Women and smoking in the digital era

Maryam Lee

Modified 27 Oct 2017, 1:33 am

COMMENT | The earliest memory I have of seeing a female figure smoking in public was that of my late grand-aunt, my late grandfather’s elder sister.

She was around 10 years his senior, and I saw her smoking a cigarette while talking to my grandfather who came to visit her. He had brought her some kuih for morning tea.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but Malay women smoking while chewing on sirih (betel leaf) was not uncommon for people of that generation.

Though I’ve never known my grandfather to smoke, he didn’t seem to mind at all that his sister smoked, and smoked heavily too.

However, at the same time as I was growing up, I would often see and hear women, young Malay women particularly, being heavily ostracised for smoking.

In just two generations, the attitude towards women smoking has reversed so much, particularly within the Malay community, that even the idea of women smoking is taboo.

The stigma still persists today, when a photo of a Malay woman wearing a tudung who was smoking with a friend went viral on social media last week. It was taken by a stranger who shared it without her consent.

While the sharing of that photo was already an unkind move, there is something else more sinister that happened as a result.

A lot of women smoke, and this is a normal everyday phenomenon. But why are women so disproportionately berated and chastised for the same act that is considered normal for men?

It’s not difficult to see why this is puzzling, since cigarettes clearly have no gender. So why the bias?...

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