Story by Taylor Weik
After facing sexist comments over Facebook in Malaysia’s AXE Apollo Space Race for being the only female contestant out of the 15 applicants, Roshini Muniam was announced the winner on September 24 and will represent Malaysia at the Apollo Space Academy in Florida this December.
Muniam, a 27-year-old post-graduate student and college lecturer at the University of Malaya who dreamed of experiencing zero-gravity from a young age, discovered the competition and after searching for gender-related conditions (AXE markets its body spray towards men, which might explain the male-dominated contest), she applied without hesitation.
The social media-based competition had 15 contestants participate in various physical and mental challenges like scuba diving and constructing rockets over the past couple months, as well as post their bios online for users to vote on who would become “the next AXE-tronaut.”
“Being an astronaut is not just a man’s dream,” Muniam said in the video linked to her finalist profile. “I want to inspire Malaysians and the rest of the world to put their dreams into actions and make them reality.”
After Facebook released the profiles and photos of the top five contestants — of which Muniam was one — angry Facebook users took to the comments section and posted a slew of sexist comments.
“Women should be rejected… it is only for males… if your tampon burst while you are in space, the entire spacecraft will be spoilt,” read one of the responses to Muniam’s photo.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” Muniam responded to the comments from her Facebook page. “I am all out to win this competition because I want to inspire ordinary people to have extraordinary dreams & goals.”
News of the sexist feedback spread to Tumblr, where bloggers participated in one goal: to get Muniam up to first place. And as of September 24, they succeeded.
Muniam will fly out to Florida for space camp for the next leg of the race, where she will continue to compete to be in the top 22 out of 60 international representatives that will be sent to space. If she wins, Muniam will be Malaysia’s first woman astronaut ever.