Towards Healthy Masculinity - Better Masculinity Advocate, Rizal Rozhan, Chats with Thrive Well
Updated: Jun 29
Interview by Bhin Han
Rizal (far left) talking to a group of men at an anti-sexual harassment 'One Day One Struggle' campaign on 9th November 2017.
While the feminist movement is far into its fourth wave, traditional ideologies of masculinity, and what it means to be a ‘powerful’ man, still abound in our Malaysian society. More often than not, men tend to be pressured to conform to rigid standards of behaviour, such as suppressing their emotions or maintaining an appearance of ‘hardness’ just to be socially accepted.. One Malaysian has embarked on a quest to redefine masculinity, , by educating and empowering men to be better at dealing with their emotions and vulnerability. Read on to find out more about Rizal Rozhan, as he shares his experiences of becoming an advocate for better and healthier Malaysian men.
Q : Who are you? What do you do?
A : Hello, my name is Rizal Rozhan. I am currently working for an agency focusing on teaching youths to impact their own communities.
Before that, I used to work in a women’s rights organization, EMPOWER in 2015 for about 4 years, mainly focusing on Malaysia’s international human rights commitment and eventually helped with advocating for women.
During my time, I held a workshop to discuss exploring masculinity and how it affected women. We wanted to know what it means to be a male ally. But, our discussion soon turned towards self-care and our difficulties of expressing vulnerability. This started my journey to become an advocate for better masculinity.
Q : What are some challenges you’ve faced to become an advocate for better masculinity in Malaysia?
A : One of the bigger challenges is communication when crossing boundaries, especially in Peninsula Malaysia.I’m from Sabah, and I grew up with a mixed race group ranging from sinos, to indians to kadazans. It wasn’t until university where all my friends were Malay, which unfortunately meant having a narrower view of life as I matured.
There were other races in class because of the quota system but it still wasn’t diverse enough. Looking back, I really wished that I had more experience working with people outside my cultural background then so I could understand their cultures and bridge the gap.It makes it harder for me to mix with non-malay crowds unless it’s with a professional group now.
Apart from that, I find it hard sometimes to connect with others when classism and socioeconomic factors play a bigger role in dividing social groups. Due to that, we can only communicate within our own cliques and can’t really spread our message effectively.
Q : How is the scene for male support in Malaysia?
A : I don’t think anything is currently happening on a national scale, nor is there a group that has the capacity to cater to such a project.I feel like there are many clique issues as we mostly keep to ourselves.There are bigger groups coming up, like Better Dads Malaysia, which I think has about 3000 members, which is definitely a good sign towards progression.
My group is mostly a private circle of friends. We are a mixed-race group of like-minded individuals, who are learning to be more tolerating and open. Again, another clique issue here as we don’t really do enough outreach and do not have the capacity to branch out.
On the government’s side, we currently do not allocate resources to address this, although we do have a ministry for women who obviously can’t spend their resources on men. Recently, they’ve been proactively including males as advocates to empower men as well so hopefully we can get more people to be more understanding of gender equality.
Q : What is male empowerment? Do men need more power? Aren’t we already living in a male power dominant society?
A : Empowerment can come in different forms. Male mental health is on a decline ever since the pandemic hit. Men do not usually let their wives to go to work as our culture expects men to hold all the financial burden of the family. This puts unhealthy stress on the male to perform but also on the wife who is now powerless. It is proven that men who get to spend time with their children are mentally healthier. So, we need to find a way for men to ease their burdens so that families can live a balanced life.
Men holding a majority of power also hurts on a larger scale. We can look at what the female leaders of other countries are doing. Like Jacinda Ardern, who handled the pandemic so well it lowered the mortality rate of New Zealand, or Angela Merkel,the de facto leader of Europe after steering Germany through the financial crisis. I’m not saying that men in power can’t make good decisions, but listening to women means having variance in viewpoints, and that can lead to better solutions.
Q : Should we be worried about the current culture of masculinity? What can we do to change masculinity for the better?
A : Culture will naturally change as society advances. Unethical practices will stop, but development is intentional. Pushing for better men in terms of their mentality and mental health should definitely be one of our current priorities.
First, men in power must step up and show the public what it means to be a better man. For example, Canadians have the stereotypes of being nice and forgiving towards everybody, regardless of gender. Malaysia is also seen internationally as a very welcoming country and we should live up to expectations. By changing the most public image of how men can act, we can change the narrative of the culture and include more gender sensitivity.
Finally, we have to start helping men now. My support group is small and based in Selangor, Of course, my group is open to sharing resources to help or create more groups. What about the men in other places? How would they get help? Male support groups should start to organize and reach out to each other.
Q : Do you have any tips for people who want to help the cause?
A : I’ll be honest, it can be tough to actively advocate for toxic masculinity awareness. I’ve lost friends because of my viewpoints, even some self-esteem. I was mocked and ignored when I was trying to get my message across. It can be discouraging, to be very frank, but that is where support systems and perseverance come into play.
When like-minded individuals get together, we can help each other and our united voices will be heard. Don’t give up and know where the limit is for each member of the group. Even if you can’t change opinions, you can slowly bring awareness towards the topic, and that is already a major contribution.
Q : Final message
A : People find it strange when we talk about toxic masculinity, it is a niche topic, and a conservative topic. Our current society expects all men to act a certain way that is no longer beneficial nor healthy towards the community. It is time for us to reexamine masculinity and change the cliche of men needing to be power-hungry aggressors and to normalize the empathetic and healthy man.
For readers who want to reach out to me, either in search for support or for ways to start your own support group, you can reach out to me at email@example.com.