I recently attended a talk about Malay Ideas on Women. One of the participants raised a particularly interesting point. She mentioned the popularity of Malay novels nowadays and the ideas on Malay women that they promote.
This got me thinking. Malay novels are insanely popular. In the public libraries, you have to place a reservation on the more popular titles because they just fly off the shelves! Novels like Ombak Rindu and Ayat-ayat Cinta even have dramas and movies based on them. This is all well and good for the Malay literature and media industry, however this is also troubling because the portrayal of Malay women in these novels, dramas and movies is still the stereotypical image of a traditionally “good” Muslim woman – someone who is submissive, listens to her husband, wears the hijab etc. Characters that do not fit this stereotype are usually typecasted as the mean girl who wrecks everything. They usually die at the end or lose everything or are never to be heard of again. Although there are very colourful characters in the novels, the character which usually emerges as winner is the one that fits the stereotype of a “good” Muslim woman.
I’m happy that Malay novels written by Malay Muslim women are gaining popularity but I wish that there is a more varied narrative and more diverse characters that emerge as the winners in the books.