Why do we have stereotypes? Well, it's always easier to address people as a group than as individuals. It also elevates the element of surprise as you can already expect a certain group of people to behave in a certain way. Malaysia, being a multicultural country, is full of stereotypes. Malays are lazy. Chinese are cocky. Indians are untrustworthy. Penangites are the worst drivers. Negeri sembilan women queen-control their husbands. Kelantanese men practice polygamy. These are a few of the usual stereotypes we always hear.
Me, being a malay minah tudung, have faced all the stereotypes associated with it by people who barely know me. The common ones being:
1. I must be a brainless innocent kampung chick that can be easily bullied.
2. I don't speak a word of english.
3. I'm a civil servant who live to serve the government until I retire and get my pension.
4. My idea of good holiday is buying a dozen batik cloths in kelantan to make baju kurung for me to wear to work everyday.
5. I'm scared by the idea of entering designer boutiques. All I dare is to peek into them from those fancy guarded doors wondering who's shopping inside.
Those who know me well will be able to tell in a blink of an eye how the above statements are waaaaay far from the truth.
There was one incident years ago during my uni time that I still remember to date. I was in a friend's car on our way from cyberjaya to melaka. Suddenly my mobile rang, it was my dad. I talked to him for a few minutes and hung up. The following conversation entails:
Boy: Eh, ko cakap omputih dengan ayah ko?
Me: Ha'ah, kenapa?
Boy: Takdelah, macam pelik.
Me: Apesal pulak?
Boy: Ye lah, biasanya orang yang cakap omputih dengan parents ni mesti yang jenis seksi, rambut blonde.. Bukannya minah tudung macam ko.
That is just one example. There have been many more incidents in situations you can't even possibly imagine. Once a girl from my hostel in uni wanted to teach me how to operate astro decoder, probably thinking this minah tudung had never seen such thing in her little kampung. Many times when I queue up for a service the person behind the counter would converse to everyone else in english but when my turn came he/she would conveniently switch to malay. Lately i had been showing my protest by answering back in english and I could assure you that my english was way better than theirs at any given time. So much so that every time after I finish my first sentence their attitude would magically transform from demeaning to respect.
I have decided a long time ago that i'll live my life the way I want to. If I need to defy certain stereotypes to make my life fuller, so be it. I will defy my culture anytime, after all it's just a practice, not a law. Still, I will do my best to live within the boundaries of my religion for I know Islam never stops us from learning and exploring new things in life, except for those prohibited acts (e.g. drinking, drugs, pre-marital sex). The laws are as such with valid reasons, to save mankind from destroying ourselves. I'm sure I'm not missing anything by not experiencing those.
I wish to introduce you to another minah tudung who has successfully defied stereotypes. Her name is Nur Syahiirah, a 16 year old student in pekan, pahang. She just released her first novel, written entirely in english. I read about her in NST on 24/6/2009. Poor girl couldn't get book stores to distribute her novel as they did not believe a malay girl could write in english (how's that for a stereotype!). She and her father had to do the selling themselves. Once I read the article I immediately ordered a copy to show my support. It's not everyday you hear of malay girl writing an english novel, much less a minah tudung from a small town like pekan. I've scanned the article and i'm putting it here (click on it to view the large version so you can read it). Will you join me in supporting this talented girl?