“Wear Makeup and Office Clothes,” “Don’t Nag Husband,” Malaysia Advises Women Sheltering-in-Place

In this online poster, now removed, Malaysia’s Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development advised women working at home to wear makeup and office clothes so as not to offend their husbands. (Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development/Government of Malaysia)

The concept of sheltering-in-place can be annoying at best, and dangerous at worst.

But, luckily, the Malaysian Ministry of Women and Family Development has tips for women on how to deal with the lockdown—while ensuring a happy, argument-free life at home with their husbands or partners.

On March 18, the ministry issued a series of infographics and advisories with advice like:

  • Don’t nag your husband.
  • Refrain from being “sarcastic” if asked for help with household chores.
  • Dress up and wear makeup in the home.

The digital posters—since taken down—were released on Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #WomenPreventCOVID19, insinuating that wearing makeup and not nagging men may be a way for women prevent coronavirus. (Malaysia has the largest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia—with over 2900 confirmed cases as of April 1.)

The infographics were instantly blasted by women’s rights groups, both at home and abroad, who found the posters and the above implication deeply sexist.

“(It) is extremely condescending both to women and men,” said Nisha Sabanayagam, manager at advocacy group All Women’s Action Society. “These posters promote the concept of gender inequality and perpetuate the concept of patriarchy.”

In reality, the lockdown—which has forced many couples around the world into voluntary or involuntary lockdown—has increased cases of domestic violence everywhere.

Malaysia is no exception: “Local media reported that the number of calls to a national helpline for vulnerable persons including victims of domestic abuse has surged by nearly 50 percent since the partial lockdown to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 18, the helpline had received nearly 2,000 calls,” wrote News18.com.

And, unfortunately, this was not the only misogynistic communications misstep coming out of Malaysia this week.

On April 1, NPR reported:

The country’s movement control order on March 18 specified that only the “head of the household” should leave the house to purchase necessities.

While the order did not indicate whether that person was male or female, men took it upon themselves to brave the grocery store.

It didn’t work out so well for many.

Facebook posts showed male heads of households having a tough go of it in the aisles, either staring in confusion at lists in their hands or taking instruction over their cellphones from central command back home.

Malaysian Cheanu Chew made fun of both himself and others in his Facebook post headlined “Attention All Men!” He advised: Shoppers “like me, don’t forget to fully charge your phone before you execute your mission. Also, get enough sleep the night before so you can stay calm over the phone to minimise disruptions during your operation.”

The supermarket chain Tesco Malaysia recognized there was a problem and swiftly came to the hapless male shopper’s aid with a how-to guide.

It proclaimed, “Now all husbands can shop.” And assured them, “Here at Tesco, we have your back!”

In the week or so since that announcement, men may be getting a little better at the supermarket. And with the swift climbdown on its original announcement, the women’s affairs ministry is apparently learning, too.

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving.

During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media.

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Roxy Szal is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.