Vilifying women vapers

OCTOBER 23 ― Why do women who smoke or vape get called sluts, while the only criticism that men receive (if anything) is that they’re harming their health?

And it’s not just men who are throwing such vicious insults around. Women too join in the sexist censure of other women. Women really are sometimes their own worst enemies.

The misogynistic attacks against women joining the vaping trend in Malaysia are equally virulent regardless of whether their targets are ordinary young women just trying to make a living by selling electronic cigarettes, or someone as prominent as the deputy prime minister’s daughter Datuk Nurul Hidayah Ahmad Zahid.

The sexism against women vapers or smokers isn’t a Malaysian phenomenon. In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, women who smoke shisha are perceived as immodest, immoral and less feminine. BBC reported last July that the phrase “What do you think of women who smoke Shisha?” had trended on Twitter in Egypt.

What is it about the image of a woman sticking a cigarette in between her lips, and blowing smoke or vapour, that rankles so much?

Is it because smoking is associated with masculinity? Or because the women featured in popular films smoking cigarettes are portrayed with power, with a certain rebellion and cool insolence?

The image of women smoking appears to go against the traditional values of femininity, of demureness and soft-spokenness, or lemah lembut, as it’s called in Malay ― essentially, the kind of woman who beats around the bush and avoids being blunt for fear of offending people. The kind of woman who looks down and doesn’t blow smoke in your face. The kind of woman who is sweet (manis), gentle and doesn’t use swear words like “shit” (najis).

When a woman cusses at an idiot who calls her sampah (trash) for vaping, the internet calls it a “shocking” response.

Women who police other women’s behaviour and call them sluts for vaping should be ashamed for participating in a patriarchal system that punishes women who violate so-called female propriety. These are the women who let men get away with thinking that a woman’s duty is to cook for him, clean for him and give him blowjobs on request and not stick anything else in her mouth, including a cigarette.

A man is free, on the other hand, to have many mistresses or wives (if he’s a Muslim). He’s free to smoke or vape. No big deal. He won’t receive anything more severe than a gentle reminder that perhaps vaping is just as bad as smoking, but certainly no admonishments that attack his masculinity.

Men who tell women that it’s better to stay in the kitchen than to vape should get rid of their insecurities. They need to get used to the fact that there are some women who like vaping and who don’t mind swearing at annoying people.

Being “ladylike” never got women anywhere.

If women back then needed to be “ladylike” to hook a man so as to obtain financial stability, it’s not necessary now with opportunities for women to climb the career ladder. In any case, offering beauty in exchange for wealth is not wise since the former is a depreciating asset that will run its course one day.

Women don’t have to be sweet or gentle. They’re free to do whatever they please and shouldn’t be called sluts just for doing the same things that men do.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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