Malay Literature and Sexuality

I’ve been doing a few interesting feminist readings of late and one that strikes me would be the often unsaid or silenced issue of sexuality which exists in Malay Literature itself. Prematurely, albeit having to do more intensive readings and research on this, I think Malay sexuality has often been assumed to be kept under wraps and talked about in “hushed tones” and in exploring the connection between Malay sexuality and identity, various critics have said that;

  • there is relative silence on the invisible aspects such as sexuality
  • sexuality has a confidential, secret nature that it keeps invisible
  • in traditional Malay societies, it is a topic generally avoided and often dismissed as a non-issue
  • considered a necessary evil as sexuality  seems to be regarded as a discomforting topic which is reduced to hushed whispers or instant dismissals

However, my readings of the writings of Prof. Emeritus Shahnon Ahmad has proven that to some extent, sexuality has unassumingly become an important ingredient in modern Malay Literature and it has become a space for the explicit expression of sexuality.

Sexism in Malay Literature is apparent particularly in the dehumanisation of women characters and their bodies. For example, in “Tok Guru”, “Ummi dan Abang Syeikhul” and “Tivi”, would reveal that categorization of women and their sexuality through consistent dehumanisation of their bodies are often potrayed.

And this I strongly feel, as said by one of my feminist icons, Toril Moi;

“One of the central principles of feminist criticism is that no account can ever be neutral.”

Simply said, by applying feminist criticism, Prof. Emeritus Shahnon Ahmad’s works illustrate the trend in Malay Literature in dealing with morality where religious leaders are targeted for their indulgence in illicit sex while religious leaders were depicted as hypocrites who exploited religion to further their own interests; namely their polygamous inclinations.


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