Marriage: Primum Non Nocere

One of my patients was a victim of domestic violence. I could cry for her. But I didn’t. At least, not in front of her.

Domestic violence. Women abuse.

I am sick of it.  I really am.

I am sick of bad men and weak women. Tired. Exhausted. Of the same old theme.

Once upon a time, I was a mild misandrist. It’s bad to be one. Now, I am more fair in judging either sexes. But occasionally, the contempt resurfaces. The contempt that I feel when I see wishy-washy indecisive men is strong. The fury that I feel towards violently abusive men sometimes overwhelms my reason. Occasionally, it made me a misandrist all over again. I have to consciously put an effort to remind myself not to go back to my old thinking that men are at best, unreliable and at worst, dangerous.

But I had an excuse for being a misandrist, once. My parents gave birth to 5 daughters and no sons. All five of us were good students, especially my elder sister who was quite excellent in everything she did. Alhamdulillah, all five of us received scholarships to overseas. My elder sister was an excellent elocutionist, a debater, a best student until her Uni days! She graduated first class and received the Chancellor Award. And I always tried to emulate her. But I was not as excellent as her. 

We all went to an all-girls school (Sultanah Asma School) from the age of 7 until the age of 15. We met so many extraordinary girls who showed great leadership in our all-girls environment. Whenever our school competed against an all-boys school (debate, band, choral speaking, UPSR/PMR school ranking) our school reigned as  the best in the state. Naturally, I had (and still have) high opinion of girls. We got things done on time and we did it so well when measured against the all-boys school (Sekolah Iskandar or KSAH). When I received an offer to further my study into MRSM Langkawi, I thought that I would shine even more in a co-ed environment. I thought I only had to compete with the female-half of my batch rather than against the whole batch the way I had to in an all-girls school. (I really had thought that I didn’t have to compete with boys, academically speaking.  Imagine my surprise when I later found out that boys could be intelligent too. I never thought it was possible until I came to be in a a co-ed environment.)

After a few months in MRSM Langkawi, I had a shock of my life. I had to accept that in MRSM Langkawi, all of us were cream of the cream in our respective previous school. Even the boys! I knew now that I had to compete with every student, boys and girls. (Looking back, I could not believe that I was ever so sexist! It is bad to be sexist. But at that time I did not know that I was being sexist. I thought I was just being factual.)

My respect for the male half of the population went up a notch when I realized they were my competition too. When I saw that some boys did not even seem to work hard to beat my score, I became even more worried. And I was really quite amazed that boys who we all considered as an underdog in any competition back in Asma School were actually not that bad. I actually talked about how amazed I felt to my elder sister. “Diorang main-main ja. Waktu prep, tak nampak macam diorang study pun. Tapi diorang score lagi okey dari aku. Bengangnya!” My elder sister understood my frustration. She experienced the same thing when she first started her Form 4 in MRSM Taiping. 

But then, I started noticing other medicore things about (most;not all) boys. Their playfulness. Their lack of seriousness in doing something. Their laid-back tardiness and unpunctuality! Their unreliability when work had been assigned for them. Their utter laziness! Coming from an all-girls school when we did things on time and we did it by the book and girls in leadership were the norm, I had a serious culture shock. 

“Aku tak nak bossy. Tapi kalau aku tak bossy, hangpa tak buat kerja,” I thought to myself.

“Berapa kali kita  dah habaq gotong royong start pukul 8.00. Pukul 10.00 pun hangpa tak mai lagi!” I berated them. At last, the girls did all the work. Pick up on their slacking!

“Ni kerja bahagian hang! Tapi hang tak buat! Habis tu macam mana kita nak compile ni?” I scolded. But they told me to chill. “Rileks laa, lambat lagi!” 

“But we agreed on a schedule!”

I had a serious aversion to irresponsible person. I, myself, am not the sort of person who like having responsibilities. But when a responsibility is given to me, I get it done and it’s done on time even if I cannot get my beauty sleep to complete it. So having to deal with laid-back laziness like this was so hard for me. I was so used to the well-ordered structure of an all-girls school  that  there are times when I quite regretted having moved to MRSM Langkawi where boys were the favourite students even when they did so little. Some girls (from co-ed school) were okay that boys did so little because they were used to it back in their old school. But I wasn’t.

So, I started being more comfortable doing group projects with an all-female members group. For my Form 5 science project (Pesta Sem Annual Event), our all-female group (all of us from Asma) won the first place in the batch for the General Science Category. This strengthened my conviction that girls were so much superior than boys; not because we were naturally more intelligent than boys (now that I knew boys could be intelligent too, sometimes effortlessly), but because we were more hardworking and more disciplined than them.

When there was a class presentation, I saw boys presenting as though they were mumbling to themselves and sometimes tried to conceal their lack of understanding in the subject by making funny jokes that did not add anything to the subject matter. And they got away with it! Just because they were being funny! Girls did not know how to be funny like them. So, we didn’t always get away with presenting badly. So, we worked harder. Naturally.

***

My father is a great man. He has his faults just like any other man. But his good far outweigh the bad. As a person and a father, he is admirable. He sets the standard against which I would measure any other man.

His presence is dominant in the house. And my mother usually agreed with and enforced all his rules. He taught us to fight when we are right. He won’t intervene for us. But he told us what to do to solve our problems. We had to do it because he would follow up on the matter the next day. I could not imagine ever telling him “Angah tak nak pergi sekolah sebab takut dengan cikgu/kawan/pembuli.” It just doesn’t happen.  Not in a million years. I wouldn’t even dare to suggest it. 

School refusal was something unthinkable for all five of us. He would never allow any of us to skip school for such a reason. You have a problem, you solve it. But to school you must go! My coping mechanism against mistreatment is never to run away. It is to face it head on and deal with it. When I hated my first few months of housemanship, quitting was never an option. If you are dissatisfied, you stay and fight. Running away and quitting is cowardice! If you want to quit, you do it on your own terms! Not because you cannot take it!

We were taught to value our time and other people’s time. My sisters and I went to school by the school bus. But when there were co-curriculum activities or kelas tambahan, then our parents had to pick us up. Once, my father  simply left my elder sister at school  when she was 15 minutes late being released from her class. My sister had to call my mother to pick her up afterwards because my father would not come back.  I learned from my sister’s mistake. If my Kelas Tambahan finished at 4.00, I would tell my father that my class finished at 4.30, instead. So that if the teacher released us slightly later than scheduled, he wouldn’t have to wait. If my teacher was extra-late than usual, I would simply go up to the teacher and said that I had to go.

Some people made a joke about how some husbands had to wait for their wives who took so much time to finish dressing up and that was the usual reason for their late arrival. That never happened in my family. If my father said that we were to go out at 8.00 a.m, my mother and all of us would have been ready to go by 7.45 a.m. We waited for him. And he was always punctual to his time. He did not set the standard of punctuality just for everyone else. But also for himself. So we respected that.

My father appreciates efficiency and quickness of action. A typical type A personality, he couldn’t stand slowness.

We learned to be efficient because my father was a busy man.If we forgot to buy something when we were out shopping, he would not go out a second time just to pick up the forgotten item. It was just not efficient. We learned to deal with that by making a good list. Until now, I am very obsessive about making a list, and crossing them off when I am done. (So imagine how annoyed I feel if my group members are so slow in doing their part of the work because then I could not cross off the list. Hahha).

My father came from a poor family. He had a great passion for learning. He was his school’s best student in SPM but could not further his tertiary study into the uni because he had to work to support his family. That was the reason he placed such a great emphasis on education. From a very young age, all five of us were not allowed a lot of TV time. I didn’t get to enjoy cartoons like most kids did. We were only allowed to watch Teater Lagenda (The P.Ramlee films reruns every Wednesday night) and a Hindi movie on the weekend. That’s it.  My source of entertainment were story books (because they were easier to hide behind a larger academic text book). Another one of my entertainment was writing. Me and my elder sister competed with each other to come up with the best story to be written on the pages of our exercise books.  Until now, reading and writing are my only enduring hobbies. It is something I shared with my elder sister. And out of all my siblings who I am equally close to, I identify with my elder sister the most. My father was toughest on both of us, because we were the eldest two. My three younger sisters had an easier time. They were less disciplined by my father because by that time, he was busy with his business.

He himself, did not get along with authority when he worked in the government. He liked to do what he thought was right and this is a NO-NO if you are working in PDRM. Let’s face it: Bosses are not always right and when they give stupid instruction, why should we follow it? So when there was an opportunity going around for police officers to further their study into the uni (fully sponsored by the PDRM), he grabbed the chance with both hands and earned a degree in Accountancy. I witnessed his struggle as a mature student in UUM. The juggling act of multiple responsibilities that he had to perform! On the weekends, my mother would take all of us to visit our father in UUM.  After obtaining his degree, he quitted PDRM and started his own business. No more obeying insensible instructions by incompetent bosses. All of us sisters took after him. We are highly critical of authority. And whenever we ventilated our dissatisfaction at the workplace, he told us to do what is right and say the truth (or our perception of the truth)

I admire my father greatly. Rarely do I see a man who is intelligent, hardworking, punctual, responsible, resourceful, determined and brave… all combined in one person. Some people are hardworking but not very intelligent. Some people are responsible but too weak and easily bullied.

Some people are wishy-washy. Like a ball that can be pushed here and there. But not my father. He said it as it is. Calling a spade a spade. 

Nowadays, I set a high standard for men. Just like I set a high standard for women.

Because I am no longer a misandrist. I think both men and women can be great. It’s just that the society set a low standard for men. So men never feel like they had to measure up.

And women who have low self-esteem are part of that society. So they too accept the low standard that has been established for men. So when a woman is unfairly treated, she would say “other women had it worse than me.” And she would continue accepting the weakness of a husband who is not worthy of her respect. Some women are the breadwinners and homemaker at the same time. The lazy husband could not even be bothered to help with the housechores. Women became enslaved in their own homes. They were too afraid to breakaway, fearing the ‘janda’ stigma. 

Once, we were discussing a case of our female patient whose ex-husband provided RM800/month of child support for their 3 kids after the divorce. Someone had commented, “Bagus juga husband dia ni.” Me and Dr. T looked at each other. “Apa yang bagus sangat ni? Itu memang tanggungjawab dia.”

But you see? Look at the societal standard! Because most men cannot be counted on to provide child support after a divorce, a normal standard of behaviour is already considered ‘bagus’ for a man. Providing child support which is just a standard natural behaviour of a father is considered ‘bagus’ already. By rights, it should sound as weird weird as saying, “Bagusnya mak dia masak bagi makan kat anak dia.” In the first place, cooking was not even a woman’s compulsory responsibility, but it is already accepted as a woman’s role somehow. But NO ONE would ever thought to say “bagusnya mak dia masak.” as though it is an extraordinary deed.

See? Men can do basic little things…. but they are already considered ‘so good’. Women do a lot of roles that sometimes are not even their compulsory religious duty, but still considered ‘not good enough’ or sometimes their service was not even acknowledged, but taken as her natural thankless duty.

Me and Dr. T were the only ones who realized this discrepancy during that case discussion. And we whispered to each other about it. No one else even noticed the irony. To them, the statement might be nothing to be so sensitive about. But try telling this to a lot of women who have suffered through  biased male-dominated, patriarchal societal expectations! Do you even wonder why organization like Sisters In Islam exist? They are not always Islamically correct in their policies. But they exist as a reaction to the injustice that has befallen many women time and time again. It’s nauseating!

I cannot even begin to say how thankful I am that me and my sisters were born in a family whose father is very forward-thinking in his values and has done his best to ensure that all his daughters can take care of themselves. His discipline was harsh, but it was necessary.

***

As a doctor, I learn that we should never start a patient on any treatment unless the benefits outweigh the risks. Primum non nocere! First, do no harm! It is the very first principle of medical ethics!

We have come to an age where women can look after themselves much better than they could have previously. Once upon a time, single women are a burden to their fathers/brothers/uncles. If they were not married, their male family members had to look after them as part of their responsibilities. At that time, benefits of being married was considered great indeed. Nowadays…this is no longer the case. Often time, it is the daughter who takes care of the parents rather than the once coveted, irresponsible drug-addict son. Nowadays, women are just as much a breadwinner than men. Sometimes their salary are much greater than that of their husband’s. At the same time, they deal with the housechores as well, even when they are the main breadwinner. The men carry on with the laziness trait they had nurtured since their schooling days.

Women are now at the position to ask, “What can you provide for me that I cannot provide for myself? What makes marrying you or staying married to you be worth it? What is it about you that confers more benefits than risk?”

Women who are intelligent and not blinded by love would have asked all these questions. And will only get married or stay married once they get satisfactory answers.

Primum non nocere!

There are times when marriage does more harm than good. It is sad, but that’s the truth!

To all abused women out there, save yourself! Run! Marriage was never meant to be a torture chamber. If it becomes one, you’ve got to run and escape!

Nowadays, most women are saying,”Marriage is a great institution. But most women no longer want to be institutionalized.”

Not when it is an institution of abuse and violence.

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