Sunday, November 24, 2013

He says, she says

Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. We have heard that before. How often I hear women  lament and say that their husbands have a totally different mindset and they only think about themselves or that they do not care about the things that matter to women. I was in denial about such characterization as I disliked any form of stereotyping or generalization . But in recent years, I have resigned to acknowledge that men and women do somehow think and function quite differently. I tend to be slow in seeing the obvious. I am a late bloomer in so many areas.

Whether due to our upbringing, education or social conditioning, a man and a woman do seem to differ in their ways of handling issues at work or at home and in the making of certain decisions. I am told that studies show that women like smart phones more than men do. I wonder if it indicates that men are more results oriented and they do not like the extra frills as they are deemed unnecessary. To some people, a mobile phone is just a gadget that only needs to  function as a phone for making phone calls. Period.
Bali (2008)

I also notice that men carry loads of information with them and the way they assimilate and accommodate new information that are given to them can be different from how a woman process them. In a good sense, the men are goals oriented. But then when one is too focused on the tasks at hand, his or her visions may not go beyond peripheral. When one targets on getting to the end of the tunnel with an urgency to achieve the desired result, the need to execute these tasks with efficiency sometimes can make one inflexible. Decades ago, I enrolled myself at the Alliance Francaise with a view to study French. I was easily discouraged when the question was posed to me by an ex: What is the purpose of you learning French? What are you trying to achieve? I could not answer that so I found my resolve weakening and quitting the course. That was very lame indeed and I certainly lacked self possession then. I have since taken up the task of learning French again. Last week, my mechanic saw the French text books lying in my car, he asked, “ You are learning French you want to go and live there.” He made an observation that did not require any response from me. Learning the language can be the purpose of it all, non ?

Sexism starts at home. We have  a patriarchal social structure. Since the women  have in the past lived with their husbands who have been brought up by their mothers who have also lived with their husbands come what may , they stop thinking about how they feel or what they want and  they carry on with their lives as if it is all an order of nature. The men are like that so the mothers tell their daughters and their daughters in laws. Boys are boys, boys behave like how boys would behave and then they grow up and become men who behave like most of the men around them. They are all like that so the mothers say.

I am not advocating for gender equality or anything like that as that requires in-depth studies and more elaboration, I only think  that the standards for reasonable and sensible behaviour should be the same for both sexes. Granted that men and women have certain attributes that may be inborn, if only each and everyone of them respect and acknowledge that women have as much right to be their own persons as the men do and the women who raise these men could change their own mindset  about what boys should be like, may be one day male chauvinism may become a thing of the past .
In Aunty Lee’s Delights, Ovidia Yu, a Singaporean writer cleverly showed the different prejudices  harboured by  the guests who came to a wine tasting dinner  held at Aunty Lee's café that was well known for good traditional Peranakan food. When an unidentified woman’s body had been found washed up on Sentosa beach and one of the dinner guests did not turn up at the restaurant, the fair and plump Aunty Lee kept track of the news story and  became involved in solving the mystery. 
But there are certain standards, certain rules of behaviour, that everyone accepts,” said  Lucy, one of the dinner guests who was visiting Singapore for the first time.

Mrs Lucy Cunningham expressed her views.
“ People know what’s right. And what’s wrong. Everyone agrees on that.”
“But how do you know everybody agrees?Aunty Lee asked, seemingly intent on washing mustard greens in one of the sinks. She squinted and picked out what might have been a bug or dirt or a specimen of plant life not developed along consumer-advocate guidelines.
“It is obvious, isn’t it ? The people you talk to, it’s in the papers. It’s just normal, good , human values.”
There  had been a slight waver before she said ‘human,” as though Lucy had had to make a quick substitution for another, less neutral word.

“God made us all individuals,” Aunty Lee observed.

“ God gave us rules to live by,” Lucy Cunningham said quietly. Again she was on guard, focused on her shallots.

In the story, Mr and Mrs Cunningham had to struggle with accepting their son’s relationship with another man.

Ovidia wrote, “ As far as Aunty Lee was concerned, people ought to go through the ideas they carried around in their heads as regularly as they turned out their store cupboards. No matter how wisely you shopped, there would be things in the depths that were past their expiration dates or gone damp and moldy – that had been picked up on impulse and were no longer relevant. Aunty Lee believed everything inside  head or cupboard could affect everything else in it by going bad or just taking up more space than it was worth.” 

Aunty Lee’s Delights reminds me of Agatha Christie’s crime stories not that I have read many Agatha Christie’s novels. I read from the conversation between Ovidia Yu and Louise Penny, another mystery novel writer that Ovidia  is a lifelong Agatha Christie fan and so she explains  how she came to write the story that would be set in Singapore.  The central character, Rosie Lee was described by her late husband as “em zhai se – not afraid to die” and to the dismay of her daughter-in- law, she fed her Filipino domestic helper the Brands Essense of Chicken to give her more strength and more meat on her bones. Odivia has made Auntie Lee out to be nosy but a kind hearted and independent minded widow who serves tantalizing  nyonya culinary delights. Inside the book, the author has included a recipe for Aunty Lee’s amazing achar. Odivia Yu’s novel was a delightful find purely by chance when I visited  Kinokuniya book store recently.

When I read the end of the story, as if on cue, my husband suggested nyonya lunch at either a restaurant nearby or a beach café that required some ten minutes drive. There has been heavy downpour throughout the week and it was a  welcoming change to see a sunny day. Where we were seated, some cool breeze was blowing and we managed to get ourselves shaded from the midday sun. As I tucked into the steamy hot and spicy  fish curry  against the backdrop of clear  blue sky and sea frontage, I  could not ask for a more perfect Sunday.

Batu Ferringhi, Penang


  1. Ahh the issues surrounding our gender-- great fodder for books and life too!

    1. hi Julie I think so too. It is all part of the human psyche that I am trying to understand and put together. It is a tall order as I find myself arguing in circles on such issues. Cheers