If you walk into a Shell petrol station in Malaysia, you’d be greeted (or scared by) a standee of a lady holding a mineral water bottle.

I say “scared by” because many were not aware of this life-like standee poking out next to the petrol pumps. It became such a hit online, that the standee earned its own name: “Gadis air mineral Shell” (translates to “Shell’s mineral water girl”).

Netizens shared their experiences online of how they were startled by this smiling lady, especially in the middle of the night.

It was all fun and laughter, until last week.
Images of three men suggestively posing with the standee and molesting it went viral.
Social media erupted in anger and disgust, resulting in the oil and gas company removing the standee altogether.

Quoting local media, The Star Online, Shell’s statement read: “We are aware that pictures of several individuals photographed engaging in distasteful and suggestive acts with a promotional standee at our retail stations are circulating online. We do not condone this disrespectful act, which is completely against the culture of Malaysians and Shell’s core values. We urge netizens and members of the public to refrain from sharing these images further. The standee will be removed from all our sites with immediate effect.”

Let’s take a step back. Who was at fault here – Shell or the three men?
If the standees are removed, will it solve the deep-rooted problem in Malaysian society and address sexual harassment?

While the majority believe it’s not the woman’s fault, debates (both religious and non-religious) have popped up since on how the situation should be handled and who should have been blamed in this and surprisingly, many parties believed the problem lied in the standee, not the men.

A Muslim group, Malaysian Muslim Solidarity (Isma) even said it was “natural” for men to be aroused by the standee, although she was “covered up”. Isma president Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman even said that Shell was “exploiting” the lady to sell goods and services and that she shouldn’t have taken up the offer to model in the first place. An Islamic scholar, the Perak state’s mufti, also shared the same view on the matter
(To read the full story: http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2017/07/06/shell-standee-molest-stop-exploiting-women-isma-tells-companies/)

The men seen inappropriately touching the Shell standee. Source: Rojak Daily

For decades, Malaysia faced issues on modesty and sexual harassment where it’s the woman’s fault for dressing a certain way or being provocative. Women who do not don a hijab and “tutup aurat” (genitalia and other parts of the body to be clothed as required by Islam) are looked down on, with some even saying that the women deserve to be sexually harassed for exposing skin. If a woman gets catcalled or even raped, it’s their fault.

But with the Shell standee, there isn’t a justification.

Being a multi-racial country, the non-Muslims aren’t spared (I’ve had a few encounters myself) but the Muslim women have it worse. Nonetheless, there are exceptions to this, with progressive Muslims standing up against the conservatives but the question is: how much sexual harassment cases is it going to take for people to realise that it’s not a joke?

The Shell standee model was fully clothed, donned a hijab and wore a long-sleeved shirt. Even her breasts were not visibly defined and the only skin revealed was her face and her hands. Are Malaysian men sexually unintelligent to the point that even the slightest sight of skin or a woman’s body shape, gives them the permission to act inappropriately?

In the past, the problem always lied in the way a woman dressed. It was always about modesty and the importance of covering up. But, this proves that clothes have got nothing to do with triggering inappropriate behaviour and that it is the mentality that needs to be addressed.

In 2015, three Muslim girls were threatened with arrests after they hugged K-pop boy band B1A4 on stage and accused the band of “molesting” the girls when in fact, the girls went up on stage willingly because they wanted to meet their idols, however, this did not drop the investigations by religious authorities. Earlier this year, a female college student was sexually harassed, with a guy threatening rape in a text message, adding that “Then she must marry me” but the student left the college, fearing her safety.

Now, for the men involved in molesting the standee, are they going to have action taken against them for full-on molestation or public indecency?

The man who kissed the standee, identified as Shahril Azmi Abdul Shukor, released an apology video, admitting that he crossed the line and that it was only meant as a joke in his WhatApp group. So far, there’s been no word from two other men who “cupped” her breast and crotch area but safe to say that it was unsettling to look at.

Are the authorities on the lookout for these men to reprimand them? No.

The call for proper and comprehensive sexual education in schools have also been aggressive being lobbied for in recent years, with the rise of sexual assault cases, even in schools. Education activists and parent groups have also agreed that sexual understanding needs to start at home and subsequently, in schools and shouldn’t be looked at as a taboo topic. And after this incident, the call gets stronger for the future of the country, especially with its 2050 target of being a developed country.

Featured image source: thetrendingnow.blogspot.com via Pinterest