Suanie, one of Malaysia’s more prominent bloggers, made a couple of interesting posts recently. Female empowerment, sex in the media and real respect. These are very real issues which affect those of us who raise daughters, even if said daughters are still in preschool.

We Malaysians are quite a conservative lot, even for Asians. Compared to, say, the Japanese and the Koreans, we probably rate about four or five on a scale of ten, with regards to our attitudes towards sex and anything sex-related. You go out showing a little cleavage, you’d probably be leered at and judged as a slut. If you’re a lady who smokes and drinks openly, you’re a whore automatically, never mind that you’ve just spent all day saving lives. No kissing or open displays of affection allowed unless married. Movies and books get banned for dodgy reasons (the reasons are dodgy, not the books), although both really don’t matter anymore because of pirated DVDs and the Internet. It would’ve been maddening if people really cared, so now it’s just stupid.

Anyway, so we’re not really with it.

I’d have to say that a lot of these people confuse empowerment with respect.

Stripping, for example, is a legitimate profession here in the US. Women act all slutty on stage, will let you grace a thigh or stuff ones down their panties, but offstage, one must not judge them as whores and assume that one can have sex with them for money (although some may).

Prostitutes, too, deserve respect. In the show “Men in Trees” you see the town prostitute treated respectably by all in town, even when she’s serviced most of them (there are like three women in the town of Elmo). Is that art imitating life, or vice versa (or just wishful acting?).

Such compartmentalizing is confusing. To help you are The Valid Reasons. Survival is number one. (“I have no choice but to do this to feed my kids, my husband left me” and so forth). Second is, apparently, just good business. Reduce the act and call it a service in exchange for money. When you think about it, it’s the one thing all women have over (straight) men. So if anybody’s to be exploiting it, the rationale is that it should be the woman herself.

But therein lies the problem of respect. Except for Valid Reason #1, if that, the Rest of Us really have a problem with according to these individuals the respect they think they deserve. At the back of our minds, we will always have that nagging suspicion that they actually enjoy selling the sex. That they are too lazy to get out and do it the ‘hard way’. That whatever it is, flashing your tits and singing about your ‘milkshake’ and instantly be propelled to MTV fame and glory is NOT what good girls do. Good girls get their college degrees, get married and raise a family, that’s what good girls do. Or at the very least, you must TRY to.

And do we still get the respect we yearn for then?

In the end, we learn to live without it. Except for family members and friends, we teach ourselves not to care. We say, I’m not hurting anyone else, so leave me alone. It’s just too much work, this earning of respect that we all should be doing. I’d rather be earning money.

It’s a hard choice for a hard world. When my girls come to me and ask, although I’m doubtful they ever will, what respect is, and why they shouldn’t be prancing around on TV with their boobs hanging out for billions of dollars, all I can think of to say right now is, “Because the richest man in the world creates software, so do that instead?”

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