Friday, July 18, 2008

...howwwzattt for the little known fact...

A Writer's Life

Ever heard of women paying for sex in Malaysia? Well, they're around and pay good bucks for selected studs.

When an acquaintance told me that she engaged in the services of male escorts, the confession knocked me back for six.

To say I was shocked would be an understatement.For a good while, I was struck dumb. I have many people and friends confessing all sorts of sordid secrets to me, but this took the cake. This had to be the winner of them all.

And allow me to add this: this woman is successful, is of mixed-race parentage and has many men asking her out. She does not need to pay for company or sex. She however chose a different route.

So. Was this the height of the feminist movement then, the emancipation and empowerment of a woman’s sexual life? Now that women have broken corporate class ceilings and can have it all, getting in on the game like how men have done for thousands of years was a sign of gender triumph. Or was it, really?

It started because she was curious, and then the practicality of such an arrangement won her over. It was business, and that was how she liked it.

She called the shots – it was easy to be a female punter, because the opportunities were right in her face, and they were subtler. None of the drive-by, walking into a brothel and picking up a sex worker. For a woman with means, it can be anywhere: a café, nightclub, even at the theatre. Shopping at high-end retail outlets is another source too.

It was a rather informative conversation my friend and I had that night. Some of the things I gleaned from her were:

- She was in control. She interviewed them personally, checked them up and down and made sure the size of the package was to her liking;

- Race played a part in safer sex – the Malay gigolos hated wearing condoms but Chinese “rent-boys” practised safe sex. She had never come across Indian male sex workers, she said. There was a white tourist though, who wanted to make a few extra bucks for his travels;

- The Chinese men she had had liaisons with were professionals who wanted a pleasurable side income. The rest? They weren’t thinking of a future; and

- The men were so sweet and very nice. (Urm, at RM200 per hour, anyone can be sincere.)
This was true feminism, she claimed, and told me to stop gaping like a goldfish, for as a writer who has written on sensitive matters, I was expected not to judge.

After all, what was she doing wrong? The old, saggy socialites and datins dancing their sad lonely nights away in nightclubs keep younger men. Those boys knew what they were getting into.
What about women our age, who marry rich men, solely for their money? That’s legalised prostitution, she said. I, she pointed her finger at me, was a romantic fool.

Also, what choices does a single woman in her late thirties have? Married men? Not kosher. Polygamy? It’s an insult to women.

Lastly, she told me, her boys weren’t like my Chow Kit sex workers. Thank you very much.
As an employee of a public health and human rights NGO, this was a bit hard to swallow. I may be new to the Malaysian HIV/AIDS scenario, working with the poor and marginalised community, but I felt this trivialised and demeaned the sex trade, which, for the matter, is a violent industry.

It violates the rights of women, children and yes, men too (to me feminism is human rights, and this covers all genders and ages).

Gender theories on sex work aside, how does this impact on a woman’s well being? Her sexual health?

The feminisation of HIV in this country is a worrying situation. UNAIDS reported in its 2006 report on the global AIDS epidemic, in South-East Asia alone, women represented 29% of adults living with HIV. The infections are heterosexually-transmitted HIV cases.

A large number of them are housewives. The Malaysian Health Ministry June 2007 report stated that 2.4 women were infected with HIV each day.

Current studies also show that young women are several times more likely than young men to contract the disease through heterosexual contact. Now the collected data shows that female people living with HIV (PLHIV) are housewives, sex workers and intravenous drug users (IDUS).

As a colleague, Dr Karina Razali pointed out, we have made a gross mistake of inferring “disempowered women” as poor innocent victims of HIV, while the marginalised groups are treated as the “cause” of it all.

We have not taken into account, and must consider women who take their sexual lives in their hands, and are open to health risks too.

Female sex tourism is on the rise, and as more and more women take charge of their intimate lives, these behaviours must be accounted for when we talk about health and social issues.
It’s all well and good to tut-tut behind closed doors and in smart restaurants, but we need to realise and discuss that the sexual landscape in Malaysia, yes, Muslim Malaysia, is changing very fast.

Our population is smaller, the psychological make-up of our demographic is conservative and really, are we equipped for a sexual revolution? We can’t even run our country properly!
Perhaps I am conservative and not keeping with modern, liberated times. But I do not believe that owning our bodies, and our intimate lives mean participating in the sex trade.

It does not matter if a woman is in control; I have spoken to sex workers in my line of work and in this industry, at whatever level – from the thousand ringgit Eastern European call girl to the young boy cruising in food courts at shopping malls - women, and men, are vilified and treated violently.

Perhaps, as my friend said, my sex workers are worlds apart from her rent-boys, but prostitution is human slavery. This is about the trafficking of lives and bodies, in exchange for money under the illusion of love and relief.

The writer wants to balik kampung and bury herself in sand.

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