lack of education. 

Of course, sexism at home still exists and is always done with subtlety through words and that’s why I wasn’t aware so much about it until somebody shoved it in my face.

But, I am not here to talk about feminism.   

 

Syaza is a freelance writer whose life revolves around coffee, cats and heartwarming stories.