It’s never ever been in vogue to cast judgment on people’s attire, bar dress code infringement.
HERE we go again – another decently attired woman prohibited from entering a government building.
Without doubt, government buildings, including police stations, have dress codes. These regulations aren’t just for females but also men, who are denied entry if they’re in shorts or singlets. But what has sparked outrage in numerous cases is the length, pardon the pun, security guards go to perform their duties.
Their interpretations in some cases have been so extreme that Malaysians can be forgiven for thinking PAS has taken over the running of the Federal Government with such Taliban-style enforcement.
Many of these women were not even in mini-skirts or shorts, yet these security guards, or Rela members in some cases, have been entrusted as moral police, or “fashion police” in these instances.
In numerous cases, such guards even handed visitors sarongs to cover their legs with. Many meekly abided by these instructions because they just wanted to get on with their work.
Last week, another similar controversy surfaced. A woman was stopped from entering Wisma Persekutuan, the federal government building in Johor Baru.
Lawyer Norman Fernandez claimed that his wife Leni was denied entry into the building for wearing inappropriate clothing as determined by the guard on duty.
Fernandez claimed that his wife, who has been visiting the government building’s café for meals over the past few years, was wearing a skirt that extended around 7cm below her knees and had on closed-toed shoes.
He reportedly said the guard insisted that non-Muslims looking to enter the building should don clothing that reached the ankles, or long pants. Fernandez said that their requests to speak to the security guard’s superiors fell on deaf ears with no one showing up to offer an explanation even after an hour’s wait.
Malaysians who saw Leni’s attire from the picture must have surely thrown their hands up in disbelief as it can hardly be construed provocative or revealing, as claimed by the guard.
Seriously, the guard needs help of the professional variety. What kind of a warped and arbitrary decision was that? What did he see or imagine that most of us, normal Malaysians, can’t?
What’s disturbing and distressing is that there’s been no response from the guard’s employer.
The management’s deafening silence has given the impression that it supports the guard’s action.
Choosing not to respond is certainly not an option. The management of Wisma Persekutuan needs to investigate and disclose to the public if indeed female visitors to the building are required to don attire that reaches their ankles, or if what transpired was an isolated incident due to an independent decision by a guard.
For many of us, it’s another case of over-zealous enforcement devolving into moral policing and imposition of one’s values on others, instead of guards ensuring the security of staff and visitors to a building, as Johor Wanita MCA chief Wong You Fong aptly said.
“We are further perturbed that security personnel of any building management with prurient minds may exploit such ‘enforcement powers’ to legitimise ogling at women’s or even men’s physiques on the pretext of distinguishing dressing, which they deem is provocative or is not,” she said in a statement.
She added that female visitors looking to enter a government building while dressed in decent and modest outfits, as opposed to short pants and sleeveless tops, should not be denied entry.
“Especially in times of emergencies, the moral policing of clothing worn would result in inconvenience or could even make a difference to life and death,” read the statement.
I’m confident that most of our government officials have more important and urgent work to attend to than fuss over a visitor’s dressing, unless they are excessive individuals.
Some common sense will need to be exercised especially in police stations. Surely in an emergency, one cannot be expected to change one’s attire, before heading to a police station, for example.
I’d like to believe that most civil servants are dedicated and hardworking, but unfortunately, the latest incident has cast a bad light on Wisma Persekutuan down south.
If it’s simply poor judgment on the part of a solitary security guard, he should have been reprimanded by the higher-ups for failure to exercise discretionary powers reasonably.
Let’s not skirt around the issue but be rational instead.
Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 35 years in various capacities and roles. He is now group editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer. On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.