Like most of the world, Malaysia is now under lockdown, a period that is set to last until April 14.
During this time of heightened apprehension against the coronavirus pandemic, tensions may run high in families as people confront economic uncertainties and anxieties.
The government’s solution to keeping peace in the home? Asking women to be subservient to their husbands and avoid displeasing them.
At least that’s what a public service announcement by the Women and Family Ministry advised last week, with a series of infographics that reeked of toxic gender expectations.
The infographics played into the stereotype of a docile housewife whose sole function is to make life easier for her husband. They have since been taken down from Facebook, where they were first published.
According to the Ministry, women should avoid nagging at their husbands and, instead, mimic the voice of Doraemon with a giggle to lighten the mood.
Doraemon is the titular character of Japanese anime series Doraemon. In both the original and Malay-dubbed versions of the series, Doraemon has a raspy voice and speaks in exaggerated tones — not exactly the most realistic manner of speech. Doraemon is, after all, a robotic cat from the 22nd century who travels back in time and whips out futuristic gadgets from his four-dimensional pouch.
The Malaysian government thought it would be a good idea for women to mimic the raspy voice and exaggerated tones of the beloved anime character, and netizens are now taking to the internet to poke fun at the blatantly problematic recommendation. The results are hilarious.
Local actress Chelsia Ng modified the lyrics to the original Doraemon theme song to mock the Ministry’s advice and demonstrate just how creepy it would be if people actually spoke like Doraemon.
In this video, a netizen photoshopped the head of the Ministry Rina Harun — aptly sporting a light blue headscarf — onto the robotic cat’s famous time machine, the Doraemon theme song blaring as she bounces through the space-time continuum
This artist created a caricature of the minister as Doraemon.
Men also spoke up against the stereotypical gender expectations that the Ministry prescribed. “Women don't need to put on cartoon voices in their own homes to be heard. And men shouldn't accept this kind of narrative,” local comedian Harith Iskander wrote on Facebook while sharing a satirical video of him portraying a house husband speaking in a Doraemon voice.
But using a cute voice was not the Ministry’s only advice. It also noted that if husbands say something offensive, wives should count to 20 before reacting, and that women who work from home should still dress up and put on makeup.
On Tuesday, March 31, the Ministry apologised for the posters on social media.
In the statement, it said that it was "sorry if several of the shared tips were unsuitable or touched on the sensitivities of certain parties.”
But some netizens pointed out that the official apology failed to address the real problem of the misguided advice.
“What do you mean by touching the sensitivity of certain groups?” commented one netizen, “Your statement and tips are NOT appropriate to ANY women!”
“It’s a fauxpology. They’re basically saying ‘sorry you’re offended but I’m not really sure why you’re offended’,” quipped another.
We get it, living with the coronavirus can be stressful for everyone. But women shouldn’t bear the full responsibility of pacifying the household. Doraemon jokes aside, normalising backward gender roles isn’t okay.
Find Koh Ewe on Instagram.