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Women are gentle and meek, she said, hitting me with her handbag

By Nury Vittachi

The other day I overheard a tall European feminist lecturing a tiny Asian woman on the importance of resisting male oppression. The Asian female, a friend of mine, nodded politely. Then she went back to her full-time job, which is to torture and humiliate men. Head nurse of a male hospital ward, she has the interpersonal skills of the Marquis de Sade, although she has more imagination and better tools.

Funny how Asian women have the image of being meek. In truth, they are quiet only in the way that landmines are.

A female colleague called Putri once explained to me that there are three rules in the Asian version of the battle of the sexes. 1) The women are in charge. 2) The men think they are in charge. 3) If any man realizes the truth, the nearest woman will order him to return to his previous mindset.

This arrangement is neatly demonstrated by a joke I first heard in Sri Lanka. A young bachelor asks a married woman the secret of a happy marriage. She replies: "I deal with the small questions of life and I let my husband deal with the big ones." The surprised bachelor asks: "You're okay with that?" The wife nods: "I decide where we live, how we spend our money and how to raise the children, and he deals with the big stuff such as what is the meaning of life."

These days, money is a common battleground. In Asia, women have traditionally controlled family finances, with men being given back a small amount of their earnings to buy beer, arrak, beer, newspapers, cigarettes and did I mention beer?

But last year in Sulawesi, northern Indonesia, mutinous male civil servants reversed the system, holding tight to their pay packets and peeling off a few notes to give to their wives. The horrified Gorontalo provincial government announced it would force society to return to the old ways by transferring the pay of the 3,200 married male civil servants direct to their wives' bank accounts. If you think about it, it's a brilliant system that benefits everyone, but it's too sexist to be allowed in the West.

Earlier this year, executives at China Merchants Bank announced they would launch an Asian married couples' account that computerized the traditional system. Every month, bank computers would automatically transfer husbands' earnings to wives' accounts, while leaving the guys a bit of beer money. Thousands of modern young people took to the social media networks to point out that this was sexist. Baffled older people of both sexes said: "Yes? And your point is...?" There was so much outrage from the young that the bank cancelled the scheme.

I think they should relaunch it but take out the words "wife" and "husband", replacing them with gender-neutral terms such as "the sensible spouse" and "the other one", or perhaps "the one who wears the pants" and "the one who thinks he wears the pants".

Meanwhile, this writer and his spouse/managing director make sure they keep on terms of perfect equality by regularly going out for dinner together. On the most recent occasion, all was sunshine and peace until I picked up the menu. "Order something the dog likes," she instructed.

Update: 29-November-2013