My friends once questioned me, “Why are you eating your food on your lap? You know that’s wrong!”
We were having a picnic and while they had their plates on the blanket, I had mine on my lap. They believed it was inappropriate to do that, especially as a woman. But I just laughed it off, aware that there was nothing I could say to shake their belief.
There are a lot of “improper” things I can’t do as a Malay woman. Since I was a kid, my grandmother taught me many rules about being a woman. Surprisingly, most of them are related to marriage. Ignore any of them and it could affect the longevity and quality of my marriage one day.
Being fed all these “don’ts” as an impressionable little girl, I believed them easily. But as I grew up, I had my doubts and tried to find logical reasons behind these rules. But all of them seemed irrational to me. Everything the elders in my family told me were just superstitions.
I no longer believe that my marriage in the future will be affected by these superstitious beliefs. Although I don’t follow most of them anymore, I understand the reasons as to why there are so many rules for us.
1. Don’t wake up late, or you’re going to have a hard time finding a husband.
This is my “alarm clock” on every weekend. Around nine until ten in the morning, my mother would be knocking on my bedroom door as she keeps reminding me the same thing – wake up at this time and you will end up a spinster one day. As much as it annoys me, I knew it was better to listen to her.
Waking up late doesn’t have anything to do with difficulty finding a husband. But as a girl, it’s inappropriate for me to wake up late when so much housework can be done early in the morning.
2. Don’t look in a mirror during midnight, or your face will turn ugly.
When you have an ugly face, no men will want you. Of course, this is so not true, but the elders will do anything to frighten us into obeying this rule. They made it seem as if the mirror could be possessed by an evil spirit at midnight and turn me into a toad.
The logical reason for this? I need beauty sleep. That’s why it’s important for us to sleep early. Back then, a proper woman shouldn’t stay up all night so they could wake up early in the morning looking refreshed.
3. Don’t eat with your plates on your lap, or your husband will be snatched by another woman.
I’ve heard this a lot, especially after my aunt divorced a few years ago. My grandparents believed it was because of her habit of eating with her plate full of food was on her lap. The most appropriate way is to eat at the table in the dining area. On some occasions (like a picnic), we put it on the ground while sitting with our legs folded to the side.
There was one time when I put the plate on my lap and accidentally spilled my food. That was when I found out the real reason as to why we shouldn’t eat that way. It’s more about etiquette and cleanliness, and has nothing to do with our husbands being taken by other women.
4. Don’t move around while eating, or your marriage will fail one day.
Once I changed my place while I was still eating and my grandmother stopped me. I remember her telling me, ‘You’re going to have so many husbands one day because your marriages will keep failing. Stop doing that!’
What does moving around or changing places while eating have anything to do with a failed marriage? Again, nothing! But as we carry the food around, there’s a possibility of hitting something or someone, and we’d drop the food. It’s the same reason as to why we shouldn’t eat food on our lap.
5. Don’t sing while you’re cooking, or you’ll be married to an old fart.
I used to be freaked out by this warning. I didn’t ever want to imagine myself at the altar with an old man, so I stopped doing it.
But I didn’t figure this out by myself. My friend explained to me the logical reason behind it with this question – would people want to eat our food with our spits in it? We’d never know if we accidentally added our saliva as extra “seasoning” on the food while singing Chikni Chameli.
Explaining the true reasons probably wouldn’t work for youngsters and they wouldn’t listen to these rules. Perhaps, that was why Malay community in previous generations came up with these illogical reasons, just so women could maintain their proper behavior and manner.
I still follow some of these rules, especially when my parents or grandparents are with me. But I’m not worried at all about the consequences from ignoring them because I know there are none.