When Malaysian men think it's funny to set women on fire

JANUARY 18 — The longer I use Twitter, the more I think some people shouldn't be allowed to Tweet. My latest encounter with Twitter clueless got me rather angry even though the Tweet was supposed to be a joke.

Sorry, dude. You're not funny. There was no way I would laugh at this:

"Pagi tadi aku try bakar rambut sorang makwe ni kt stesen ktm. Muka dia takut gila. Terus aku kabor baru api lighter belum api neraka." (This morning I tried to set this woman's hair alight at the KTM station. She looked so frightened. Then I told her this was just lighter fire, not yet the fires of hell."

This was on, of all things, a curated account that usually Tweeted sappy love quotes or dubious relationship advice.

The person (who I will not name because he's not worth mentioning) claimed it was satire and just meant to get a reaction.

If your satire is too dense, you do not understand what satire is. And you're really not funny.

Besides the problematic subject matter, what bothered me most were the people taking him seriously and cheering him on. One man even promoted the sad Tweet thus: "ini cara dakwah yang baru, aku suka. kipidap bro" (this is a new way of proselytising, I like (it), keep it up bro.) He wasn't even joking.

Of course there were the usual people saying it was just a joke, that people were just stupid for not seeing that it was a joke.

Setting fire to a woman in public is not something to joke about. Especially when it is something that happens in real life.

The worst bit about the Tweet was was the bit where the Tweeter revelled in the woman being "takut gila" (really frightened).

In no universe is it funny for a man to joke about setting a woman on fire. — Twitter screenshot
In no universe is it funny for a man to joke about setting a woman on fire. — Twitter screenshot

It's that age-old thing. Men making women afraid. From time immemorial, the threat of violence from a man to a woman. When women make threats of bodily harm towards either another woman or a man, there is not the same fear as a woman feels when a man threatens her.

Because when a man threatens a woman, there's a strong likelihood she might well die.

Just last month my male neighbour threatened me just because I told him off for his guest parking right in front of my house, blocking the gate. A burly man threatening me because I was a woman alone at the gate. If I was a bigger, burlier man, he probably wouldn't have tried.

Men can brush off threats from women without fearing for their lives (in most cases). Women don't have that luxury.

If a man says he'll pour acid on a woman, a woman has every reason to believe he just might.

If a man says he'll kill a woman, she has every right not to think he's just joking.

This policing of women's bodies isn't just prevalent in Malay/Muslim communities. We had some jokers threatening to spraypaint women who were dressed immodestly at the annual Thaipusam gathering at Batu Caves.

What makes men think they have the right to tell women, even women they are not related to or who they do not know personally, what to wear and how to conduct themselves?

Because we let them.

Look at the women pressured to cover their heads and bodies, by various religions (Muslims do not have the monopoly on forcing dress codes onto women). Yet men do not face the same pressure, the meddling of strangers.

No woman is going to go up to a man and tell him to stop wearing bicycle shorts in public because they are too revealing.

My advice to people who are actual decent human beings: if you see people joke about causing harm in a crass, irresponsible manner, tell them just where to shove sick jokes.

There is a big difference between jokingly saying you'll murder someone for eating the last slice of pie and saying, hey, I set a woman on fire in the name of God.

If you don't know the difference between being funny and encouraging violence towards women, do the world a favour. Delete yourself from Twitter. Because somewhere, someone is probably wondering if it would really be possible to set a woman on fire and get away with it because someone thought it was funny.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.