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Yes, I wear women’s perfume

Yes, I wear women's perfume

Edits of Projek : High Council, the latest craze in Malaysia, keeps popping up in my TikTok For You Page and on my Twitter feed. Thus, like any normal Gen Z in this world, of course I’m intrigued to watch it. The series perfectly depicted that life in a boarding school is not always sunshine, dewdrops and rainbows, which is a widely-known fact. There was the malignant ragging culture here and there, which was worryingly normalised and the few outbreaks of inter-batch warfares, which the series itself has portrayed almost perfectly. However, there is one thing which intrigued me the most in the series, and that is the portrayal of the soft-spoken and graceful father of the main character, and how he was mocked time and time again, throughout the series, as a pondan (a derogatory term often used against gay men and transgender women).

The word, which isn’t alien to me as I’ve heard it millions of times throughout my life, sparked a series of questions inside me ; why exactly do we address someone using that word? Is it because one failed to abide by the “standard guidelines” of being a ‘man’? Then again, how do we define exactly what is manly and what is not? Is there a specific outline which constitutes “manliness”? Most importantly, from where exactly this idea that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ each have their respective roles and traits appear from, and why must one follow a specific set of rules in order to be accepted as a ‘man’ or ‘woman’?

Growing up, I’ve always thought that I was a ‘boy’, and the idea of being a ‘boy’ is simple, you have a few… defining traits, which are distinct from a girl. However, upon entering boarding school, I learnt that it takes more than just having an extra anatomy to be considered as a ‘boy’. I was friends with a group of “boys” with very different interests than that of a ‘normal’ teenage boy. Some of them liked fleury perfumes, some of them were meticulous and soft-spoken with the teachers, some of them walked a tad-bit differently than the others. Evidently, they would eventually become targets of name-calling, as they lacked the universally acknowledged ‘manly characteristics’. Being friends with them, I was constantly threatened, too. “Either abandon them, or face the same consequences,” they’d warn me. Since I was never the type of person who could just easily forget about my forged friendships, I was pulled into the deep, dark pits of teenage bullying. I felt ashamed of myself as this practice of ridiculing stomped me everyday, punishing me for not living up to society’s expectations of what it meant to be a ‘man’; I, too, liked perfumes with a hint of rose scent, am I not ‘manly’ for liking that? I, myself, was meticulous and spoke with respect to the teachers, do I deserve to be called girly? Do I really need to be loud and dominant to be considered as a man?

Well, after spending numerous years of detailed observation and research, here’s my verdict ; NO.

Gender is not something that is clear-cut defined and straightforward, no set of laws governs it. No one should be deemed ‘girly’ or ‘boyish’ based on how they choose to present themselves. Gender, the characteristics of “women” and “men” that are universally accepted, is socially constructed. This social construct of gender, or gender norms, can be especially detrimental to the youngsters in the long run – specifically those rigid notions of masculinity, and the World Health Organisation would strongly support this claim. 

As an example, the notion of gender constructed by society encouraged young boys to start smoking, because the romanticisation of smoking in the mainstream has moulded the conception that smoking is ‘cool’. I myself bear witness to it, when I was young, I believed that I would be a lot cooler and I would appear more macho if I started smoking. However, what younger me failed to realise, was the deadly consequence it entails. If only younger me knew that heavy smoking would lead to pertinent health problems, like lung cancer, which could uninvitedly emerge in our old age, I’m sure that smoking would have never been an option in younger me’s definition of cool. And, I just found out that The American Cancer Society predicted that there will be around 238,340 new cases of lung cancer in 2023, with the majority of these cases being found in people over the age of 70, which came just in time to corroborate my argument and also to scare younger me to not fall into the guise of being cool and manly by smoking.

Another case we often fail to realise is that gender norms are detrimental to one’s character.  Recently, one of my friends confided in me. She voiced her anguish at her inability to behave elegantly and gracefully, which led her to believe that she was a “tomboy”, and that she didn’t deserve to be a girl. This phenomenon, which is called the Pygmalion Effect, occurs when one’s surroundings and the words inflicted upon them eventually changes their persona. My friend was not as delicate and gentle as the other girls, explaining why the doors to being a girl were slammed in her face by society. The other girls in her school began to label her a “tomboy”, and this mocking eventually cemented the idea that she didn’t deserve to be a girl. Honestly, I’d say that’s bollocks! Why should we conform to social constructs in order for us to be considered as a ‘man’ or a ‘girl’? Gender as a social construct eventually failed my friend, stripping her of her confidence and turned her into a social outcast.

The phenomenon of gender as a social construct has long existed since the early modern times. Supporting my argument, I’d quote one of Simone de Beauvoir’s famous lines from The Second Sex, a book written in 1949, “One is not born a woman, one becomes one,”.

Well, then who could we blame for this prejudicial idea? The answer can be traced to ‘patriarchy’. A simple Google search tells us that patriarchy is a social system of which positions of dominance and privileges are primarily held by man.  Around the beginning of time during Adam and Eve, men and women were equals. They gathered and hunted side by side as they fulfilled their need of survival. However, as the concept of property grew more prevalent in daily lives, men became protective of what they own, and women became subjects of aggression, as they, too, were considered property. Emperors and tyrants made women their concubines, objects of sexual desires. Families exchanged their daughters for cows and rice, and little girls became brides to older men to attend the daily chores around the house. Eventually, patriarchy is woven intrinsically into our everyday life. Patriarchy, with time, developed into social conventions and created the roles that men and women hold today. 

Today, men and women all across the globe are increasingly becoming aware of the absurd norms laid out by our predecessors as well as the detrimental and profound effects of it. For instance, patriarchal-led Talibans in Syria had made basic human rights inaccessible to women, namely education, as they continued to hold on to the antiquated conservatism that said if women went to school, they would be going against ‘Islamic values’. The strong and extreme patriarchal values in Afghanistan, which was held strongly by the Talibans, only managed to hinder women and girls from basic human rights, effectively making them progressing backwards.


Women, and men, whose behaviours do not tick off all boxes in the societally-prescribed “being a man/ woman” checklist , have seen their fair share of becoming victims of toxic masculinity. Women were denied positions in the workplace due to their gender, catcalling is becoming more and more normalised in the streets, and women are easily becoming targets of scams, such as workshop scams, as misogynistic men assume that women don’t possess a high level of intellectuality. If we look further, due to the deeply entrenched idea that victims of sexual assaults were somehow to be blamed for being too alluring, investigators frequently questioned the victims rather than going after the perpetrators. 

Another pertinent issue is that of female genital mutilation, which was believed to be conducted as a way of “controlling female’s sexual desire”. In the early 1950s, it was normalised to perform female genital mutilation as it could treat illnesses among women such as hysteria,  nymphomania, mental disorders and melancholia. However, recent findings have brought it to light that this practice is erroneous as it more often leads to psychological stress, childbirth complications, sexual dysfunction and it even poses an elevated risk to HIV. All these negative destructive ideals were created during the ancient times to serve the interests of men and to ensure men’s position of dominance.

In addition to that, patriarchy is also to be blamed when we talk about the existing discriminations. The LGBTQ community is hazed as they do not fit the conventional idea of ‘men’ and ‘women’ due to their preferences. Throughout history, numerous accounts of hate crime against the community were recorded, and there are still numerous more being recorded as of right now. Women and men are being spitted on, choked, tied up, stabbed, shot, and even mutilated just because of their sexuality. Recently, a shocking incident occurred at a gay club called Club Q in Colorado, where 5 people were fatally shot, while 25 others were left injured. This just shows how patriarchy is threatening the lives of others, putting us on the same level as animals.

Nowadays, artists have made it loud and clear that they are fighting against the broken system. Taylor Swift, in her song ‘The Man’, went on about how she was judged and treated differently as a woman. Katy Perry, in her iconic pop song Roar and in the music video, portrayed her finding herself and how she refused to conform to the social construct of gender, where women just “sit quietly, agree politely”. Even the iconic Ernie Zakri had used the theme of going against patriarchy in her award-nominated song ‘Ku Bersuara’. However, that is to say we are still far from wiping patriarchy clean from our society. Although, it’s never too late to change that ; for starters, let’s stop using these derogatory terms like pondan or tomboy, and start accepting the fact that people can behave differently from the roles that the society have attributed them, and that wouldn’t imply that they are any less of a human being. The first step in eradicating patriarchy is simply to be accepting and welcoming, and that can definitely bring a significant difference.