Malaysian Woman Triumphs Over Cyber Bullies in Race to Space

Although men’s hygiene company AXE’s theme for the Apollo Space Academy global competition is “Leave a man. Come back a hero,” it’s a woman—27-year old Malaysian postgraduate student Roshini Muniam—who garnered the most headlines. And after tallying the votes, AXE recently announced Roshini as her country’s victor.

She and the top contestants from countries around the world will train at Space Camp in Orlando this December. The 22 who perform most successfully will then be flown into space via private space shuttle. Yes, actual space.

It’s certainly ironic that a woman has earned the most votes considering that AXE is well-known for its sexist advertisements and the company did not go out of its way to invite women candidates to apply. Their website says they’re looking for “a few brave men.”

Yet, women have not been disallowed from competing, and Roshini drew more than 30,000 votes beyond that of her closest competitor in the Malaysian region. If Muniam makes it all the way to the final 22, she will be the first Malaysian woman to travel to space. “Being an astronaut is not just a man’s dream,” she says.

Despite her support from voters, however, Roshini has been the target of online harassment from cyber bullies because of her gender. While a large number of Facebook commenters argued that the competition was a man’s domain, others resorted to blatantly insensitive jokes about women in space.

One commenter suggested: “There are many other competitions for females out there, lady; don’t ruin what’s intended or most considered to be men’s only chance.” (This is a translation.)

Another cyber bully demonstrated his cluelessness about feminine hygiene products, saying: “Women should be rejected …  If your tampon burst while you are in space, the entire spacecraft will be spoilt.”

Despite those sort of remarks, Roshini also received much support via Tumblr, and her fans helped increase her visibility and score votes with the hashtag #Rose4Space. With their assistance, the aspiring astronaut rose from last place in the competition to first.

Fifty years after the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, flew into space, it’s astonishing that there’s still prejudice against women astronauts. Since Tereshkova’s launch, there have been 56 other women in space. But it’s not surprising, given the sexism of AXE’s marketing, that the contest attracted disrespectful remarks. Yet roshini has withstood the bullying and come out victorious. She entered the contest as a woman; she’s already become a hero.

Photo courtesy of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via Flickr.







Shae Collins is the creator of A Womyn’s Worth, a social commentary blog that addresses interests of black women.