‘I’ column - Jac Sm Kee
... on how sexual rights affect one personally, and how they are affirmed and/or violated in one's local cultural setting.
I grew up in stories and rhymes. Every secret in the world could be found in stories, and every story is true. When I was about ten, I didn’t leave the house to play with my neighbours in the afternoon because a hantu kopek was roaming around. She’s a grandmother ghost, and specialised in kidnapping small children and hiding them under her pendulous breasts. Her breasts were so extensive, she could swing them over her shoulders as she shuffles along the street, looking for young prey. I’m not too sure what happens after a child is kidnapped, but her main terror lies in her breasts.
At that time, we were just beginning to rebel quietly against our changing bodies. I couldn’t walk around without my shirt on anymore. My grandmother repeated the adage, ‘spread your legs, earn big money,’ more and more often in irritation whenever I hiked up my knees to my chin. School ushered us into a darkened room and showed us short videos by Kotex about menstruation. I started to notice that after a woman and a man end up in bed with blankets up to their naked armpits on TV, some kind of drama would follow. So breasts were not safe territories. They result in things, life changing things, even if I wasn’t entirely sure what.
One morning, as I was walking to school, a boy rode his bicycle right next to me. Before I knew what happened, I could feel the shadow of his hand grabbing against my right breast. He zoomed away. But his hand felt like it was still there. I could sense the rough presence of each finger pressed against that part of my body, singled out and disjointed. It was the first time I became aware of my breasts. They were not actually developed yet, but they were unmistakably breasts. They caused things to happen. They had meaning beyond their actual materiality. I couldn’t speak to anyone for the rest of the day. My friend asked me what was wrong, but I couldn’t say anything. How could I explain to her this transformation of my relationship to my body?
Of course, I eventually found out more and more about breasts, sex and vaginas. And also about stories. How names, rhymes and ghosts zipped me up firmly in a heterosexual female body before I could even properly pronounce ‘clitoris’. And how much it takes to disentangle myself from their lore.
There is something about the power of breasts that still intrigues me. I have walked with women who understood their workings so well that they swim like mermaids in a sexist world. I have walked with women who were so skilled with time that words could wobble their meanings and history. And I have learnt to realise that boundaries are not so solid.
A couple of years ago, I was reading by a fountain near a cinema, waiting for a friend. A man walked towards me, stopped nearby and unzipped his pants. He took out his penis and proceeded to masturbate. I then raised my head, looked at his face and shouted in annoyance, ‘Oy! Put your penis away!’ He hurriedly tucked it back into his pants, and backed off. Oh well. Just a penis. Nothing so special or powerful!
Jac sm Kee is a feminist activist, poet and researcher from Malaysia. She is currently the Violence Against Women & ICT Project Coordinator for the Association of Progressive Communications, Women’s Networking Support Programme. Jac also co-founded Knowledge & Rights with Young People through Safer Spaces and KataGender.