ON the day of Hillary Clinton’s inevitable ascent to become the Most Powerful Woman In The World (yes, I’m THAT confident she’ll win), I’d like to reflect on how far women have come.
When, not if, Hillary becomes the 45th President of the United States, perhaps finally the world will realise that all this while, women can achieve just as much as men, if not more.
That it still needs to be repeated ad nauseam still surprises me. I’m not pandering to the female readership, by the way (okay, maybe a little bit). Empirical evidence notwithstanding, I have anecdotal data to back my claims. You see, throughout my life, my butt has been handed to me by women.
Despite me being the ultra-kiasu bespectacled nerd who never dropped an A in any major exams, the smartest kid in school was always a girl. My conversations with my parents after getting exam results can be summarised thusly:
“Ma, I got 98% for Mathematics”
“Okay, but Mei Yee got 100% right?”
“I hate Mei Yee”.
Later, in my medical career, I worked under many great doctors who happened to be female. There was a hematologist, Dr Goh, the best blood disorder specialist in Penang and a highly disciplined clinician who could reduce grown male doctors to tears.
There was Dr Cheah, a paediatrician who could diagnose a learning disorder after five seconds of talking to a child. And there was Dr Teoh, who conducted long surgeries while heavily pregnant without even breaking a sweat.
More recently, I’ve climbed Mount Kinabalu with a breastfeeding radio announcer who was so fit she reached the peak half an hour before I did.
I’ve met female journalists whose newspaper articles empower the disenfranchised and gave voices to the voiceless. I’ve met creative executives who respond to emails at 3am in the morning because they are just that indefatigable.
And to top that all off, 22-year-old Malaysian comic Hannan Azlan became not only the first woman to win the the Annual International Hong Kong Comedy Competition but also the youngest champion ever, beating eight other male contestants in a male-dominated industry.
Yet, we still don’t pay women the same wages as we do men. Of course, a complex problem like this has many factors, but I want to address something that happens when girls are growing up. We often see somewhat prohibitive gender roles established early at home – mom takes care of the household while dad earns the money.
Fellow comedian Kuah Jenhan told me this story of his nine-year-old cousin who loves jokes, but whenever she tried to tell a joke to an audience of her relatives, she would be hushed away by her parents because such behavior was “unladylike”.
What if the next best comedian in the world is that little girl just wanting to tell a joke or two? What are we depriving the world of?
I think that’s an important message to young girls these days – and please forgive me if this falls in the category of mansplaining. Girls need not grow up to be a “good” wife who can cook or clean. But that doesn’t mean every woman must be the career go-getter Type A personality person.
The point is that while it’s important to establish that women are just as capable as men, it is more important to recognize that women should be allowed to do whatever they want. Climb the corporate ladder or raise a family, do both or do none, just go ahead and do it.
Indeed, if men were being sensible, they’d allow women to earn just as much as them. The top four countries with the lowest wage gap – Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland – also happen to be consistently ranked as either the best countries to live in, or the happiest, according to a 2015 report by World Economic Forum.
The numbers are clear: where women are treated equally, there too shall men prosper.
Because the more freedom women have, the freer we are collectively as a society. And the more restrictions women have, the more shortchanged men are. That is the reality of our times.
Let’s put it another way – if Hillary Clinton had been discouraged from pursuing her dreams, the next POTUS might have been Donald Trump.
Stand-up comedian Jason Leong is a former doctor who is extremely proud of R.AGE’s work in uncovering online sexual predators who have been targeting Malaysian children. With young journalists like these, Malaysia may yet stand a chance in the future.