Hi Rosa! Would you tell me a bit about yourself?
Yeah. I’m… you know, an eternal student needing to (yes, more than “wanting to”) graduate. I’m 26 and still live off my parents because I’m too lazy to find work and my scholarship had already ended. I live in The Hague where there are a LOT of cool activities and I hate myself because I don’t speak Dutch, making me unable to participate in a lot of events. I spent 23 years of my live living in Indonesia before coming here for my master’s study. I am currently the only daughter of my parents because the universe decided to take the life of my sister two years ago.
How did you know about feminism?
The only books I read were the ones that were in my reach when I was small, and that includes Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang by Kartini. Obviously, since I was still small, I don’t remember much of it. I only remember that it was a series of letters sent to her penpal in the Netherlands. If she lives in the present day, that’d be blogs. Or articles in a webzine, I guess.
I have no idea about women’s movement, third wave feminism, you name that. I’m not familiar to those. The movement doesn’t originate anywhere near where I’m from. Indonesia is a new country and ever since the first election, women can vote (I guess. The 1955 election). They had female president back in 2001, even though she’s viewed a bit negatively now.
Several months ago, I attended Indonesian Minister of Woman’s Empowerment and Child Protection Yohana Yembise’s talk about gender issues. She mostly discussed domestic violence to women, that is still prevalent in Indonesia. More about women in Indonesia can be read in this Quora thread.
Currently I read a a website quite religiously, checking every time they have a new article. It’s called Magdalene and I got the exposure from them, as well as Quora.
But, how does it connect to your life?
Yeah well. I’m kind of a privileged bitch who don’t even know how to struggle since my parents and my surroundings grant me that privilege. I never had to work super hard, never been so depressed, yada yada yada. Moreover, I tend to be opportunistic. At work, a lot of the time I got away from something just because I’m a girl. There’s a scary client-boss? He’d gladly explain me things just because I’m a girl–with guys he was more harsh. Weird hair as a result of a shitty experiment? Just put on a headscarf. Guys don’t have those privileges. They can’t just put on a headscarf if they accidentally dyed their hair blue. And what else? A lot of them. There aren’t many girls in STEM? Good! More eye-candies in campus, because I’ve always chosen technical university (Insitut Teknologi Bandung in Indonesia and Technische Universiteit Delft in The Netherlands).
Then, the usual women’s problems–catcalls and sexual harrassment. I actually thought that I’ve never been catcalled. There was one time when I walked with my cousin and she was the one getting catcalled, not me. Then I saw this and I realized that the “Miss, where do you want to go?” or a “Hi” on the street were catcalls. I um… I actually replied those people. If I feel like it, I would actually ask for direction. If I don’t feel like it, I just replied them while still walking, basically a bit shouting so that they could still hear me because I’ve passed them. I actually think that I would still do that, while telling them that women might be uncomfortable with their catcalls.
Then, sexual harrassment. I’ve had it twice; one in Jakarta and one in Rome. Back then I had no idea what to do, so I didn’t do anything other than dodging their hands and running away. (Now I know that I should confront those people.) But then, yeah, I thought it was just another crime, such as being pickpocketed and that there is nothing I can do to avoid that.
How did your upbringing play any role?
With gender equality and feminism kind of issues? Again, privilege. I only have a sister, so I have no comparison on how my parents would raise any son. But I guess it’d be the same, because age and context also matter.
One thing I remember is when I used to put my legs up when I’m sitting (“duduk mekokok”) because mom said “you’d be raped” (“nanti diperkosa”). I was small and I didn’t even know what rape means. Oh, there’s one more character on me: I’m not critical. I don’t question things and hence I didn’t even ask mom what rape is. Moreover, mom complains a lot that I’m super messy and she was like “Your dad is even more tidy than you! Girls should be tidier than guys!” — my answer was “It doesn’t have any connection with gender, mom”. Sometimes also, when dad was drilling a hole on the wall when he needed to install something, I wanted to try but he sent me off saying that it’s a male job. Privilege! I don’t have to do that, my dad would do that.
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I was also not into the “boys” things, such as football. I didn’t have to “fight the stereotype” or anything, probably because I don’t have anything to fight for or “oh, it’s so rare for a girl to do that!”.
So you’re not a feminist.
My semi-boyfriend (duh?) told me that if a woman (or someone, anyway) is not a feminist, she doesn’t understand what feminism is. Ok let me look up the definition of feminism.
Merriam Webster: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes”, “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests”
Wikipedia: “a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define and advance political, economic, personal, and social rights for women”
OK, sure. There should be equality among sexes. Women’s right? Yes, where the rights are inequal, it should be equal. Does it make me a feminist? Are you satisfied yet that now I’m categorized as a feminist?
Usually, I don’t use the term and declare myself as a feminist because I couldn’t identify to that–it wasn’t popular in Indonesia and I can’t label myself something I don’t understand. Anyway, I’m into gender equality. I think that people should be empowered, people should have freedom. People should be able to live a life without domestic violence–men, women, children. The victims, probably most of themare women, should be able to report to the police about the violence. If there is a marginalized group of women, you should fight that, such as what you can see here. I’m into empowerment.
So you’re into gender equality and women’s empowerment. Have you always been that way? Probably you weren’t like that because patriarchal society had influenced you. What views have changed over the years?
Yeah, of course. The society put expectations on genders. E.g., men should provide for the family. I used to think like that and I disliked my previous partner’s view which says that the wives should also contribute to family income. Now I think that both should contribute to their household based on their own agreement, financially or not, without any societal expectation. I have a friend who is a mom of two and she came here to the Netherlands to study. At that time, her husband left his job in Jakarta and came here to be with his wife and children, mainly doing things online. Did I think that she shouldn’t ask her husband to come here because he has his own career in Jakarta? Did I think that wives should follow their husband and not the other way around? Yes (and obviously now I don’t think that way anymore).
However, I’ve never thought that your worth as a woman is defined by a set of things, such as her ability to have children, no. Moreover, I always thought that I could be anyone I want to be; there is no limitation just because I’m a woman.
Due to the exposure of the internet and long talks with my friends/partners, my views on several things also changed. It’s not about gender equality though; it’s about being ok with myself (it empowers me, actually! That I don’t have to conform with what society thinks). It took me a long time to be ok with myself. My ex used to hate me because I kind of led him into sin; that I had sex outside marriage. I used to think that it would be easier to live my life if I’m a virgin. That if I could turn back time, I should be 18 again and not have sex with my boyfriend at that time. But as I grew older, no. I’m ok with myself. I’m ok with those sleeping arounds, as long as I’m responsible about that. I learned the “as long as I’m responsible about that” the hard way. At one point, I slept with a guy who slept with other women too and as a result I got genital herpes (HSV-1). So, use condoms, people. Abstinence OR be faithful OR use condom. Lol.
But then again, I didn’t feel any gender inequality over the virginity thing. I read on the internet that the society is ok with boys sleeping around but not ok with non-virgin girls. It was not the case with my life. Where I’m from, it’s not ok for boys and girls to have sex before marriage. My ex was even threatened to be disowned by his family (his mom?) if he had sex with me.
Okay, I think that’s it for today. You’re a feminist in your own way, I guess. Any other remarks?
Due to my “good” surroundings, I’ve never had to fight for any “injustice” just because I’m a woman. I’ve never been told to be the second sex or anything. I have my freedom which I take for granted–in fact I took advantages of some things because of my gender. Anyway, in a more equal society, I’m ready to lose those trivial privileges I’ve had as a girl (you know, the getting away from things because I’m a girl or having more eye candies in campus because more girls choose STEM).
I know that there are a lot of people who can’t do something they want or experience discriminations based on their gender, and that is not only women–men also, and everyone in between, the non-binary people. This is based on (outdated?) societal expectation and we all should do something to change that. How? By examining again our opinions. Do you think that being a stay-at-home dad is less respectable than being a stay-at-home mom? Do you think that women should be A and men should be B and non-binary people shouldn’t even be in this world? Would you feel devastated if your son feels trapped in a male body and he thinks he’s actually a female? By thinking about how we form our opinion or judgement (and moreover, how we feel about something), we can start small. Start from ourselves. For women and other marginalized groups, empower yourself, and then you can inspire people around you.
Dalam rangka Hari Kartini. Den Haag, 21 April 2017.