Curiously, those who champion women empowerment are the same ones who are saying Malaysian cooking sensation S Pavithra’s decision to resolve her family issues out of the limelight is not acceptable to them.
They are making assumptions about her and her husband M Sugu, and assuming that she is dimming her lights to appease her man.
Why so? Is it because she dropped the charges? But do they know the dynamics of the couple’s relationship?
The husband went from estate worker to overnight sensation with his wife. What he did was clearly unacceptable.
He brandished a weapon in a hospital and is alleged to have beaten her. Punishment should be meted out, even if she doesn’t press charges.
How should one view Pavithra under these antagonistic circumstances?
Leadership communication coach Faridah Hameed sees Pavithra as a strong woman contrary to assumptions about her socio-economic status.
Faridah says there are many highly educated, upper-class women who, having suffered years of domestic violence, continue to stay in a marriage – and never made one police report.
“Pavithra’s fame may be her strongest shield against this episode from recurring.
“If or when she decides to take any other action or speak up, let her do it in her own time,” said Faridah. “Let us not assume that she is weak or a victim because she withdrew the charges. We just don’t know.”
Many of us were happy when the couple struck it big on YouTube and were saddened over news that he allegedly assaulted her.
In such cases, people will always look through the gender lens or see it as a human trait of greed, jealousy, and ego.
Although in many relationships and societies, women often get the shorter end of the stick, the “woke” culture that’s suddenly de rigueur is not reflected in reality – it imposes morality on someone else without considering the complicated nuances of relationships.
(‘Woke’ is described as being alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice, along with being aware of what’s going on in the community).
Fame came fast and furiously to Sugu and Pavithra: they could not have seen it coming.
Even Hollywood A-list celebrities with their bevvy of publicists and managers struggle with the scrutiny that fame brings.
What chance did Sugu and Pavithra have of not running headlong into emotional walls in their relationship when they became YouTube stars in just a few months?
This is a complicated issue because we are all on the outside trying to look in when we know nothing about their relationship.
One cannot impose a higher standard of morality and condemnation – whose morality is this anyway?
The reality of the poor isn’t the reality of the middle class and rich.
What is more necessary is ensuring women who want to exit emotionally, or physically abusive relationships are given the support, network and means to do so.
It is unfair for people to generalise this as an abuse of patriarchy that is supposedly common in the Indian community.
Such loose statements are easy to spew because the Indian community is saddled with domestic violence and alcoholism.
Patriarchy has long been seen by certain circles as providing a package of male entitlements and encouraging domestic violence.
Which is not to say men do not use their physical superiority to intimidate and take control, resulting in humiliation and fear on the woman’s side.
Women are not always at the receiving end. Sometimes, men are too. The abuse isn’t always physical, it is often emotional too.
The difference is that men don’t speak up because of the stigma that would label them as weak.
Countless studies show that men who abuse grew up either experiencing abuse or witnessed it as a child in the household.
We don’t know Sugu’s history and whether he can be given counselling to deal with his emotions so he can set a new example for his children.
A close friend related that her ex-husband was competitive to the point he couldn’t accept it if she beat him at anything.
“He used to pick huge fights or spoke ill of me behind my back if I beat him at a game or if my achievements were praised by a third party.
“In the end, I kept letting him win or I stopped playing a game. I couldn’t get his support for anything that would make me shine,” she said.
Some women interviewed said they grew up thinking fathers were breadwinners and mothers supported them from home.
One of them went to an American college and wrote an essay that highlighted this stereotype.
When her lecturer told her women could be heads of their families, she thought that was bizarre.
“It showed the difference in evolutions of cultures, east to west,” she said.
Abrahamic religions emphasise man’s responsibility over women and families, but their followers are dwindling in the west while growing elsewhere.
Chinese culture is patriarchal, but they are also practical around finances so the person with money is the one with power.
Mothers’ influence is strong in families though and they are the ones who teach their children what sort of wives to get and what kind of wives the daughters should be.
In the end, the bigger issue is that we are all easily overwhelmed by fairytales and happy endings.
We love the story of a hero’s journey. But fairytales end at midnight.
And every hero comes out of his journey deeply wounded by the experience.
We want to see things in black and white because of some moral high ground that most of us cannot live up to.
The real question, however, is: Can someone dim your light without your implicit or explicit consent?
Answer: No one
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.