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Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Ache of Marriage

The Ache of Marriage
By Denise Levertov

The ache of marriage

thigh and tongue, beloved,
are heavy with it,
it throbs in the teeth

We look for communion
and are turned away, beloved,
each and each

It is leviathan and we
in its belly
looking for joy, some joy
not to be known outside it

two by two in the ark of
the ache of it.
PT56 16.50 280307

Killing and Suicide

There is one interesting article in the local newspaper several days ago, related to my article on the tendency of women to kill their children and then commit suicide I posted here. I entitled it “Three Recent Cases in Indonesia”.

There is one interesting phenomenon to ponder: there is a clear difference on the reason why men and women kill some other people before they commit suicide. Apparently men and women choose different victims to kill: men kill people whom they think rob their happiness, pride, and self esteem; while women kill people whom they think will suffer most after they commit suicide.

The “temptation” to commit suicide is of course because victims feel that they no longer can endure their “pain”, their depression due to problems accumulated in their lives. The reasons recognized are different: men’s reason is mostly related to their jobs; while women’s is mostly related to their familial problems.

One case taken as an example is a policeman shot his superior for transferring him to a smaller town. After that, this policeman committed suicide. He might have thought that his pride and self-esteem would decline because he was transferred to a smaller area. It hurt his pride as a man? Why didn’t he just commit suicide without killing anybody? He did not want to see the one who made him lose his dignity as a man alive safe and sound.

For women, the writer of the article took one case of a woman who killed her four little children, and then committed suicide. It was predicted that she had big financial problems while her husband was away and not easily accessible. This particular woman might have thought that nobody would take care of her children after she committed suicide. Therefore, in order not to make her children suffer more, she decided to kill them all. After death, no more misery, no more problems.

Another interesting finding (for me, at least LOL) is that women get depression more often than men. The comparison is about 3:1 (according to the writer of the article, based on patients coming to his clinic). However, women tend to be able to cope up with their depression much better than men do. When coming to suicide as the “solution” to end their misery, the comparison is on the contrary—men commit suicide three times more often than women do.

PT56 310307

Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her




Are you of opinion that people can read other people just by looking at them? Once I read somewhere, “Don’t think too much of what other people say about you. They don’t do it very often.” 
THINGS YOU CAN TELL JUST BY LOOKING AT HER is not a new movie, but quite interesting to watch and contemplate in our lives. The film has five short episodes that have respective main characters and stories although inevitably some characters also appear in another episode.

The first episode is entitled “This Is Dr. Keener”. Elaine Keener—the main character of this episode—is played by Glenn Close. Keener is an obstetrician who lives only with her elderly mother who already could not do anything except with the help of the nurse. One day she invited a fortune teller that then “read” her using cards. The fortune teller read Elaine as a lonely woman, secretive, aloof, no friend coz she was difficult to trust people, but she was tough with her being alone and lonely, bla bla bla... She had a crush on a younger workmate but he did not seem to respond her feeling.

A fortune-teller is absolutely believed that he/she can read other people. But relating it to the title of the movie, can other people “read” Keener exactly as what the fortune-teller “saw in the cards”: a lonely woman, secretive, aloof, no friend, but tough in her loneliness.

The second episode is entitled “Fantasies About Rebecca”. This is the most interesting and complicated one in my opinion. Rebecca played by Holly Hunter. She was illustrated as 39 years old She was single, had a boyfriend—another woman’s husband. Their secret relationship had been for three years. She was illustrated as six-week pregnant coz she forgot to protect herself when one day she had sex with him. She had decided to terminate her pregnancy before telling her boyfriend. When she told him about her pregnancy, he said the same thing—to terminate it.

I saw her as a very tough woman, almost without any feeling. However, perhaps she was disappointed when her boyfriend supported her to terminate her pregnancy. After telling him that she was pregnant and he told her to terminate the pregnancy, she was illustrated to go to a bar where she found one of her subworker—Walter, a man. Rebecca worked as a bank manager. After meeting at the bar, Walter and Rebecca ended that night by sleeping together. The following morning, Rebecca left Walter’ house when he was still sleeping. I interpreted it as perhaps Rebecca needed sex while her boyfriend went back to his house. Or she did that coz in fact she got disappointed by her boyfriend? Or she did that coz she thought that her body is hers so she was free to do anything she wanted to do with it—whether to have sex only with her boyfriend, or with anybody else as long as she felt okay with that, and her boyfriend didnt have any right to interfere.

Going back to Rebecca and Walter. When they met in the office the following morning, Walter kissed Rebecca in her cheeks and neck. Rebecca seemed awkward with that so that she looked so cold. When Walter said something intimate to her, Rebecca said, “If you think that this will be a regular romance, you are wrong.” Walter seemed dumbfounded to hear that, a little broken-hearted perhaps.
Background before she ended that night with her subworker. A bum “read” her as a bitch because she became a Bank Manager while she was a woman. Her male subworkers must not like to be under a woman, the bum said. (The conversation happened when Rebecca was smoking outside her office, leaning against her car because smoking was not allowed inside.) Nancy—the name of the bum—suspected Rebecca to do “bitchy” things to reach the top position.

Apparently what Nancy said a bit bothered Rebecca. That afternoon, she left early from the office because she wanted to check her pregnancy. Before leaving, she asked Walter to take care of the bank on behalf of her. Before she left, she asked Walter coolly, “Do you think male employees here have sexual fantasy about me?” Walter, smiling surprisedly, answered, “Maybe...”

After she underwent the process to terminate her pregnancy, though, she cried. Was she disappointed? What made her disappointed? That she had to lose her baby disappointed her? Or the fact that her boyfriend asked her to terminate the pregnancy disappointed her? However, before she told her boyfriend about her pregnancy, she already decided to stop the pregnancy. She said to her friend who happened to be the assistant of the obstetrician, “His wife will not like it if I have his baby.”

By the end of this episode, Rebecca was illustrated to refuse her boyfriend’s coming to her house. Did she start to realize that he in fact did not really love her. If he really loved her, he would let her keep the pregnancy, wouldn’t he? In Indonesia, having a baby is one of the main goals from a relationship, as the proof of the deep love between the couple. Perhaps it is like this too in many other areas in the world.

The end of the episode made me draw a conclusion that Rebecca wanted to stay away from her boyfriend realizing that he did not really love her, the proof is when he did not seem happy with Rebecca’s pregnancy. Her decision to terminate the pregnancy was not for herself but only to make her boyfriend happy that could mean she did not want to lose him.

The third episode is “Someone for Rose”. Rose—played by Kathy Baker—was a single mother with a teenaged son. She worked as a writer—a lonely profession—this was what her new neighbor said. Albert, a bachelor, moved back to the house left by his late mother. The house was located across from Rose’s. Rose saw Albert when moving in and quite interested in it because she had a new neighbor. On the same day she met Albert in the supermarket when shopping and then offered him for a lift on their way home. Only from this “short” encounter, they could “read” each other that they were both lonely and would enjoy the relationship together.

The fourth episode entitled “Good Night, Lilly, Good Night, Christine” illustrated a short episode of a lesbian couple. Lilly was terribly sick that would kill her soon. They met for the first time in a party, where Lilly arrived with another girl, Vicki. However, since the first time Lilly saw Christine, she already had a crush on her. After introducing to each other, soon they became very intimate and involved in an interesting talk. This made a woman ask Lilly, “Are you couple?” Christine was blushed to hear that, while Lilly answered, “I have a crush on her, yes.”

How easy or difficult to “read” people as homosexual? In Indonesia, this is not that easy. Many girls have good friends and they become very intimate but it does not mean that they are lesbians. However, this is perhaps because people are still not confident to open up their sexual orientation. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to find out two girls are lesbian couple only by looking at their intimacy. Probably because I am not one so I do not know. 

The last episode is also very interesting. It is entitled “Love Waits For Kathy”. The most interesting thing from this episode is the strong sisterhood between Kathy (played by Amy Brenneman) and Carol (played by Cameron Diaz). They live together. Kathy worked as a detective while Carol worked as a teacher teaching to read using Braille. Carol herself was blind. Therefore, she depended on Kathy in some cases. Carol taught a little girl named June whose father asked Carol for a date several times. June said, “I know my dad likes you from the tone he is using when talking about you. However, I believe that he still loves mom.” Later that night, Walter—June’s father—didn’t show up in Carol’s house although he had promised her to have dinner out together.

An interesting dialog between Carol and June:
June, “Do you live alone?”
Carol, “No, I live with my sister.”
June, “Where does she work?”
Carol, “She is a detective.”
June, “That’s cool. Is she single like you?”
Carol, “Yes.”
June, “She is not blind of course. Why isn’t she married?”
Carol, “I think she just hasn’t found the right man yet.”
June, “I think she just doesn’t want to leave you all alone.”

Blind people will get difficulty to get life partner? Because other people do not want to be bothered by an invalid? It seems that what June said was quite right. Kathy possibly loved Carol very much so that she did not want to leave her. By the end of the story, Kathy was going out to have dinner together with a forensic doctor who helped her handle a murder or a suicide case. She did not tell Carol the truth that she was going with a guy. Instead, she said that she went out with her female friend. She did not want to hurt Carol? Coincidently at the same time Carol was waiting for her date, June’s father, who even went to a bar.
PT56 15.35 310307

Friday, March 30, 2007

Women Hollering Creek

Analysis on Sandra Cisneros’ “Woman Hollering Creek

The story tells us about the life of a young woman named Cleofilas who loves watching telenovelas before getting married. This hobby makes her dream that she would live a life like the main actress in the telenovelas; a poor country girl who works for a wealthy family and the good-looking son of the family falls in love with her. “Cleofilas thought her life would have to be like that, like a telenovela…” (p. 226)

In telenovelas, although life is full of “all kinds of hardship of the heart, separation and betrayal” (p. 220), being loving all the time will make someone (in this case, especially a woman) survive in life and get happiness at the end. When getting married with Juan Pedro, Cleofilas dreams to have a similar life. She even does not pay attention much to what her father says to her in the hubbub of parting, “I am your father, I will never abandon you.” (p. 119). She thinks that love between a man and a woman is more beautiful than love between parents and children. How when a man and a woman love each other, sometimes love sours. But a parent’s love for a child, a child’s for its parents, is another thing entirely. (p. 220). Gradually Cleofilas realizes that love between a man and a woman can diminish, especially if both sides do not try hard to maintain their love, moreover when of them starts hurting the other. Cleofilas knows that men are selfish creatures, they do not treat women lovingly—why should women be loving to them? She sees some examples in her real life—not only in telenovelas. Her neighbor, Soledad, has been left by her husband without knowing where he goes; Maximiliano—one of her husband’s mate—is said to have killed his wife in an ice-house brawl; her own husband has slapped her many times until her mouth bleeds without knowing what makes her husband treat her that way. The bitterness she finds in her life makes Cleofilas aware that happiness she often sees in telenovelas is only a dream. “… now the episodes got sadder and sadder. And there were no commercials in between for comic relief. And no happy ending in sight.” (p. 226)

Observing what happened in this short story between women and their husbands, I remember some radical feminists—for example Mary Daly—who opine that marriage is the source of gender inequality. Once a couple is married, the husband things that his wife has become his property so that he is free to do whatever he wants to do toward his wife; e.g. whether he wants to treat her lovingly or cruelly. Therefore, radical feminists think that to stop men’s oppression toward women and to reach gender equality, a woman is not supposed to marry a man, a woman must work to be economically independent. Women must improve sisterhood among themselves to help one another.

Therefore, I like to read the last part of the story when Cleofilas decides to leave her cruel husband. (He has taken Cleofilas away from her family and home country, and in the new country where Cleofilas knows no one—she even does not speak English, only Spanish—he does not treat her well!) her husband does not give her anything but babies (and miseries!!!). Cleofilas can run away from her husband with the help of two women who actually do not know her well, but they do know that Cleofilas needs their help. From Felice, a woman who gives her a ride to San Antonio, Cleofilas gets a valuable lesson that a woman does not need any man to survive. “ … she didn’t have husband” (p. 228). A woman can survive and do whatever she wants in this life without depending on man. It even makes a woman free from any kind of oppression in a marriage and she can do anything to her heart’s content.

A Paper in Contemporary American Culture
Yogya, March 2004

Response on Coleman's Women of My Color

The theme of this poem is similar to that of Hurston’s Sweat—that black women are always oppressed. Hurston’s Delia—the black female character in the story—was always oppressed by her husband Sykes. Coleman said that black women regarded black women mostly as the enemy. People always try to oppress their enemy. So did Sykes toward Delia. I have never found a story where someone caresses his/her enemy, except to trap him/her.

Besides enemy, Coleman also mentioned that black men regarded black women as saints. This was also what happened in “Sweat”. The fact that Delia never fought back Sykes physically, that she did not complain, that she just kept quiet no matter how cruelly he treated her can be considered that Delia has a quality to be a saint in her. Once she said calmly, “Ah hates you, Sykes,” but it stopped there. She did not do anything else. Saints never take revenge; they accept whatever happens to them, whatever people do towards them wholeheartedly, they never complain. This is what I concluded when I read “Sweat”. Coleman’s poem really supports the way Hurston described Delia.

Black women are also regarded as mothers. It means that black men regard them as ones to deliver babies, breastfeed them, and then raise them. it is different from the role as a wife. I see it here that black men consider black women “machines” to produce babies, to continue their clan. Because black women are considered as machines only, it means no emotional bond, no love between black men and women. It dates back to the slavery time where black women were used to “produce” babies that would be slaves after the babies grew up. The more slaves to have, the wealthier the slave owners would be.

Black women as sisters here mean that they have to be ready anytime to give help to their brothers. And the last one, as whores, means that black women are just regarded as sexual objects. They have to be ready to give sexual satisfaction whenever and wherever black men want them. And of course the sexual relationship here is done only for lust, not for love.

In facing their ‘fate’—to be regarded as saints, mothers, sisters, whores, and enemy—black women do not do anything real to oppose it. Coleman said “we are victims who have chosen to struggle and stay alive.” Though they feel like they are living in a hell and want to die –“would be better to be dead I sometimes think”—still they choose to struggle and stay alive. They try to endure their bitter life.
In addition, Coleman said that not only do black women mistreat black women, white men think the same way as well. White men find black women exotic; therefore they like them and approach them. However, white men do that not to love them, only to make them sexual objects: “women of my race are regarded by white men mostly as whores”. In need to get sexual satisfaction, white men approach black women. After getting what they want, they will go away.

At the end of her poem, Coleman asked, “will I ever see the sun?” The sun here has a connotative meaning of hope—something that will brighten dark days. I conclude that Coleman asked whether there will be a change for the better in the way black men and white men regard black women, whether black women will have a better future. Coleman put it in the question form because she herself was not sure whether it would really come true or not.

A paper I wrote in America’s Multi-Cultural Literature, March 2003

Women of My Color

Women of My Color
By Wanda Coleman

i follow the curve of his penis
and go down

there is a peculiar light in which women
of my color are regarded by men

being on the bottom where pressures 5
are greatest is least desirable
would be better to be dead i
sometimes think

there is a peculiar light in which women
of my race are regarded by black men 10
as saints
as mothers
as sisters
as whores

but mostly as the enemy 15

it’s not our fault we are victims
who have chosen to struggle and stay alive

there is a peculiar light in which women
of my race are regarded by white men
as exotic 20
as enemy

but mostly as whores

it’s enough to make me cry
but i don’t

following the curve of his penis 25
i go down

will i ever see
the sun!

Response on Hurston’s “Sweat”

Zola Neale Hurston described Delia Jones—the main female character in the short story—as a patient woman, a typical black female. Delia kept quiet whatever her mean husband did to her—e.g. kicking or beating her. She did not fight him back maybe because she had a small and thin body, she would not win the fight! Besides, a woman was not supposed to “oppose” her own husband. However, her hatred toward the husband whom she used to love deeply gradually became bigger and bigger and it exploded at the end. Delia kept quiet too when she saw her husband bitten by the rattlesnake, she did not do anything, just watched the accident from a distance. Delia knew that in fact Sykes wanted her to be bitten by the snake when he put it in the bedroom. Therefore, she did not help him when Sykes finally was the one who was bitten by the poisonous snake.
A woman who had to undergo bad treatment from a husband who is supposed to love and treat her well will do the same thing as what Delia has done. It is logical. If the woman helps to rescue the husband who has tortured her for years and has wanted to kill her indirectly by putting the snake in the bedroom, she is not a normal human being. She must be a saint!!!
Hurston describes Sykes Jones—the main male character in the story—as quite typical black uneducated male in America. He considered his wife as his property so that he could do anything he liked. It is up to him whether he wanted to treat her well or to beat her. It is a kind of an unconscious revenge when it is connected to the slavery time. The slaveholders treated the slaves as their property so that they could do anything they wanted. The black slave males could not fight back their owners. (Frederick Douglass’s beating Mr. Covey his master was an uncommon sense; as a very intelligent person, Douglass knew that it would help himself from his master’s cruelty. Other black slave males did not do that.) After the slavery time was over, the black males still could not take revenge toward the white men—racial discrimination existed until 1960s in America. One thing they could not for revenge is just to mistreat their wives to their heart’s content. No wonder if Hurston describes Sykes Jones like that.

A paper I wrote in America’s Multi-Cultural Literature, March 2003

Three Recent Cases in Indonesia

Three recent cases happened in Indonesia during one last year:
1. A mother—identified as suffering from terribly psychologically depressed—killed her three children, by putting pillows on their faces so that they couldn’t breathe.
2. A mother tried committing suicide by burning herself and her two children.
3. A mother killed her four children. After that, she killed herself.
One article in the local newspaper stated that those murders were the result from the heavy burden put on women’s shoulders. The burden can be in the form of economy, household, social, environment, and health. When someone feels that he/she is not strong enough to face that burden, it will form toxic anxiety in someone’s life. Toxic anxiety is poisonous, because it poisons the way of thinking, feeling, attitude, behavior, etc. When this poison is not neutralized or eliminated, the poison will spur someone to do cruel things. The poison exists as conflict and dilemma in life that can happen to anybody. From this conflict and dilemma, natural anxiety is engendered. This natural anxiety must be analyzed and faced wisely, not to be feared of, nor avoided.
The article ended with suggestion that government must carry out some counseling, health examination, and psychological guidance.
It reminds me of one article I wrote entitled “Mental Depression” I posted in my blog around a year ago. Why should women be more vulnerable to get depressed? If I relate it to woman’s madness phenomenon, patriarchal society’s demand from women to be good women (read  good wife, good mother, also good women that contradicts to ‘bitch’) is still very high in Indonesia. Instead of proposing suggestion that government must carry out some counseling, etc, I would rather suggest open communication between the husband and the wife and the husband’s appreciation to women as equal with them. Open communication will make the husband and the wife know what obstacles they face in their marriage life and try to find the way out together. (The background of the three cases mentioned in the beginning of this article shows the not good communication between the victims and their husbands, the husbands did not really understand what bothered their wives, etc.) High appreciation from society—especially from the husbands—will boost women’s confidence, to talk about anything. I am convinced that feeling appreciated will make women appreciate themselves, and that hopefully will result in women value their lives better.
Instead of suggesting government to do some counseling, etc, I believe it is better that patriarchal society reduces the burden they put on women’s shoulders to be good women. When a woman thinks that her burden can be shared with her husband, it will lighten her steps to undergo her life.
One case happened to my mother’s friend. One day in December 2006—still very early in the morning—my mother got a call from her friend. A man who is around sixties asked her whether his wife was in my mother’s house. She was gone. She left the house without saying anything. She said she would do some shopping and never returned. They have been married for many years. When my mother asked that man whether they had big quarrel, he said nothing. Their relationship was very good during their marriage life, he said.
Several days later, a neighbor of that man told him that she saw his wife in the railway station. She said she would go out of town (Surabaya) to visit a relative. She looked troubled at that time.
Three months have passed. That man cannot find where his wife is yet until now.
I saw this case as another case of woman’s madness phenomenon. Unconsciously, she has tried to bury all negative feelings coming to her, to be considered as a good wife and a good mother. When she thought that she could no longer cope up with that, she left her home. Her husband said that everything was fine in their marriage life. Nah lo!
By the way, patriarchal society’s burden put on women’s shoulders have existed since time immemorial. Why did those three cases happen just lately? Didn’t similar cases happen a decade, two decades ago, or longer than that? Perhaps the cases were not recorded by media now that media has developed tremendously everywhere around the world. The high competition has made media and their journalists get interesting news to be published. The more pathetic one case is, the more it sells.
PT56 23.37 280307

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Americanist vs Americanized

“I want you to be an Americanist, and not Americanized.”

I remember this statement of hope was said by one former lecturer of mine when I attended the general stadium in my first semester of American Studies Graduate Program, Gadjah Mada University Yogyakarta Indonesia.

Right now, instead of being an Americanist, I become Americanized, I suppose.  Oh, she must be very unhappy to know this. Not really Americanized perhaps, but westernized is more appropriate.

If there are the west and the east in this world, Internet has shrunk this world, hasn’t it?

PT56 22.05 250307

Westernized?

Apart from my effort to be able to understand the soul of teenagers (and I use my sixteen-year-old daughter as the main idea) so that I can keep in touch well with my teenaged students, I recognize that I will enjoy much better when teaching a class consisting of students whose age is not much different from mine.  The main reason, in my opinion of course, is because I like discussing life and its values seriously. My teenage students apparently get difficulties to follow the course of my mind. I am too serious for them? I cannot have fun? Or my sense of humor is so high that my teenaged students do not understand? :)

In fact my reason to discuss life and its values is to encourage (not provoke LOL) my students to think more deeply and seriously. This is for sure. Nevertheless, I know many of them come to the English course where I work to study English, to be able to speak English more fluently, mostly; and to be able to write in English better. So, perhaps they find me boring when discussing a topic—let’s say about autistic children, indigo, sophisticated gadget, etc—beyond what is stated in the book.

However, when discussing similar things with Angie, my only daughter, she seems to be able to understand what I talk about and enjoy it too. Perhaps it is because she is accustomed to me and my way of thinking since we talk a lot. :)

When comparing (we cannot avoid comparing in our life, can we?) my teenaged students’ way of thinking and their counterpart in other countries—that I gather from movies, blogs, novels—sadly I must say that teenagers in Indonesia are less mature than those from other countries. Should we blame them? Of course not. They grow up following the way their older generations—let’s say parents, teachers, religious or national leaders—treat them.

Should I adapt myself with my teenaged students’ way of thinking or I force them to adapt themselves to me? :) No wonder if I refer to Phyllis Chesler’s thesis about woman madness—women who do not conform to stereotypes of patriarchal culture—it is very possible for my students to view me as weird creature. One good friend’s husband—a Dutch—said, “Nana has been westernized by her readings.”

PT56 21.55 250307

Islam and Feminism

“I am of opinion that Islam is the most oppressive religion to women. So, it is just a bull shit thing to talk about feminism in Islam.”


This was what one of good friends wrote in her email some months ago. She happened to be not Muslim. While in fact, in several emails I sent her, I inserted what Fatima Mernissi—a Muslim feminist from Morocco—said: ““If the rights of Muslim women become problems for Muslim men, it is not because of Alquran or Islam itself; it is because these rights contradict with the wants of the elite Muslim men.” It is clearly stated that neither Islam nor Alquran is oppressive to women, but people—mostly men—who interpreted Alquran gender-biasedly.

One morning, Wednesday March 14, 2007 I read a rubric of consultation in one local newspaper. A man sent a letter saying that he would marry a woman again after her first wife passed away three years before. He didn’t get any kid from his first wife. He expects to have babies from his second marriage in order that he will have children to take care of him when he gets old. . (I am wondering whether there are people in the world who purely want to have babies for the babies’ sake, and not for their own egotism; such as to ask the babies to pay back for what they have done.) Unfortunately his second wife-to-be insists that they not have any baby anymore. She already has one child from her previous husband. This man is confused whether to continue his plan to marry this woman while in fact what he wants from his second marriage is to have babies (or at least a baby). In another side, if he cancels to marry that woman, he already fell in love with her.

The answer from the one who is in charge of the rubric (a woman, a professor holding a Doctorate’s Degree, working for an Islamic College, and she is also in charge of Women Bodies in the same institution) is she suggested the man to persuade his girlfriend to get babies because in Islam, having babies is one main goal of a marriage, to create pious Muslim children—that means pious Muslim next generation. She also suggested him to tell his girlfriend that having children can make a family more harmonious. The answer was ended with the statement, “if you have done all ways to convince your wife-to-be to have a baby, and it fails, you can reconsider your plan to marry her. Pray to God to ask God’s sign.”

If that suggestion is interpreted by a chauvinist Muslim, I assume he will make use of Islam to force the woman to have babies, because it is requested by God to have babies after getting married. Perhaps he will sweetly but forcefully say, “Please have another baby, darling. This is what God wants you to do after marrying me. And this is for our own future afterlife. We will go to heaven for that.” This is one thing I hate—when someone makes use of Islam and Alquran to oppress women.

I don’t have any idea why that Professor who has published a book to make Muslim women—and also men—aware that Islam is not a chauvinist religion still thinks of oppressing another woman in the name of religion. Children are not only our flesh children. When that man marries his girlfriend who already has a kid from the first husband, he can love and take care of the kid just like the kid is his own kid. When we do good to others, others will do good to us, wise people say.

As a secular Muslim feminist, I am of opinion that right to decide to have a baby belongs to women. This is fully women’s prerogative. Women know their bodies much better than men. When pregnant, omen will undergo morning sickness, get exhausted easily, undergo the pain when delivering the baby. And not the man.

Going back to the statement of my good friend in one of her emails—that Islam is the most oppressive religion to women; I am still convinced that neither Islam nor the Alquran is oppressive to women, the people who interpret the verses in the Alquran are the ones who are gender-biased.
PT56 21.25 250307

Woman Madness

The first time I got to know this term—woman madness—in 2003, when I borrowed a classmate’s book entitled Literature and Gender written by Lizbeth Goodman. (NOTE: 2003 was the starting point in my life to be a feminist.) When getting an assignment from Comparative Literature Class, I happened to find one short story in Jurnal Perempuan number 23 that I could analyze together with “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Both stories have the same topic—woman madness.

One thing I enjoyed doing a lot to prepare writing papers during my study was looking for supporting materials from internet. So, in 2003 I got some materials from various websites about woman madness to write a paper in Comparative Literature Class. However, I didn’t have any idea yet to choose it as my thesis. For thesis, I wanted to do research on women’s movement in America compared to women’s movement in Indonesia—especially from Muslim society. I have collected some books on this topic. However, my thesis proposal was rejected by the then Head of American Studies Graduate Program of Gadjah Mada University. There is already one thesis with similar topic—comparing women’s movement in America and Indonesia, although not viewed from Muslim perspective. Not having much spare time made me remember the paper I made in Pak Bakdi’s class—WOMAN MADNESS IN CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN’S “THE YELLOW WALLPAPER” AND PUTU OKA SUKANTA’S DEWI BULAN JATUH DI BATAM. I proposed this topic to the Head of American Studies. She approved it. However, in the process, I didn’t do comparative study because I dropped Putu Oka Sukanta’s short story due to not enough supporting materials.

I didn’t get a lot of books to support my research either—on Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Depending on internet materials were not enough. Nevertheless, I was quite lucky because I got help from two ex guest lecturers from New York and Michigan. Prof Egan sent me a book entitled The Yellow Wallpaper edited by Dale M. Bauer published by Bedford Books in New York in 1998. The book consists the short story itself, some other short stories with similar topic—woman madness—written around the nineteenth century America, the background of the nineteenth century when Gilman wrote her most anthologized short story, etc. Prof Kenneth Hall helped me buy several books—such as Woman and Madness by Phyllis Chesler, The Captive Imagination, A Casebook on The Yellow Wallpaper by Catherine Golden, Invalid Women, Figuring Illness in American Fiction and Culture, 1840-1940 by Diane Price Herndl, Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Non fiction Reader by Larry Ceplair, Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, etc. Prof Hall’s lovely and caring wife brought those books—also many other books my classmates bought—to Indonesia when she visited her husband.

In 2004 and 2005 I dealt with woman madness topic intensely. My deep involvement in this topic oftentimes put me in the position of the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper”. I love writing but I couldn’t really do it to my heart’s content. Once in a blue moon I thought that I was about to lose my insanity too due to the misery in my personal life I underwent in that episode life of mine. Should I blame myself for not conforming to patriarchal stereotypical feminine roles? In my case was I had my own requirement to feel happy that is obviously on the contrary to what common people think—I cannot really illustrate it here, should I give in and conform to society’s consensus of what a good woman is?

I successfully passed the misery of that episode life of mine. I finished my study more than a year ago (with the main topic woman madness for my thesis). Topic “woman madness” is (almost) gone from my daily life now. I feel okay now. Nevertheless, when finding my paper for Comparative Literature Class and retyping it to post in my blog, I remember that bitter episode again. Absolutely I didn’t blame the topic of my thesis. I just feel hostile deeply to this patriarchal society with its chauvinism—women are just imperfect men so women are to have tendency to get insane more than men are.

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Woman Madness (A Paper)

WOMAN MADNESS IN GILMAN’S THE YELLOW WALLPAPER
AND PUTU OKA SUKANTA’S DEWI BULAN JATUH DI BATAM

Introduction

“I like to look at other nations and I advise everyone to do the same. National literature has little meaning today; the time has come for the epoch of world literature to begin, and everyone must now do his share to hasten its realization.” (Jost, 1974:16). That statement of John Wolfgang Goethe which is quoted in Introduction of Comparative Literature suggests the needs of studying and comparing of the literature of the world. While Guillen in his book The Challenge of Comparative Literature says that literature “speaks for all men and all women of the deepest, the most common, or most lasting human experiences” (1993:40). This implies that as long as a work of literature speaks about universal themes, it can be perceived as a part of world literature.

Based on what is stated above, a comparative study on certain works of literature is therefore relevant and significant. A comparative study is done with the assumption that each work of literature consists of universal themes that can be perceived from different angles, and thus, can reasonably be compared. A universal theme, on the other hand, may occur in any work of literature in any area of the world. Again, such a theme is relevantly comparable.

Francois Jost points out that in comparative literature, its fundamental principle is the belief in the wholeness of the literary phenomenon, in the negation of national autarkies in cultural economics, and consequently, in the necessity of a new axiology (1974:29). Jost divides the study of comparative literature into four classifications: (1) investigations in terms of influence of one work upon another, (2) studies of movements and trends, (3) analysis of works from the viewpoint of their inner and outer form / the genre, and (4) studies of themes and motif.

In line with the discussion above, this paper tries to compare two works of literature: an American work by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, and an Indonesian work by Putu Oka Sukanta, “Dewi Bulan Jatuh di Batam”. This paper tries to dig out the universal theme presented in both works, that is the theme of woman madness.

This paper is dealing with the theme of woman madness which can be obviously observed in both works. More specifically, this paper will discuss how the theme of woman madness is presented in the two works.

A Brief Overview on “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Dewi Bulan Jatuh di Batam”

Before discussing their common theme, let us have an overview of the works in general. “The Yellow Wallpaper” was written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman between the years 1890 and 1892. This period was one of the most difficult of Gilman’s life(Goodman, ed., 1996:126). After suffering from nervous breakdown some time before, Gilman embarked on a series of major changes in her life, including her courageous choice of separation from her husband, a move across America, and a struggle to support herself through lecturing and occasional writing. This is the context for the writing of “The Yellow Wallpaper”, a story which may have helped Gilman to heal, even as she put her narrator through the agonizing process of breaking down. All this says a lot about Gilman’s valuing of creative freedom and intellectual stimulation over the domestic. But more importantly, it demonstrates what is a central theme of the story and shows it to be a central theme in the author’s life: that is, her writing was a process of catharsis, of healing, of coming to terms with herself and using that knowledge creatively. Therefore, this short story is mentioned as her semi-autobiographical story.
“Dewi Bulan Jatuh di Batam” was published in “Jurnal Perempuan” number 23 which was issued in May 2002. It was written by Putu Oka Sukanta, a practitioner and writer on acupuncture, a counselor on HIV / Aids program, and she is interested in alternative cure. Not much information can be gathered from this short story, nor the writer.

The two stories are narrated from the first person point of view. The difference is that in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator is the one who is said ‘mad’, while in “Dewi Bulan Jatuh di Batam”, the narrator is telling an event where a girl is said ‘mad’.

Woman Madness in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Madness has been an important theme in literature from Greek tragedy onwards, but in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it has been particularly associated with women (Goodman, ed. 1996:114). The woman madness in some literary works—such as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar—is described as follows: as a figure of rage, without power to alleviate her suffering or to express it in terms that make sense to society.

Phyllis Chesler stated that the thesis of her book Women and Madness is that because the mental health system is patriarchal, women are often falsely labelled as being "mad" if they do not conform to stereotypical feminine roles.

The definition above that a madwoman is a woman whose behavior is different from what society expects from a woman or because she doesn’t conform to society’s stereotypical feminine roles can be seen in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. It is the story of a woman’s increasingly tortured mental state as she tries to adjust to living in a rented home. This is a first person narration, in which much of what the narrator thinks is not expressed directly but is rather implied. The narrator loses her grip on ‘reality’ as the story progresses. The narrator here is left without the company of other educated adults for long periods of time, shut up in an unfamiliar house in a room she does not like, and generally asked to conform to a norm of ‘feminine’ behavior and domesticity which suppresses her.

The story starts with the narrator and her family (husband, baby, and sister-in-law) stay in a rented house. They stay there during summer due to their house’s repairing and also because John—the narrator’s husband—thinks that the unnamed narrator needs some time to stay away from the routine activities which make the narrator suffer from temporary nervous depression. The narrator who is described as “an intelligent and articulate woman who has been expressly forbidden to vent her creative energies and ideas in writing” (Goodman, ed., 1996:123) must be considered weird during that period of time in her society because at that time women were supposed to be passive, only think about domestic life; a woman was not supposed to be a writer—an occupation which is claimed to belong to men only. Since she is considered radically different from other women in her society, she is judged “mad”. In fact, what drives the narrator mad is confining her creative imagination. She is intelligent and has ideas and aspirations to write. However, her domestic routine, and the explicit instructions of her husband and doctor, set up considerable obstacles to her expressions of those ideas and herself. Yet, the narrator still writes to express her feeling and ideas, although she usually stops it when her husband comes, “There comes John, and I must put this away, -- he hates to have me write a word.” (Tauborg, ed. 2002:18).

Besides the “caging” of her creative imagination, the narrator is also depicted to suffer from post-natal depression which made a large number of women are put in asylums in the nineteenth century.
It is fortunate that Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous. (Tauborg, ed., 2002:18)

The quotation above shows that the narrator undergoes post-natal depression because she feels nervous whenever she is with her baby. Therefore, Mary—her husband’s sister—is there to take care of the baby. Many women are said to experience post-natal depression after delivering their babies since they are not ready yet to be a mother while society constructs a belief that women are created to be mothers. Therefore they are supposed to have intuition to be motherly. When women feel they do not fulfill this requirement to be good women, they will blame themselves.

The narrator’s double expression—she is not allowed to express her ideas and feelings in writing and she is nervous after delivering her baby—leads her to the insanity by the end of the story.

“What’s the matter?” he cried. “For God’s sake, what are you doing!”

I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder.

“I’ve got out at last,” said I, “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!”

Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time! (Tauborg, ed., 2002: 28)

It can be concluded that the situation in the rented house makes the narrator’s mental worse. Before staying in the rented house, she has already been judged radically different from other women in her society or ‘ad’ because of her craving in writing. To cure her, her husband, John, who is also her private doctor, asks her to stop writing. John—and most other women at that time—thinks that the narrator’s creativity in writing even makes her mental health worse.

After staying in the rented house, the narrator is put in a room upstairs which used to be a nursery. “It was nursery first and then play room and gymnasium, I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children and there are rings and things in the wall” (Tauborg, ed., 2002: 18). Being put in a room with barred windows can make the narrator feel like a prisoner. It means she is ‘caged’ double; first, she is not allowed to write; and second, her condition in such a room. Moreover, whenever she tries to express her idea to her husband, her husband ‘lovingly’ always forces her to accept the condition because he thinks that is good for her. Since he is a doctor, he thinks he know what is best for the narrator, his patient. For example, when the narrator complains about the yellow wallpaper in her room, and asks John to repaper the room, he says that
“…after the wallpaper was changed, it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.

“You know the place is doing you good,” he said, “and really dear, I don’t care to renovate the house just for three months’ rental.”

“Then do let us go downstairs,” I said, “There are such pretty rooms there.”

Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose…” (Tauborg, ed., 2002:19)

In another part of the story, when the narrator asks her husband to leave that place early, her husband does not agree with her idea again.

“Bless her little heart! Said he with a big hug, “she shall be as sick as she pleases! But now let’s improve the shining hours by going to sleep, and talk about it in the morning!”

“And you won’t go away?” I asked gloomily.

“Why, how can I, dear? It is only three weeks more and then we will take a nice little trip of a few days while Jennie is getting the house ready. Really dear, you are better!”

“Better in body perhaps—“ I began, and stopped short, for he sets up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word.

“My darling,” said he, “I beg of you, for my sake and for our child’s sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?”
(Tauborg, ed., 2002: 23)

it an be clearly seen from the quotation above that his profession as a doctor makes John think that he knows what is the best thing for the narrator, to better her mental depression. He forces his way of treatment without listening to what he patient feels and thinks. To his opinion, the narrator knows nothing about the way to cure herself. And without John’s awareness, his way of treatment even makes the narrator’s mental disorder worse, and even at the end it leads her to the insanity.

From the discussion above, it can be concluded that the depression leading to the narrator to the madness is resulted from male domination in the patriarchal society. Man expects woman to deal only with domestic life and to be repressive. A woman is supposed to stay home only and do household chores dutifully. A woman is supposed to support her husband’s activities and not her own activities. The happiness of the husband is the most important thing, and not her own happiness. A woman is not supposed to be expressive, she should repress her feelings and ideas. A woman is not allowed to think about herself, she should regard her husband’s affairs as the first priority. A woman should be and do whatever her husband asks her. The narrator says, “… so I take pains to control myself before him, at least, and that makes me very tired” (Tauborg, ed., 2002:17). The narrator does try to do what her husband asks her to do, but it even makes her depression worse. Moreover, she cannot do one thing she likes best, writing. Elaine Showalter notes in her key study The Female Malady, as quoted by Goodman in Literature and Gender (1996:115) that “Biographies and letters of gifted women who suffered mental breakdowns have suggested that madness is the price women artists have had to pay for the exercise of their creativity in a male-dominated culture.”

Woman Madness in “Dewi Bulan Jatuh di Batam”

Similar to the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” where the narrator becomes mad because of male domination upon her, Dewi Bulan in “Dewi Bulan Jatuh di Batam” becomes mad also because of oppression which is done by male on her. Dewi Bulan—a sixteen year old girl—was taken to Batam by a ‘broker’ to be forced to be a dancer in a discotheque. She becomes a victim of woman trafficking.

Lola Wagner in her article entitled “Trafficking Perempuan dan Remaja untuk Tujuan Eksploitasi Seksual Komersial di Batam” (Women and Teenagers Trafficking for Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Batam) which was published in Jurnal Perempuan (Women Journal) number 29 gives definition that “trafficking in person adalah mencakup pemindahtanganan seseorang dari satu pihak ke pihak lainnya menggunakan ancaman atau pemaksaan dengan tujuan eksploitasi” (2003:21) (trafficking in person covers handing over someone from one person to another person by the use of threat and force for exploitation.)

As a victim of woman trafficking, Dewi Bulan undergoes oppression and suppression which then leads her to the state of insanity. To be forced to be a dancer means that Dewi Bulan is exploited to entertain men as the main consumers. It proves that women madness is resulted from this male-dominated world.

Feeling suppressed and wanting to escape from the cruel way of life, Dewi Bulan pretends to be crazy so that she is let go from the place where she is put with other female dancers working in the discotheque.
Although the two short stories have the same theme—about woman madness—the difference between them is clearly seen. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the label ‘mad’ is given to the narrator while she herself does not seem to realize that she is mad. She tries to adjust herself with the condition which her husband considers her treatment to cure her mental breakdown. In “Dewi Bulan Jatuh di Batam”, Dewi Bulan chooses to do things which will make people around her judge her mad in order to escape from oppression and suppression done to her.

Conclusion

The two short stories are written in different period of time and published in different countries. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is written in 1892 by the end of the nineteenth century in America. “Dewi Bulan Jatuh di Batam” is written in 2002 at the beginning of the twenty first century in Indonesia. However, from the discussion above, it proves that woman madness is the result from male domination in the patriarchal society. By the end of the story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator becomes mad because of wrong treatment for her mental depression. Yet, it is not clear whether she really becomes mad, or she pretends to be mad to escape her husband’s treatment forced upon her. The story stops when John gets fainted when seeing the narrator creeping around the room. On the contrary, by the end of the story “Dewi Bulan Jatuh di Batam”, the reader finds out that Dewi Bulan is not really mad, she chooses to be mad just to escape from her hard life. It works because at the end Dewi Bulan disappears, she runs away from the drop-in center.

References

Chesler, Phyllis, Women and Madness, New York: Avon Books, 1972
Goodman, Lizbeth, Literature and Gender, London: The Open University, 1996
Guillen, Claudio, The Challenge of Comparative Literature, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993
Jost, Francois, Introduction to Comparative Literature, New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1974
Sukanta, Putu Oka, “Dewi Bulan Jatuh di Batam”, in Jurnal Perempuan number 23, Jakarta: Yayasan Jurnal Perempuan, May 2002
Tauborg, Sarah, The Hudson Book Fiction 30 Stories Worth Reading, New York: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2002
Wagner, Lola, “Trafficking Perempuan dan Remaja untuk Tujuan Eksploitasi Seksual Komersial di Batam” in Jurnal Perempuan number 29, Jakarta: Yayasan Jurnal Perempuan, May 2003

Yogya, July 2003

Friday, March 16, 2007

THE BREAK UP



“In choosing an artistic work to buy, make sure that you really love it and appreciate it. Just like in choosing a life partner with whom you will spend your entire life.”

This is what Brooke said to one of her customer.

THE BREAK UP is a movie illustrating how misunderstanding between a couple can ruin the relationship. Vince Vaughn played as Gary Grobowski and Jennifer Aniston as Brooke Meyers, Gary’s girlfriend. The misunderstanding is triggered by Gary’s underestimation to domestic chores Brooke does. Brooke who works for Marilyn Dean Gallery is also responsible to do the household chores after she goes home from work, to tidy up and clean their condo, cook for dinner, etc. Gary who thinks that he already works hard to support their life together feels that he doesn’t need to do any household chores. He also thinks it right to be spoilt by Brooke. Gary represents a man who still views man-woman relationship as public and domestic spheres. Below is one short conversation when they quarrel:

Gary : I work hard to be the best tourist guide in Chicago, to support our life together so that one day you don’t need to work.

Brooke : I WANT to work!

(the emphasis is from me. )

From her response above, it can be clearly seen that Brooke represents a woman who doesn’t want to be categorized as domestic creature. However, her care for her relationship with Gary, and I think also the common (patriarchal) idea that doing household chores belong to women, make her do those chores willingly, hoping that Gary will appreciate her. Therefore when Gary doesn’t show any appreciation to what she has done, Brooke feels very disappointed.

Another thing to point out is that when having a problem, confiding in someone who doesn’t really know the core of the problem will even make it worse. The suggestions expected to better the relationship even makes it end more quickly. An example depicted in the movie is when Gary confides in a bartender about her quarrel with Brooke. (He goes to a bar after quarrelling with Brooke.) The bartender easily says, “She must have slept with another man. Find out about him.” ups … 
Quarrelling because of misunderstanding also can make two people who actually love each other hurt each other. Brooke invites her dates to pick her up at home to show Gary that “many other men find her attractive”, while for “revenge”, Gary invites his friends and has orgy in the condo.

What Brooke says is correct, when choosing a life partner, make sure that he/she appreciates us. Appreciation will make us feel loved and cared, and this is very important to make a relationship work well.
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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Failure to Launch



What is a single person—who is over thirty, financially secured—called when he/she still lives with his/her parents? A SINGLE PARASITE. This is what Ayu Utami said about herself in her book entitled SI PARASIT LAJANG; she only quoted from her Japanese feminist friend. These are some reasons why this kind of person is called a single parasite  living with the parents, no need to pay the bills, mother who does the household chores, father who is always willing to help, having fun in the morning, working in the afternoon, writing in the evening, no need to think of feeding the pets or cleaning the car.

This is partly illustrated in the movie entitled FAILURE TO LAUNCH. Matthew McConoughey played as Tripp, a thirty-five –year old bachelor, a quite spoilt guy who enjoys living together with his parents; a loving mother who always does his laundry, cooks for him, and does other household chores, and a father who makes the house livelier. The joy living with his parents makes him avoid getting a steady relationship with a girl. The father who wants to see the only son an independent adult by living all alone and separated from the parents makes him hire an expert to “teach Tripp to be more mature and independent”. This expert—Paula—is played by Sarah Jessica Parker. The mother in fact is not really ready to live without her only son. It is revealed when by the end of the movie, Tripp leaves the home. She says that she is already accustomed to Tripp’s presence there so that she is not sure whether she is ready to live without him. She is worried if her husband no longer loves her. Meanwhile, in another scene, it illustrates the mother’s joy to spoil Tripp by preparing him breakfast, milk, some refreshment to bring to his office, etc. The father seems jealous to see it. I am of opinion that he thinks it is time for his wife to spoil him (again) now that the son is already thirty-five years old. It is time for both of them to enjoy each other’s company again.

In Indonesia, these past two decades, nuclear families have been getting more and more preferred rather than extended family. However, it is still a common thing to find single people who are around thirty live together with their parents. For guys, probably they can still enjoy their life as bachelor, without any responsibility to take care of their own family. The mother still does the laundry and cooks for him, (two chores that are usually exclusively related to women) and no complaint from the father so that he does not need to feel necessary to hire an expert “to get rid of the child’s presence at home”.  For girls, of course it is not a big deal, she even can help do the household chores.

Going back to the movie, by the end of the movie it is illustrated that in fact, Tripp is not sure to be ready to have a serious relationship with a girl because he is still traumatic with his ex girlfriend who died six years ago when they planned to get married. Paula herself once failed with her relationship because her ex boyfriend chose to live with her parents. This failure even encouraged her to “cure” other guys who “suffer from less self-confidence” to start a new life.

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Marriage

“Why did people laugh at me when I said that marriage is not only about happiness but also problems, sadness, tears, and confusion?” A good friend innocently asked me. There were only both of us in the teachers’ room during lunch break yesterday.

She got married around three years ago in an age considered a bit late for most Indonesian people. (She was in her mid thirties at that time.)

To answer that question, I asked her to remember her own opinion before getting married. Did she only think about happiness? She said yes. And she admitted that she was haunted by people’s questioning her, “When will you get married?” However, as her excuse, she mentioned about the indoctrination she got from her parents, relatives, and also society that a woman must get married to be happy. She thought that teenagers or girls in twenties nowadays were supposed to have a more mature idea about marriage because recently there have been more and more cases about violence in marriage unveiled in newspapers or news on television.

I said to her that it is all back to the way their parents bring those girls up. I am of opinion that those parents still believe that marriage is a certainty, just like birth and death in someone’s life, that marriage is the ultimate goal in someone’s life—especially girls—or the only gate to get happiness in this world. I assume that those parents also find sadness, troubles, and difficulties in their marriage, but they think these bitterness is just a piece of cake, not comparable to happiness that they seem to have in other people’s eyes. Therefore they don’t want to tell the truth to their children because they are worried if it will scare the children to get married. And if a girl stays being single after thirties, the parents will feel ashamed.

As an example I mentioned the different way I bring Angie up and her best friend’s parents’ way. Her best friend—who happened to have the same nick with me, Nana—is as old as Angie. I suppose my age is not much different from Nana’s mother. However, different experience in life of course makes me different from Nana’s mother. When a cousin of Nana’s (she is as old as Nana and Angie, sixteen years old) was proposed by someone, Nana’s mother said to her, “Look! Your cousin has been needed by someone. Nobody wants you yet. It is because she pays more attention to her physical beauty than you do.” It discouraged Nana in one side. In another side, Nana started to pay more attention to her physical thing.

For your information, Nana’s mother is a dentist, a well-educated person, and her profession is quite prestigious, isn’t it? But it doesn’t mean that she is free from patriarchal society’s indoctrination about marriage.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Language and Women in Advertisement

LANGUAGE AND WOMEN IN ADVERTISEMENT

Advertisement—as defined by The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA) -- is “every form of advertisement, whether to the public or not, and whether in a newspaper or other publication, by television or radio, by display of notices, signs, labels, showcards or goods, by distribution of samples, … by exhibition of pictures, models, or films, or in any other way …”

Ronald Gross (1969:97-98) says that the language of advertisement is language which is used to sell – both products and services. Advertisement copywriters must create words which will influence the largest possible number of people. The subject matter is what most people have in common – their basic fears, anxieties, and hopes. It also means people’s lifestyle. Advertisement copywriters must bear in their mind that they do not only emphasize the characteristics of the products or services, but they also must b able to make people—as consumers—feel that they need the products/services; either to fulfill their daily needs or to fulfill their lifestyle, or to follow the trend.

Why women? 

Patriarchal societies regard women as more consumptive than men. It makes women regarded as potential consumers so that many advertisements show women as models. This image originates from women’s roles as homemakers and as creatures who are concerned with their beauties. Women have to provide all household needs—food, drink, clothes, etc—in order that they will be considered “good housewives or mothers”; they also provide things needed to beautify themselves—makeup, shampoo, hair color, etc—in order that they will look more beautiful. 

This article will elaborate how advertisements make use of women as models and why they use women to get profit as much as possible.

Advertisements in Cosmopolitan February 2002 Edition

In this article, Cosmopolitan magazine February 2002 edition is used as sample to do a small research on the advertisements inside it. Cosmopolitan has a slogan Fun Fearless Female. The slogan shows that the magazine wants to shape women to have fun and fearless characteristics.
Britney Spears—who is given the tile Fun Fearless Female of the year—is chosen as the cover model in this edition. In the cover, Britney Spears posing sensually wearing tight red dress showing her sexy body, her two hands are behind her head, her eyes look at the readers’ sharply and her smile is very pretty. On the whole, Britney’s picture shows beauty, freshness, and youth enthusiasm. Britney—as a singer—appears in most of her video clips as someone who is always full of enthusiasm and energy. It corresponds with ‘fun’ characteristic. Besides that, she is ‘fearless’ because she always appears in sexy clothes among men as if she wants to show her strong body. Therefore, her picture which shows beauty, freshness and youth enthusiasm corresponds with ‘fun’ and ‘fearless’ slogan.

Inside the magazine, there are more or less 84 advertisements, most of which are about products to beautify women, such as lipstick, mascara, shampoo, hair color, nail polish, powder, foundation, hair comb, body lotion. Other advertisements are about breast enlargement, weight loss system, food, car, credit card, cigarette, shoes, birth control pill, books, etc.
From those 84 advertisements, 46 of them use women as their models. Most of those women have similar appearance to Britney; they are pretty, wearing sexy dress, and they look sensual. It is understandable because most of the products are expected to be used by women—as aforementioned that women are always related to beauty. Two advertisements use men as the models (one is credit card and the other is music school). Thirteen advertisements use both men and women as models, such advertisements about car, weight loss system, books. The rest only shows the products without models, such as cigarette, candy, hair comb.

Women = consumptive?

So far it is believed that women are big shoppers. This is made use by producers to maintain gender inequality for the sake of beauty and image of a ‘good housewife’. Those idea roles are merely based on what the producers want to make their products sold out. Women are most of the time related to beauty, gorgeousness, or they are merely seen as sexual objects. These images inspire advertisement copywriters not based on women’s needs but based on lifestyle of certain social walks of life. Advertisements dictate women to be ideal and modern by offering beauty products. Beautiful women must hair fair complexion, slim body, no freckles in their face. To maintain their beauty or to make themselves more beautiful, women must use many kinds of makeup products, such as mascara, powder, lipstick, shampoo, etc. To make their body slim, women must consume dietary pills, or go to weight loss medication center.

On the other hand, many women identify themselves with advertisement models who are mostly already beautiful. Therefore, they are always worried if they are not beautiful anymore so that they are willing to spend their money to buy beauty products and to suffer. Naomi Wolf in her book The Beauty Myth, How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, quoted by Nur, stated that women are willing to suffer by doing strict diet and they are willing to spend much time to maintain their body to be slim, gorgeous, and pretty (2003:122).

In line with that, beauty becomes standard measurement to judge women. pretty and sexy women become identity of quality of certain products. Therefore, sometimes though the products are not related to women’s beauty, the models in the advertisements are also women (in Cosmopolitan February 2002 edition for example advertisements on toothpaste, food, and car.) It is based on assumption that women with their physical beauty are very beneficial to create good impression on certain products. This assumption is base on belief that women’s quality depends on physical beauty only, and not on women’s brain.

Image that women are consumptive, then, is the impact of advertisements that make women’s beauty and gorgeous body as the standard measurement to increase sales. Appreciation toward women which is based on beauty values is made us by capitalist agents to get as much profit as possible.

Women’s exploitation in advertisements is closely related to capitalism that places women as one way to produce profit. Capitalism values things as long as those things have important role to accumulate capital. Therefore, consideration on values, norm, and moral in advertisement is not important.

Women in Advertisement and American Culture

Advertisement does not only offer products and service, it also offers certain kinds of lifestyles and shows certain social classes. Someone’s decision to buy a product is based on certain motivation such as to fulfill physical needs (e.g. food, drink, clothes), secure feeling (e.g. credit card, birth control pill), social class (e.g. car), self-image and self actualization (makeup products).

In Cosmopolitan February 2002 edition there are 84 advertisements ranging from makeup products, car, dietary pills, credit card, birth control pill, food, drink, clothes, etc. Most of the advertisements have women as models. It shows that American society—just like any other patriarchal societies in the world—thinks that women are always related to activities to beautify themselves. They pay more attention to their appearance—to look more beautiful—rather than to their brain—to be more intelligent.

The products which make women look more beautiful are considered women’s needs. Therefore, advertisement copywriters create words to make women feel that they need those products. For example to advertise Covergirl lipstick, the copywriter asks a question, “Can your lipcolor outlast this day?” Women who do not wear such a lipstick will think that they need it.

To look beautiful, women must have qualities just like Britney Spears on the cover of the magazine—fair complexion, blond hair, slim body, flawless skin. Therefore some products are advertised to have similar appearance to Britney, such as hair color, dietary pills, stretch mark cream, makeup products from powder, mascara, until lipstick and perfume.

Conclusion

The explanation above shows that in recent American culture, American people value beauty highly. This is done purposefully to make capitalism survive. Women are made to feel that they need the products so that they will buy them. it will give capitalists much profit. It means that women always become victims in advertisements. Women are exploited in advertisements, and women are forced to buy the products advertised without their awareness.

Reference:
  • Gross, Ronald, “The Language of Advertising”, in Neil Postman (eds) Language in America, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc, New York, 1969
  • Leiliyanti, Eva, “Konstruksi Identitas Perempuan dalam Majalah Cosmopolitan” in Jurnal Perempuan number 28, published in March 2003
  • Nur, Tri Hastuti, “Stereotipe dan Komoditisasi Perempuan dalam Iklan”, in Jurnal Perempuan number 28, published in March 2003
  • www.eoc.org.uk/cseng/advice/illustrated_advertisement accessed on September 22, 2003

Yogya, December 2003