By Nawar Firdaws
PETALING JAYA: Cornered, objectified, angry and frustrated. These are some of the words that describe how I felt covering the Red Shirts’ anti-Bersih rally last weekend.
It was like a bad dream where you realise you are standing in your birthday suit in front of a room full of unfamiliar faces, except that you are wide awake, fully dressed and foolishly believe that the media tag you are wearing across the chest will provide you with a shield and some iota of respect.
“Adik, adik ni cantik lah.” (Sis, you are beautiful lah).
“Sayang, kenapa jadi wartawan, nanti rosak kulit.” (Dear, why become a journalist? You’ll spoil your complexion).
“Wah, adik panas ye? Tak apa, abang tolong kipaskan ye. Jangan kata abang tak payung.” (Wah, sis you’re hot, yes? Never mind, let big brother cool you. Don’t say I didn’t give you shelter).
“Datang lah dekat sikit, abang pegang tangan adik, kita jalan sekali.” (Come a little closer la. Big brother will hold your hand. We can walk together).
No matter where I turned, or how fast I walked, or how many times I told them to stop, the group of seven or eight Red Shirts men refused to leave me alone.
Some even ran ahead and blocked my path to snap a selfie with me without my consent. I looked down and tried to turn back several times, but another was always behind to foil my attempts to break free of them.
They heckled and shouted sexual remarks that I never thought I would be the recipient of. Especially not by Malay men whose religion teaches them to be polite and respectful.
After what seemed like an eternity, I bumped into another group of reporters and sought comfort in their numbers.
It didn’t last long.
As we reached Padang Merbok, where the Red Shirts were gathering for their little demonstration, Umno Youth Exco Armand Azha called for a press conference.
I was ushered to the front by his followers, one of whom dared to lift my hand above my head without my permission.
Angry by now, I roughly pulled away from him, but he still stood close to me, grinning and staring at me in such a way that I began to feel small and exposed.
I left the moment Armand finished talking and sat as far away as I could from them.
But another man came to tell me and my friends from other news organisations of how he really, really respected our work.
He then asked a male journalist standing guard in front of me if he could take a selfie with us. I recognised him from the earlier group that had harassed me, so I turned away.
Although the male journalist agreed to the selfie without me in the picture, the man clad in a red shirt kept trying his luck and repeatedly insisted that I be in the picture. He even had the cheek to ask for my Instagram account. I said no, of course, and he left empty-handed.
The most frustrating part of the whole experience was that I wanted so badly to pull a Siti Kasim and flip my middle finger at them. But I knew these type of men thrived on the thrill of being rejected.
And I refused to give them that satisfaction.
That day, I received the full blast of the red army’s pre-civilisation behaviour, and it finally dawned on me that even after decades of the feminist movement, some men still viewed women as nothing more than just an object for their sexual gratification. – FMT