Modern Love is Definitely Dangerous
But in Malaysia, it’s not just dangerous for women
Hi, I’m Jeannette and this is the 16th issue of The Sex Beat, a newsletter documenting my research on sex. I didn’t manage to publish last week because I had a job (with a rush fee) to complete. But I’m back on schedule this week. As always, if you no longer want to get this newsletter, feel free to unsubscribe here.
I watched The Tinder Swindler last month and although it was gripping, I couldn’t understand it. I’d read the VG piece, thinking it was a very innovative example of new media journalism, but my first thought when watching the documentary was: I wonder how the story would be different if it had taken place in Southeast Asia.
Magic would definitely be involved
In a confession-style blog post titled Scam Marriage (Perkahwinan Scam), a woman writes about her “fake marriage” to an older man, who was a traditional medicine practitioner (perawat). There are two types of traditional healers – Islamic healers and non-Islamic healers. The latter usually practices a kind of sorcery.
In the confession, she writes that she was crazy about him because he had put a spell on her. They had children together and her parents had even given him money to start a business (MYR100,000). But eventually, she somehow decided to get a divorce and then discovered that their marriage was actually not official. And even worse, he also had similar unofficial marriages with other women, who also had his kids!!
So perhaps a Southeast Asian swindler wouldn’t have had to use the possibility of threats and danger to borrow money from a woman. He would just say some spells (or he might not even be human 😆).
Search “pengasih” (loving) on TikTok and you’ll see videos selling oils that act as love spells, warnings about the dangers of love spells, verses to read to encourage love from your partner and so on. Like in this video, where a traditional healer goes through the list of symptoms a person under a love spell would experience.
On the other hand, a woman who had been conned probably wouldn’t have let him go that easily either. It’s common for scorned women to send curses.
In this other confession – Repeatedly Cursed (Disihir Berkali-kali) – a man writes about a woman who has been placing curses on him, as well as his wife and children. He says he even spoke to the woman’s mother to find out what she wants and why she’s cursing him. But thus far, he hasn’t been successful and continues to suffer.
When I spoke to a friend about The Tinder Swindler, I asked, “Would a Malaysian or Southeast Asian woman let him just get away with it?”
The friend’s response was something along the lines of: “At the very least she would send a hantu (ghost).” The funniest thing is that he wasn’t the only friend who said that.
One thing this shows is that magic is embedded into Malaysian daily life. It isn’t a contradiction to modernity. Even bomoh (magic practitioners) use technology like smartphones, WhatsApp and TikTok. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they started selling NFTs as charms.
Another possible implication is that in Southeast Asia, women are empowered in a different way.
Let me tell you about some women I’ve heard of
When I was younger, my family lived with an unmarried aunt whom I would describe as spirited. In an attempt to tell me how much my aunt had changed (for the better), my mom once told me about the group of women this aunt used to be a part of.
Besides playing mahjong and other gambling activities, they would also go out with cleavers to hunt down women their husbands were having affairs with. In my head, my aunt is the woman in an apron that I ask for Chinese food recipes and freshly baked pastries, but I also have no problems imagining her threatening someone with a cleaver.
In another conversation between my aunt and mom that I listened in on, they spoke about a friend who had gotten out of prison. I was too young to understand everything but it seemed like that friend had thrown acid at a man who had conned and cheated on her.
I’m not saying these actions are good (they’re definitely not) but it’s wildly different from spending the night with the guy and taking his clothes to sell (which is what one of the women did in The Tinder Swindler) or starting a crowd fundraising campaign.
Even when it doesn’t go as far as a con, the stories get a little crazy.
For example, a friend had cheated on his ex-girlfriend and eventually married the other woman, but before that happened, the ex allegedly broke into his house and destroyed his things, including a TV. When I asked if he was angry or made a police report, he shrugged and said he deserved it.
Basically a woman going a little crazy and taking a bit of revenge is somewhat normal and understandable.
In other news…
I heard back about my thesis! It’s a pass, subject to minor amendments – a total of 12 – that I’ll have to complete in the next three months. As you can imagine, I am pretty ecstatic.
I’ll be writing a bit more about postgraduate life (and how I’m managing it alongside non-academic work) in Rabbitholes. I wrote a bit of an introduction in Why I Decided to Suffer Some More.
I’ve been wanting this for ages because I subscribe to too many Substack newsletters and finally, there’s a mobile app. The Sex Beat is also available on the new Substack app for iOS. (If you don’t have an Apple device, you can join the Android waitlist here.)