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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Naked Women versus Terrorists?

Have you ever heard the contradictory relationship between naked women and terrorists? One big ulema from hard-line fundamentalist Islamic organization in Indonesia stated that naked women are much more dangerous than terrorists.
Here is the contra statement from one famous feminist columnist in Indonesia.

Bombs, boobs, or bust: Choose your weapon!
Julia Suryakusuma, Jakarta

I read with a mix of amusement and relief Abu Bakar Ba'asyir's statement that Indonesian TV shows featuring scantily dressed women are more dangerous than the Bali bombs because they undermine public morality (The Jakarta Post, Sept. 20, 2006). Amusement, for obvious reasons, and relief as it would be a sad day indeed when bombs are considered more dangerous than half-nude women!

Relief also that the alleged spiritual leader of Jamaah Islamiyah and the head of Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI), a hard-line Islamic organization, is openly admitting his fear of women! Well, all powerful people have their Achilles heel, and his is hardly unique. In fact, fear of women has colored much of human history.

Historically -- and in most countries and cultures, it seems that men have tried to contain and repress women's sexual (and spiritual) power through religion and other forms of institutionalized power.

It's easy to think of examples: The burning of witches in Salem, purdah or the forced wearing of the veil, genital mutilation, putting a premium on girls' virginity, basing family honor on the sexual control of daughters and wives, exacting severe punishment for adultery (including stoning, legal in Iran), segregating girls and women from boys and men, and now in Indonesia, the enactment of Islamic inspired local ordinances that severely restrict women's mobility and freedoms.

And, if it's not repression, it's exploitation -- complementary forms of control and abuse -- where women -- adults and children -- are used for men's sexual gratification or profit through incest, rape, sexual harassment, battering, pornography and prostitution. Men create the demand and women have to provide the supply while at the same time being expected to embody virtue and morality. The hypocrisy is astounding, but it has been typical of the patriarchal religions that have molded most cultures of the world. It was not always that way, however.

In ancient Sumeria and Babylon, for example, the queen goddess was the center of the civilization. If she was not satisfied by the male of her choice, this was seen as a sign that the land would become infertile. Then, female sexuality was at the center of power, but now we have moved from cultures that celebrated feminine sexuality to ones that try to stigmatize it.

But they don't always succeed. I, for one, can derive a lot of pleasure -- and even power -- from my own sexuality. When I walk into a reception in a strappy, sexy, evening gown, cleavage showing (a little goes a long way!), long legs (even a bit of thigh -- horror of horrors!) flashing from the slits in my streaming, Barbie-style, red handkerchief dress, and my long black hair flowing, all eyes are on me.

It feels good! And it's fun, for both me and the spectators. As a former fashion model, I'm used to putting myself on display. It's just a show, as well as a form of art. They say that woman is a work of art -- God's work of art -- so I'm just displaying God's handiwork, am I not? Afterwards, I go home, take off my make-up and jewelry, put on a sexy nightie for my husband -- albeit briefly -- and be a ... um .... good wife to him. You can imagine!

It's all rather harmless really, so why does everyone get all excited and hot under the collar (and elsewhere) when it comes to sex? My question for Ba'asyir specifically is, how can he assert with such certainty that women have a powerfully corrupting influence, that "watching scantily clad women on television can destroy the faith of the believer"? (AFP, Sept. 20, 2006). Does he have extensive personal experience? If he does, then he's a hypocrite. If he doesn't, he should politely shut up and stick to matters he is more familiar with. Bombs maybe?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say, and lust and depravity is in the heart and mind of the man. When he was meditating under the bodhi tree, Buddha was tempted by, among other things, naked women. Did he budge? Did he flinch? Was the focus of his meditation diverted? No, because his faith was strong and steadfast.

Morality comes from within. We live in a world fraught with temptations -- not just sexual -- so better start pumping your morality muscle! Ironically, Ba'asyir seems to be tacitly admitting that he and his ilk have dirty minds and little faith. Those who need guns to convert people to their belief probably don't even believe in God, because if they did they'd trust in Her alone to do the job. Would that not be the logical conclusion?

Why are people so uptight about nudity and sex, censoring it at every turn, yet so promiscuous about violence, which is truly vulgar and obscene? Hitler apparently was 'celibate' (i.e had problems getting it up), and we all know the horrors he caused. We live in a world that glorifies violence but if we glorified sex coupled with spirituality instead, we'd be all much better off.

Maybe Ba'asyir should expose himself more to female skin and roll around in the hay more, so to speak. Perhaps that might release some of the tension and nervous energy that seems to be causing him, and the Indonesian state, so much trouble. Hey, sex, power, politics -- they're all very closely related -- hence my book, "Sex, Power and Nation". Read it folks!

But not everything about Ba'asyir's statement is bad. Inadvertently, he gave me a brilliant idea about how to deal with Muslim terrorist hijackers. Rather than bother about complicated and frustrating security measures, airlines should simply eliminate all male attendants on flights and have only nude female space waiters. Since a nude woman is apparently something that completely offends potential Muslim terrorists, they will naturally avoid flying! In fact, maybe we should all run around nude and there would finally be peace in the world!

The writer is the author of Sex, Power and Nation. She can be contacted at
jsuryakusuma@mac.com or jskusuma@dnet.net.id

Luckily Julia Suryakusuma could make fun of Ba’asyir’s ridiculous and abusive statement. ME? I need some days to take a breath to control myself not to get mad. LOL.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

P R I M E

I watched PRIME the movie some days ago. It is starred by two “big” actresses: Merryl Streep (cast as Lisa) and Uma Thurman (cast as Rafi).
Some interesting things I spotted from this movie

1.Religious Snob

As someone born in a strict Muslim family and society that supported that Islam is the only “right” religion in this world, I easily understand why many Muslim people in Indonesia become religious snob. Oh well, perhaps not many of them, only (un)luckily, I have been surrounded by such people since I was a kid. After I got enlightenment, LOL, (I found it myself by reading more books than when I was younger and also by getting in touch with “appropriate” people, LOL), I realized it was really ridiculous to think that only Muslim people will go to heaven after the judgment day (for those who believe that this judgment day will come one day) while the rest will go to hell.

Therefore, when finding that in fact people with other celestial religions also can become boring religious snob, I was surprised. (read => it is naïve of me. LOL.) The way Lisa (Merryl Streep) viewed her son’s love relationship with a girl who is not a Jewish showed that she considered non Jewish people lower than her. She insisted that her only son marry a Jewish girl.

My conclusion: when someone become a fanatic, and indoctrinated in an “appropriate” way viewing that his/her religion is the only media to take him/her to heaven, he/she tends to be a religious snob.

2.Western culture versus Eastern culture

Since I was a kid, I have often heard people say, “Oh, for western people, it is understandable if they do this or that. However, it is not appropriate for us eastern people to do the same thing. The reason is simple: they are western and we are eastern. Period. No more explanation.” It made me make a conclusion that indeed there is a big difference between western and eastern cultures.

However, my experience for blogging has taught me a different thing. When posting something in my http://afemaleguest.blog.co.uk now and again I got some comments from my blog friends living in western countries that showed me that they are not much different from me here.

For example, when I was worried to let Angie go camping with her school friends some months ago, then I wrote it in my blog, some blog friends commented a similar thing; how they are also worried when letting their kids do something that will require their kids to be away from home for some time.
When I wrote in my blog about the ridiculous rule of some companies in Indonesia that don’t let their female employees wearing trousers to the office—with a stupid reason that females are to wear skirts/dresses, not trousers, I got some comments from my western blog friends that it happened in their countries too some decades ago.

When I wrote in my blog about what a school uniform is supposed to be like—such as how long the skirt for female students, whether the shirt is loose or tight, my western blog friends commented that it was a common debate too some decades ago in their countries.

When I wrote in my blog that women are supposed to do household chores—though they also work outside home, together with their husbands—while their husbands can just enjoy watching television or reading newspapers at home, my western blog friends commented that it was also very common there some decades ago, and even many of them still undergo the similar thing in this twenty first century.

And there are still some other examples. Indonesia with its “eastern culture” is just left behind some decades. Indonesia will catch up with western culture later. Does it mean that Indonesia will be western one day? LOL.

In PRIME, Lisa seemed very old-fashioned—very eastern, Angie said—when she worried much about her son’s love relationship with someone who is not Jewish, and fourteen years older! She said that her son’s relationship with Rafi wouldn’t last long with those trivial reasons. (Oh well, for me they are just trivial things—different religions and different age gap. Differences can be overcome well with open communication, I believe.)

3.Love relationship between a much older woman with a younger man

In fact, westerners also find it not an ideal thing. Well, Indonesian people with their opinion about freedom in the west must have considered it queer to know that in fact for westerners, this thing is also a problem. Most people tend to believe that men must be older than women in one relationship coz men are expected to be wiser, smarter, more mature, more experienced, and some other more things???

When I use my feministic view, inequality seems so idealistic in one relationship coz men are always to have more things than women. Men always expect to be respected by women and they think that to be older is one way to get that respect, besides richer (having higher income), more knowledgeable (having higher educational background, more well-read, etc) Many men then would argue, “In return of that respect we get from women, we will give them love.” They seem to forget that they also expect to get love form women. So, how about if both men and women love and respect each other simultaneously? Love and respect do not always refer to who has “more” things than the other. Isn’t it more beautiful if both men and women love and respect each other because they were created equal?

In PRIME, at the beginning of their relationship, both Rafi and Dave didn’t feel comfortable with the big different age gap between them, especially Rafi. Rafi felt that it was ridiculous for her to date a young kid, while Dave didn’t really consider it as a big obstacle, except that he had to lie to his mother when telling her about the age of the girl he dated. Dave’s main problem with this is his mother’s objection on his dating a much older woman, moreover a non Jewish. Well, this non-Jewish problem can be overcome easily if Rafi is willing to convert. But the age gap?

4.Therapist

Needing someone to talk to openly and listen to patiently is everybody’s need in this life, I believe. When seeing Rafi needs to go to a therapist to help her overcome her wrecked feeling after getting divorced, and then later on to talk about her date with a much younger guy, I am wondering if friends—that people think can be the best listener—has become so rare nowadays that Rafi needs a professional “friend”; a therapist. In the movie it is illustrated that Rafi has a quite close friend—a girl—with whom she sometimes spends time to go shopping, eat out, etc. I assume that it is not enough for Rafi to talk to her, or Rafi didn’t find her reliable enough—or she didn’t feel secure—to talk about things she considered very private; e.g. how she made love with Dave in every corner of her apartment, how she understood why men loved to make love with much younger girls for their youth, freshness, naivety, etc.

I remember around a year ago, I had a private student that easily confided in me about her problems with her boyfriend, not long after we got to know each other. She needed someone to talk to, to listen to her, to ask for suggestion, to keep her secrets, etc. It means I had double roles, then, as her private English teacher and as her therapist. LOL. When I told her that I loved writing diary, she found it a not safe thing to do, coz people would easily find my diary and find out my “secrets” I keep in it. I told her that I did find it cathartic to write, to express myself openly, although only to dead papers. My diary will not betray me as people sometimes do, except my own carelessness to put it in a public place and forget to save it. That private student of mine couldn’t see the similar role of my diary for me to my role as her listener.

It is indeed relieving to be able to talk to someone about any problem, idea, opinion, etc we have, someone with whom we can feel secure and we feel that our problems, etc are safe with him/her. If we can find one reliable person to do that, it is lucky of us, then, coz we don’t need to go to a professional therapist where we have to pay the service he/she gives us. LOL. Dead papers such as diary can be very helpful of course, but “living diary” LOL is much more wonderful. Dead papers cannot give us feedback, while good friends can do it.

However, I know that it is getting more difficult nowadays to find such a reliable friend with whom we feel ‘tuned in’ well. It is understandable then if Rafi went to a therapist whose service was professionally paid.

So, guys, what do you think of this movie? I bet you will find some other interesting aspects again to ponder about when watching this movie by yourself.

P.S.: A tribute for someone who came into my life exactly on my birthday this year. Thanks and many thanks always for being my “free” therapist. :)

PT56 07.29 150906

Nosy ... nosy ... nosy ...

It was September 13, 2006 6.45 pm when Angie and I entered a food stall. The stall was not crowded. I only saw four people—two men and two women—in one table located in the middle of the room, and another pair in the right corner of the room. The room was not brightly lighted so the atmosphere was quite romantic to me. Angie chose to sit in the left corner of the room, a small table enough only for two people.

After the waitres came, Angie chose one portion of chicken steak with cappuccino milkshake, and I chose one portion of fried noodle with a glass of orange juice.

We didn’t wait for a long time for the order to come. We enjoyed our meals while Angie told me her experience at school, and I told her about my day at the office.

After we finished, Angie asked me to go home soon, and not lingering there. Before leaving, I went to the cashier to pay. The cashier greeted me politely, “Is that your daughter?”

“Yes, she used to study in the junior high school across the street from here. That’s why she knows this food stall.”

*****

Arriving home around 7.45pm, annoyedly Angie asked me whether I paid attention to the four people sitting in the middle of the room of the food stall. I didn’t. She continued complaining, “The two women looked at me curiously as if I were a bad girl. Their eyes were like police’s eyes looking into criminals! It must have been coz I am still wearing this school uniform. They must have accused me as hanging around after school instead of going home directly.”

It reminded me of the cashier’s polite question, “Is she your daughter?” Did she also share the same idea of the two woman looking at Angie curiously?

This was our second experience to drop by in a food stall around that time with Angie’s wearing school uniform. In the first experience, Angie complained too with some people’s looking at her curiously and then looked at the badge of her school.

To calm her, I said, “Honey, I am your mother. You are hanging around at this hour with me. And we directly dropped by here from your English course coz it was more practical rather than we go home first, you exchange your dress and then we go out again. Don’t really care to what other people think about us. And as your mother I know exactly what you have been doing since morning. And you know what you are doing. Don’t care what the hell they are thinking about us.”

“But Mom, don’t blame me if that judgmental look from those nosy guys bothers me.”

“Fine. But don’t think of it too much, okay? Remember, we are what we think, we are what we do, and not what other people think, not what other people accuse.”

Suddenly the telephone rang. Angie quickly went out of the bedroom to answer the call. Not long after that, I could hear her cheerful voice talking to her friend by phone.

This sucking society, with those sucking judgmental people... And they are my fellow citizens in Indonesia. :(

And when I told my workmates about this experience, they in fact, also shared the same idea with those fellow citizens of mine. LOL. They find it weird too to see students still wearing their school uniform in the evening.

Perhaps I am too ignorant. Perhaps coz I adored Emerson’s idea of nonconformity in the wrong place. LOL. It is coz I am a rebellious creature. LOL.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A nosy male in the nosy society

One female workmate of mine—her initial is A—is married to a guy who is nine years younger than she is. (A is 37 years old now.) A graduated has bachelor’s degree while her husband only graduated from senior high school. And they come from different social class, A is from a middle class family while her husband comes from a low class family. This couple really becomes a very good example to “break” society’s consensus that men must have “more” things than their life partners—older, higher educational background, richer, not to mention taller (in physical feature), you name the other things.

Fortunately (or unfortunately?) I have a male workmate who is really nosy, who always thinks that to be happy in this life, someone must follow that unwritten consensus I mentioned above. His initial is R.

Two years ago, when my workmates and I attended A’s wedding party, R showed his disappointment of A’s choice. “This marriage will not last long.” I remember he said so. And he suspected that A married that guy only coz she wanted to get rid of “unwanted old spinster” stigma soon. After that, in the office, sometimes R nosily asked A, “Are you sure you can satisfy your hubby in bed?” Since I hated to hear that question, I directly responded, “Don’t you ever know that women in their middle thirties reach the peak of their sexuality? Her husband in his age is the best partner to do that.” LOL. I know R felt bothered with my response coz in his eyes, I have become a weird creature since I resumed my study in American Studies Graduate Program. LOL. Therefore, he didn’t give comment on my response.

Some weeks later, R asked A again, “Have you known how to satisfy your hubby in bed?” Wittily, A responded, “Oh well, you know he is the one who has been searching the best way how to satisfy me; and not on the way around.” LOL. Annoyed, R said, “Don’t get close to Nana. She will poison you.” LOL.

Yesterday A told me about her difficulty to wake up during the night to take care of her one-year-old baby when she is awake. Her husband does that. A cheerfully told me about that, without feeling burdened. (NOTE: the stereotyping in the patriarchal society, children must be closer to the mother rather than the father, the mother must spend more time to take care of the children, and not the father. If not, society will easily consider the mother as irresponsible woman.) And I supported her by telling her that it is okay to share the duties to take care of the children with her husband.

The nosy R who overheard this immediately commented, “Hey, don’t you want to get God’s blessing? How could you let your husband do your duties as a woman?” I sternly responded, “Oh you know, God decides who God will give blessings, and not human beings do that. Don’t be a wise guy.”

I remember some time ago when A told me about her husband’s cooking while she “played” with her baby, R commented a similar thing, “Cooking is supposed to be the wife’s duties in the household chores, and not the husband’s.” When A’s husband does that happily, why should R complain?

I believe there are really many other similar bossy men here in Indonesia, and perhaps in many other countries too???

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Women's Right

Sunday morning. As usual I go swimming alone. My lovely star—Angie—always chooses to linger in bed. LOL. I arrive at the swimming pool around 06.00-06.15. After swimming for about one hour 15 minutes, I finished, and taking a shower.

The following thing I usually do is sitting on one bench, enjoying a cup of hot coffee, while writing in my diary, or reading a book. I recognize many familiar faces around me—parents who usually accompany their children who take swimming lessons and watch them practice. However, since I am not really a sociable person, I usually don’t pay attention to all of them. I enjoy myself with my diary or books to read and coffee. I believe those people are also familiar to see me sitting on the same bench, writing something or reading a book, a bit ignorant to the surrounding area.

***

pic taken from this link

And suddenly this morning, I remember what happened some years ago. In the swimming pool, some guys were around me, trying to be friendly to me. I was trying to be friendly to them too then.

One of them asked, “How often do you go swimming?”

I answered, “Well, around three or four times a week.”

He asked again, “Do you always do it in the morning?”

I answered, “On Sunday I always do it in the morning. On some other days, it depends on my spare time. But sometimes in the morning too, after I take my daughter to school.”

Unfortunately, then they started to be nosy. One of them said, “Oh, you are already married? Don’t you think you are supposed to be at home to do your household chores? And not just enjoy yourself swimming here pretending to be a single girl.”

I was not sure what I said at that time. I didn’t remember. I believe then I left them to continue swimming.

***

Remembering what happened some years ago—before I became a declared feminist—this morning, I became suspicious if one of those familiar faces seeing me writing or reading while sitting on a bench also had the same question on his/her mind. “What the hell is that woman doing there? Isn’t she supposed to go home soon and do her household chores to be considered as a good wife?” Of course I will not give a damn. None of their business anyway.

NOTE: the stereotyping in a patriarchal culture, a woman must not think of her hobbies as the first priority to do after she gets married; she has to give more priority to her husband and children; she has to think of her husband and children’s happiness in the first place, and hers at the last place. She is not supposed to hang around alone without her husband or children. She must be at home when her husband and children at home so that she can serve them well. Consequently, if she works, she must choose a kind of job that will not require her to be outside home in a longer time than her husband. It doesn’t matter whether she enjoys the job or not coz a woman is not born to be a professional worker in public places; a woman is born to be domestic or if having profession after all, as a professional homemaker. If a woman does all those things, she will be crowned as a good woman. On the contrary, a woman who “denies” her destiny will be crowned as a bitch. A woman’s feeling is not important—whether she happily does her household chores, “serves” the husband and children. Label to be a good woman is more coveted rather than to feel happy inside their heart for women coz they are worried to be labeled as a bitch. A bitch label is similar to being unloved and unwanted coz society doesn’t like bitches. And being unloved and unwanted means the end of the world for some people.

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