Trigger Warning: Mention of sexual abuse, violence, rape culture and rape joke (in reference to actor Fauzi Nawawi)
In a patriarchal society, women often have to deal with grave incidents that threatens their right to consent, safety and protection against sexual violence. And it is always often a result of the rape culture existing in the society. A culture that is fueled by stereotypes, immoral behaviour and rape jokes in the media.
Actor Fauzi Nawawi was recently caught in a controversy that reflects the rape culture in Malaysia and the insensitivity some Malaysians have towards grave topics such as sexual violence and rape.
The actor gave an interview on the talk show, Ruman No 107, where he explicitly described his experience of acting out in a rape scene along side actress Raja Farah Raja Aziz.
On a public TV show, that’s viewed by millions of Malaysians, Fauzi Nawawi makes a light “joke” out of the rape scene. He was glorifying the act and making it a “kink” to rape women. This issue spread like wildfire when the All Women’s Action Society Malaysia (Awam) took it to twitter to call out the actor for perpetuating the rape culture in Malaysia and dehumanizing the heinous act of rape. AWAM says in the tweet that the actor alongside his talk show host and guests were seen participating in the lewd comments. This was, unfortunately, not surprising at all. Observers recognized little no objection or even any defences for the actress being debased in the comments.
17 Year Old Ain & Fauzi Nawawi
Fauzi Nawawi’s interview is not the only incident that we experienced this year. A 17 year old student took it to TikTok to speak up against a physical education teacher’s obscene “rape joke” that he made during his class . The incident sparked a discussion on the extent of normalisation of rape culture in Malaysia. And as expected by the rape culture, the student was stigmatized and threatened by her own classmates as well for speaking up against the teacher.
Instead of addressing the more pressing question “why an educational figure is promoting sexual violence”, many netizens disregarded her statement because of her outward appearance (appearing hijab-less). People started imposing behaviors on the victim rather than address the male perpetuator. This is a form of victim blaming and another sign of rape culture.
Schools, educational institutions and legal systems are constantly seen giving impunity to sexual harassers and abusers. Their justification is based on the societal pressure and the reputation of the girl. Institutions continue to fail to protect their female students by silencing them and preventing them from seeking justice.
Schools and institutions, like media, tend to focus on placing blame rather than practicing accountability and giving the punishment. Context of what the women was doing, and what the women were wearing is far more explored than the truth. This shift in conversation from accountability to placing blame has stigmatized the act of standing up against sexual violence.
Not The First, Nor The Last Rape Joke
Both incidents and it’s consequences also point to the normalisation of rape and mockery of it in Malaysia. The media has often been a facilitator of rape jokes for years. They do this by either defending the members who makes the “joke” or by retelling the joke for a funny, click-bait moment.
Media culture also often portrays women as sexual, lustful beings. They tend to depict their every movement as to arouse the opposite gender. TV shows, movies and advertisement use stereotypical language that circulates the message that sexual violence is trivial and is legitimated. Discourse of newspapers and information throughout the media portrays that women are submissive and consent is not needed.
Having influential members like actor Fauzi Nawawi talk about how he was “turned on” by a rape scene is not a light issue. So many incidents of rape joke goes unidentified and left alone. Mostly because it is considered normal in a patriarchal society.
People tend to defend members who make rape jokes saying that it is only a harmless joke. Others say it is a means of preaching what’s right. Their mentality suggest lack of morality and humanity for women. They also do not believe that joking about rape can cause further sexual violence. Rather they believe that it can prevent rape by imposing “good behavior” on women.
Victims of sexual violence relives their trauma every time they hear rape jokes. Demotivation sneaks in when girls fail to recognize sexual objectification. Little children start to perceive it as normal to speak about girls in a sexualized manner. Victims of ongoing sexual abuse decide to stay in the loop of trauma. Simply because they fail to recognize any hope of justice for sexual abuse victims.
Rape Culture In Everyday Life
Conversations that transpired following Fauzi Nawawi also discusses why raping a woman/man can be discussed in a humorous tone. This insensitivity again suggest that rape is normalized enough to be used in a humorous context. A traumatic event for one person can easily be a joke to another. It is both sickening and immoral to see such inherent thoughts and mentality being supported and encouraged in society. The impact of it knows no bounds.
Normalization of rape jokes is not the only culprit of the rape culture. The very seed also goes to excusing predatory behaviour, glamorizing sexual violence in various media formats, and completing disregarding the need for stricter laws that protects the rights and safety of women.
Fauzi Nawawi’s rape joke is among many examples of the way we excuse rape, glorify the act and maximizes the dangers of rape culture. We see rape culture in Malaysia, in so many different forms. Such as victim blaming, making sexually explicit jokes, pressuring men to “pursue” women even after they say no, blatantly rejecting the need for better sex education, refusal to take women’s statement against rape seriously and defining female point of views and womanhood as something sexual.
People say it is surprising to see rape cases and rape jokes become prevalent in a country where modesty and being religious is the norm. Unfortunately people use the name of peaceful religions and modesty to justify their misogynistic words that supports victim blaming and supports rape culture.
Fauzi Nawawi After The Apology
“Rape” jokes like the one made by Fauzi Nawawi as well as by other public influencers are damaging not only because it is traumatising to the victim her/himself. But also because it takes away the opportunity to hold abusers accountable for their actions. Injustice continues to live and abusers get away with their crimes because rape culutre allows them to do so. People who joke about sexual violence tend to be incredibly disconnected from the reality and impact of their words. Much like Fauzi who recently retracted his apology from social media platforms and started releasing cryptic religious. His latter actions and posts indicate no remorse, nor any accountability for his words.
The actor’s actions following the apology also mirrors many who tend to victim blame and hold misogynistic and patriachal thoughts that support sexual violence against women. His only motive has been to clear his name from the controversy, rather than trying to send across a clear message that he never should have put rape in a humorous context. Nor should he ever be talking about how rape can be lustful in any way or form.
Combatting Rape Culture
Combatting rape culture and normalisation of rape is an uphill battle with more than just one or two obstacles. It may take years of proper sex education, awareness and complete shift in the society before we can fix the rape culture. Some of the things Malaysians can do to combat rape culture is by being completely aware of their own actions.
Ask yourself the important questions: What is your first reaction when you hear a rape joke? Do you tolerate rape jokes among your friends or actively work on the deadly combination of humor and rape?
“What is your language like when talking about women?” Is it derogatory, submissive or sexualized in any way or form?
Do you sexualize womanhood and support those who speak about women only in sexualized manners?
Are you aware of what is consent and what is non consensual behaviour? Do you understand what it means to practice consent and communication?
Are you able to recognize what is victim-blaming and how your actions play a role in it?
How do you approach survivors of sexual abuse and what is your perception of them?
While these questions may be hard to answer and reflect upon, it is more than just necessary. Without realizing your own biases and prejudice against women, you cannot fight alongside women in this uphill battle. Rape culture will take years of petitions, education and awareness. But the solution starts with ourselves. For the sake of all young girls and women in Malaysia, we hope to see men like Fauzi Nawawi and other perpetuators take accountability, do self reflection and gain a deeper understanding of the rape culture. Understanding it’s impact and danger on women may be the biggest step one can do for themselves, and for the society.