New Straits Times
My imaginary husband
ONE day, on a regular week night, I turned on the kitchen sink tap only to have water burst out all over. Exasperated and exhausted after a long day at work, I finally managed to get hold of a plumber who came to my rescue an hour later.
While he was at it, he nonchalantly asked, “Is your husband going to check on this when I’m done?”
I wasn’t sure what was going on in my head at that moment. Perhaps because it was rather late at night, I did not want to appear to be alone as he was a stranger in my house.
I also did not want him to rip me off given that I am totally clueless when it comes to home maintenance.
Before I could stop myself, I told him that my husband was not home yet, and that he would be sure to check it later.
A few months later, I had wiring issues in the back room and I duly called a contractor. He asked: “Would your husband know how to install the new fan?” Again, I found myself saying that he did but that he was out of town for work.
“Oh? What kind of job is he in?,” he asked. “Where are you and your husband from originally?”
And just like that, I created my imaginary husband.
“He’s an engineer. He works on-site a lot so he’s always away and I need the electrical issues sorted before he returns.”
“Yes, he can fix the house here and there, and will definitely check the quality of your work when he’s done.”
“He’s actually from Johor.” (even though I don’t know any guy from Johor).
I painted such a vivid fictional character, just so men would not take advantage of me, thinking that I was clueless and gullible.
THE SUBTLE SEXISM
I recently read Daphne Iking’s tweets on gender equality in the workplace, and was appalled that there are still instances where women are put on the backburner when it comes to career opportunities.
But let’s face it, differential treatment doesn’t stop just at the workplace, does it?
Before I took off on my solo trip earlier this year, I mentioned my plans to some associates, who were all men. Everyone seemed to think that it was an amazing idea, but one of the guys quipped: “Are you going off to look for a husband?”
I laughed it off as a joke. I told him I wasn’t. Why on earth would I dedicate a month off work for that?
It sounded deranged, something only people in bad chick flicks would do (and I don’t condone these terrible films and what they are teaching young women).
But this person insisted that I must be. His impression of women is that they always do something like this to find a partner.
It intrigued me to think that if I was a man, my decision to go off for an adventure alone would seem to him as just that, whereas for a woman, this must be an attempt to fill some kind of “void” in my life.
This and the story of the plumber are just some of the many, many examples of subtle sexism that I, and many women, experience in our lives.
They are never direct or blunt gender-biased treatments. But what largely remains are these subtle, indirect impressions that are projections of deep, engrained sexism.
Although quite a few would deny this, many of us still portray subconscious behaviours that express gender stereotyping.
LET’S EVOLVE OUR MINDSET
Growing up surrounded by women, I am often aware that empowerment is largely due to the environment we live in.
When I first moved into my apartment, my father bought me a toolbox that was filled with tools I would need for minor fixups.
Instead of telling me that I should probably find a husband who could do these things for me, my father taught me how to do some of the fixing myself.
While he never said that he was some kind of feminist, he empowered me by teaching me that I should, and can, take care of myself.
On the other hand, I have a friend whose father would nag her almost daily to get married as soon as possible so that someone can take care of her.
This contradiction brings awareness that some of us live in different circumstances, where different value sets are taught to children growing up.
But now that gender equality is being appreciated more widely by both men and women, perhaps we should actively pursue the role of one of the drivers of this amazing movement.
And like all effective change, it begins with ourselves, in our roles as parents, employees, employers, friends and community.
As for myself, I have stopped using my imaginary husband as a shield.
So as to not be ripped off, I do my research prior to asking for any maintenance services. To change the perception that my self-enrichment plans have something to do with filling “voids”, I actually do nothing but live my life the best I can and have a lot of fun on my way.
And as for my imaginary husband? I don’t need him anymore. I can take care of myself. And when the real one comes along, his job is already half done.