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Monday, April 30, 2007

Feminism? Does it work?

Several days ago, someone posted an article in one mailing list I join. The article was written by a female Muslim who did not believe that feminist movement would succeed in its struggle to better women’s position in this patriarchal society. Instead, she suggested that Indonesian people use the teachings of Islam kaffah (perhaps I can translate this word into “the original and true”) to be applied in all aspects of life. She reasoned that since the feminist movement was brought into Indonesia in the middle of 1990s, we haven’t seen the fruit of it, although it was welcome warmly and many women have applied it in their life. She also mentioned that since feminist movement came from the West with its capitalist lifestyle, it is not really appropriate for Indonesia to “adopt” it. She opined that during Prophet Muhammad’s era, women never underwent oppression and injustice. They even got their ultimate happiness, their rights were “protected”—without any clear explanation what she meant with “protected rights” here.

In the article I entitled “God’s Law for Women?” I posted several days ago, I wrote that indeed the women movement started to get its solid struggle in the middle of the nineteenth century by having the first women convention in Seneca Falls New York. But then, is it fully true to say that this movement is merely from the West? Because only women in the West underwent oppression and violence? And women in the East in general and in Indonesia in particular did not undergo the same oppression and violence?

If I am not mistaken there were one or two people from Arabic countries that started to struggle for women’s betterment, especially struggle for women to get education. Qasim Amin is one example of this struggle.

I am of opinion that if women in the East have never undergone oppression and violence, they wouldn’t just “adopt” women movement that later on could be called as feminist movement. (the word ‘feminism’ itself was coiled in the last decade of the nineteenth century). At the very beginning, this feminist movement was indeed for white women coming from the middle and upper social class. Later on, since the movement could not answer the problems and challenge of life of other women (who were not white not coming from the middle and upper social class), the feminist movement developed with many other categories, such as multicultural feminism, eco-feminism, etc.

How many centuries have this world been dominated by male?

When we count feminist movement has been carried out for about two centuries (from the middle of the nineteenth century till now, the beginning of the twenty first century). Two hundred years means very short if it is compared to many thousands years of male-domination in the world. It is too quick to say that feminist movement has failed in its struggle for women’s betterment. Of course it is not as easy as turning down our palms with so many people—including women—trying to be loyal to the status quo of patriarchal culture.

A simple example. In my workplace, I am the only one who view the discrimination done to women as unfair while many other workmates of mine see it as something created by God instead of socially constructed. Therefore they consider me weird.

To say that feminist movement means to encourage women to forget their “proper” place as regulated by God’s law (which God’s law? That women were created as domestic creature? As weaker than men? As not rational as men?) is absolutely something very wrong. I do agree with the writer of that article’s statement that men and women were created by God to live side by side, to help each other, to be company of the other one. That is why when making a decision, making policy, women’s voice must be heard, women’s voice that really represent women’s point of view, and not women whose brain is full of patriarchal ideas. (the writer of the article is one proof that a woman can be patriarchal too, she used men’s perspective in viewing problems).

How can women have their own way of thinking, and not just adopt from men? Give them chances to get high education, give them chances to take part in public affair, give them chances to have their own experience, that then will be analysed using their own way of thinking.

Going back to the teachings of kaffah Islam?

Which teachings did she mean? I doubt if in this era there are people or a community where the people really practice the teachings of Islam the same way people in Prophet Muhammad’s era. We know that Khadija—the first wife of Prophet Muhammad—was a successful merchant that made her go to neighboring cities or countries. It shows that women in that era could have access to public life. Now in Arabic countries can women join public life? They are imprisoned at home, and then they are labelled as “to be protected”. Protection from whom? Men who always view them as seductive creatures?

Several centuries after Prophet Muhammad passed away, appeared classical fiqh (the result of Alquran interpretation, that then were referred to as Islamic Law) which was written by gender-biased ulema. They easily forgot the history that women also could join public affair, and even could become ruler (in Alquran we know the story of Belquees the Queen of Sheba). They also forgot that women could be the source of economic power. They forgot or ignore that fact so that they produced gender-biased interpretation of Alquran to imprison women and then they gave excuse “to protect women”.

If religion is “created” to humanize human being, can we say that the teachings of Islam found in those classical fiqh—that were misogynist—humanize women?

To end this article, I want to quote what Rosemary Ruether stated in her book entitled NEW WOMAN NEW EARTH: “The exclusion of women from education meant that each time a skill was professionalized, women were prevented from entering the educational institutions required for it, forbidden to exercise it on the basis of practical experience … Restricted to a sheltered sphere, kept from education and enlarging experiences, women can scarcely sense in themselves the diminishment of their true potential.” (1995:10)

PT56 22.36 290407

Reading and reading

How do people process passages they read? When a group of students read one short story, for example, will they come to the same conclusion?

When I was pursuing my study at American Studies Graduate Program, there were 27 students in my batch, they were divided into two interests, 13 majored in American Literature and Culture, while the rest, 14 majored in American Society and Culture. I majored in Literature because it supported my main interest, and my job as well.

After four semesters passed, I started to recognize my different way of thinking and viewing life. Julie, my best friend saw it very clearly too. I saw her change too, though not as radically as I did. Perhaps I changed very contradictorily—from a religious and conventional Nana to be a secular and feminist Nana.

“Why should you change? Why don’t you just stay the same? Do your classmates also change?” Angie’s dad once asked me.

“Nana changed to be non-believer because of her study. She also changed to be a weird creature with her perspective in viewing life.” My workmates whispered behind me.

I recognized that many of my classmates didn’t show any contradictory change, especially in viewing this life. I even didn’t understand why the readings during our study didn’t change their way of life, at least to view the arrogance of the majority to the minority as something not wise.

What changed me? What made them stay the same?

The most important, in my opinion, is our experience in life. What happened to us in the past inevitably has shaped us to be like who we are now. My classmates and I obviously have had different experience, undergone different series episodes in our life with its ups and downs. Besides, different knowledge we stored in our brain could be different too. This made us use different perspective to dissect one case, and as a result we would come to different conclusion.

And there is one important thing not to forget : natural law says that everything changes.

Maybe my classmates also changed, in their respective way.

PT56 18.15 290407

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Language is arbitrary. That was what one of my lecturer said when we talked about the main core of semiotics. There is no reason why one thing is called a certain word. “Let us take the word fuck for example.” He went one saying. That word can be vulgar to swear people, but that can also mean something else, such as very, in a sentence, ‘this food is fucking delicious.”

Last night, before starting our class, my students and I talked about some names that mean one thing in one language, but it doesn’t mean anything in another language. For example, one of the student’s name is Luh Made Setyowati. The word ‘Made’ for Balinese shows the number of that particular person in his/her family (for example if the parents have more than four children). But in English, the word ‘Made’ is the past tense of ‘make’ that means something else.

In 1977 when my family visited our big family in Gorontalo, I got to know a cousin who told me that her nickname was ‘Uyu’. In an instant I laughed because in Javanese, that word means urine (we just need to put letter ‘h’ behind it.) my cousin who was puzzled why I laughed asked me why, but I didn’t dare to explain it to her.

I myself experienced embarrassing thing with my family name, PODUNGGE. Obviously, this word is very difficult to be pronounced by Javanese. Due to that, many children (when I was in elementary school) mocked me (also my siblings) by calling us ‘pongge’. FYI, ‘pongge’ is the name of seed of durian, a special tropical fruit. I remember I regretted very much why my family name was difficult to be pronounced, and why not another which was easier, such as Ismail (one family name in Gorontalo too).

In 1981 when my family moved to a new housing complex, we had a neighbor from Batak whose family name is ‘Sitinjak’. Knowing it, we laughed loudly coz that family name is similar to ‘istinjak’ in Arabic that means process or way someone must do to ‘clean’ himself/herself after doing something; for example a husband and a wife must ‘take a bath’ or junub (Arabic) after ‘doing love sport’. Women must do the same thing after their monthly period is over. A man and a woman are considered in a ‘dirty condition’ after having sex; a woman is also considered ‘dirty’ when having menstruation so that she needs to take a bath after it is over.

I felt more relieved when I knew some more family names that were more weird in my ears (such as Rajagukguk, raja means king, while gukguk is the sound of dog’s bark). To have a family name ‘Podungge’ in fact was not really embarrassing. LOL.

Going back to the language that is arbitrary. One good friend of mine got married in February 2005. Her husband said, “When you deliver our baby, my darling wife, I will give him name TUHAN YANG MAHA ESA.” (It means God the Almighty.) To Indonesian people, this name maybe will offend them, seems like to laugh at the power of God the Almighty. However, TUHAN YANG MAHA ESA means NOTHING for people in other parts of the world who don’t know anything about Indonesian language.

After several months of their marriage, my friend didn’t conceive yet, her husband liked to ask her teasingly, “Where is our TUHAN YANG MAHA ESA? When will he be born?”

To end this article, I want to quote one funny scene in Bajaj Bajuri, one successful comedy serials in Indonesia. When Oneng—one main female character in it—took an English course, she was asked by her foreign teacher. “What is your name?” She was confused how to answer that. She turned to her classmate sitting on the right, asking, “Oneng bahasa Inggrisnya apaan sih?” or “What is Oneng called in English?”

PT56 09.31 280407

My Spiritual Journey

Several months ago, out of the blue I got an offline message at YM, “Women and men are equal Na?” His user ID was not familiar to me. I bet he read one of my blogs scattered in some places (so narcist am I that I have some blogs scattered everywhere. LOL.) I was curious where he read my writings so that he knew that I opine that women are equal to men? Besides that, his name reminded me of one senior student when I was pursuing my study at American Studies Graduate Program at Gadjah Mada University. I was wondering if he was that person (what a small world, eh? LOL.)

My curiosity made me accept his invitation to let his ID included into my YM friend list. Because of curiosity too when one day I saw his nick highlighted—showing that he was online at YM—I greeted him to know where he read my writings. Ah, in fact, he read my blog at (FYI, I mostly go online invisible at YM, to hide myself so that I will not be disturbed by many queries. It is not because I feel like I am already a celebrity or something, LOL, I just keep my privacy.)

When chatting with him at that time, I was writing a comment of one message at one mailing list I joined. (I always let other things distract my concentration when doing something. Very bad of me, I know. ) I don’t remember what exactly I wrote, but I remember it was about the existence of God. Does God really exist? Many scientists (mostly anthropologists I assume) are of opinion that some brilliant people “invented” religions to manage the lives of their fellow creatures in this earth.

My own spiritual journey in my life is like this.

I was born in a very strict religious Muslim family. Both of my parents taught all the children (four of us, one son—my oldest sibling—and three daughters, I am number two) Islamic teachings quite rigidly at home. Besides, three of us—my big brother, my younger sister and me myself—were sent to Islamic elementary school where we got more knowledge on Islamic teachings such as Tauhid, Fiqih, Alhadits, Reciting Alquran, including writing Arabic, etc.

The indoctrination that Islam is the only true religion and that it is the only gate to enter heaven has been passed to us since we were kid. This means other religions are wrong, fake, and that the adherents of other religions will go to hell, no matter how good, kind-hearted, generous, and nice they are in their life in this world. Moreover atheists. The non-believers absolutely will go to hell.

I didn’t really consider it as a problem anyway. I believed in it very strongly, an sich. The big question having been haunting me was why women were treated discriminatively. Still, because I took it for granted from God (that women were created number two after men, because Hawa was created after Adam), the question stayed on my mind peacefully but also rebelliously.

Despite my claiming myself as a rebel, this social construction (aha, now I can consider it as the social construction. Before this? It was CREATED by God the Almighty.) was very strong on my mind so that I did not dare to deviate the norm.

This was like that until I FOUND feminism ideology in 2003. I was craving it so much that I greedily collected books to widen my horizon. The first book I read related to this was STUDY ISLAM KONTEMPORER, a book compiles some writings of some lecturers from IAIN SUNAN KALIJAGA Yogya. One article digested Fatima Mernissi and Riffat Hassan’s book—the title is “Women and men are equal in God’s eyes” or something like this—where they offered a new perspective in interpreting one verse in Alquran relating to the creation of Hawa after Adam; the verse used by many patriarchal men (also women) to justify their opinion that women were second after men. However, one book/journal from which I learn a lot to shape myself as a feminist is JURNAL PEREMPUAN.

My readings—mixture of books on my study in American Studies Graduate Program, literature, history, anthropology, women (from both Islamic view written by feminist writers from Indonesia and abroad, and western writers)—and also discussion I had during my study (both with my classmates and my lecturers) combined with what had been stored on my mind plus my experience in my life had made me feel like born again: A NEW SECULAR NANA.

Several days ago, I met that stranger (I mentioned in the very beginning of this article) online again. He still remembered that in our last chat I was writing an article about the existence of God. He asked me to tell him what I wrote. Oh God, I already forgot what I wrote. LOL. (Frankly, sometimes I myself wonder when reading my previous posts, how could I write such things? I already forget. LOL. LOL.)

Shortly I said, “One good friend of mine considered me as a pragmatic person in viewing God’s existence. In time where I think that God exists I do believe in that faith.” LOL.

“So simple, eh?” he commented.

It did sound simple in his ears maybe. But that good friend of mine had heard me “preaching” my way of thinking and my way of life after I resumed my study. I knew in some certain time she would consider me as a non-believer. I still remember in one of our discussion (perhaps she meant to slap me, but she was not really successful to do it. LOL.) She beautifully said, “It is too naïve if people do not want to admit that God does exist. As a simple example, look at our hands. Why do we have five fingers in one hand? These five fingers do not have the same length. They are not stuck to one another rigidly so that there is hollow between one finger and another finger. Imagine if our five fingers are in the same length. Imagine if there is no hollow between one finger and another. There must be an Omnipotent power beyond us making it. And that is God.” Bla bla bla …

That stranger then told me his spiritual journey. Once he questioned the existence of God. He even challenged people around him, “If God exists, give me the proof that God is there (or here? LOL).” That was in the past. Now? He does believe that God exists without any proof or logical reason. “God is too powerful to be reasoned.“ he said. Has he found peaceful tranquility in his life with that conviction? I didn’t ask him.

Apparently, I have been in a different boat from him. We have had reverse experience, although I said that I am somewhat pragmatic in believing God’s existence. As I have discussed with some good friends of mine, all people have two contradictory characters in them, good and evil. Many selfish people let the evil overcome their logic. For these kinds of people religions are important to regulate their life so that they will not destroy the world and their fellow creatures (because they are scared to be put in hell in their after-life later. Those selfish people need to be threatened to behave well in their life, because they do not want to open up their logic.)

Therefore I am always sad to hear people from one religion talk bad things about other religions because they think that their religion is the only good one. I am also very unhappy to know that people try to force other people to convert their religion to the religion they believe as true. Why don’t we just live in peace, respect one another? Build our country together? Maintain the Mother Earth wisely for the next generation?

PT56 23.50 270407

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Women's Lib in America

Mengomentari artikel yang berjudul “Perempuan Makhluk Sekunder?” yang dimuat surat kabar Suara Merdeka tanggal 21 April 2007 halaman 6.

Dalam salah satu paragraf artikel ini, Martin Moentadhim menulis “Konon, versi bahasa Inggris buku itu (baca è Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang tulisan RA Kartini) sampai ke daratan AS. Ibu Negara AS—kalau tidak salah—Nyonya Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the First Lady, memidatokannya di mana-mana. lahirlah kemudian apa yang disebut gerakan Womans Liberation.”

Lahirnya gerakan Woman’s Liberation di Amerika Serikat tidaklah semudah seperti apa yang ditulis oleh Martin Moentadhim, bahwa Ibu Negara Amerika Serikat pada waktu itu terinspirasi oleh buku RA Kartini. Saya tidak bermaksud untuk mengecilkan nama RA Kartini yang entah bagaimana ceritanya dipilih oleh penguasa Orde Baru sebagai ikon pejuang perempuan dibandingkan perempuan-perempuan pahlawan lain, seperti Dewi Sartika dari Jawa Barat, Cut Nyak Dhien dari Aceh, dan lain-lain.

Gerakan perempuan di Amerika bisa dikatakan mulai dilaksanakan dengan solid oleh kaum perempuan di sana semenjak dilaksanakannya Konvensi Perempuan pertama di Seneca Falls, New York pada tanggal 19 Juli 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton menulis draft The Declaration of Sentiments sebagai ganti The Declaration of Independence (1776) yang menyatakan “All men are created equal”. Kata “men” dulu dianggap juga mewakili “women” jika kata “men” itu bermakna jamak. Namun kenyataannya kata “men” dalam The Declaration of Independence memang hanya dimaksudkan untuk “white men”; lebih lengkapnya lagi “white Anglo Saxon Protestant men”, karena dalam prakteknya, kesetaraan itu hanya untuk laki-laki berkulit putih yang beragama Anglo Saxon Protestant. Yang diluar itu, tentu saja masih mengalami diskriminasi, termasuk kaum perempuan, dan kaum kulit hitam yang masih terbelenggu perbudakan.

Stanton berpendapat bahwa seharusnya kalimat itu diubah menjadi “All men and women are created equal.”

Satu hal yang diperjuangkan oleh kaum pejuang perempuan fase pertama ini, yakni hak memilih dalam Pemilihan Umum. Para perempuan pada waktu itu berpikir bahwa jika mereka memiliki hak untuk memilih, mereka setara dengan laki-laki. Sebagian perempuan lain yang berpendapat bahwa jika perempuan mampu mandiri secara finansial akan menjadikannya setara dengan laki-laki masih kalah gaungnya dibandingkan yang memperjuangkan hak memilih.

Lewat perjuangan yang panjang, selain juga berjuang untuk kemerdekaan para kaum kulit hitam yang terbelenggu perbudakan, kaum perempuan Amerika akhirnya memperoleh hak pilih pada tahun 1920 di bawah pemerintahan Presiden Woodrow Wilson (memerintah dalam kurun waktu 1913-1921).

Setelah perjuangan mereka terpenuhi—memperoleh hak pilih dalam Pemilihan Umum—gerakan kaum perempuan gelombang pertama ini mulai menurun. Selain itu juga kebanyakan para pejuang perempuan tersebut telah mencapai usia yang uzur dan belum mendapatkan ganti.

Setelah perang dunia kedua, 1950-an merupakan domestic decade (dekade domestikisasi) kaum perempuan. Budaya massa yang muncul pada waktu itu lebih menekankan peran domestik perempuan, mengolok-olok wanita karir, merendahkan kaum ibu yang bekerja, dan melabeli kaum feminis sebagai kaum penyimpang.

Namun begitu, pada dekade yang sama kampanye pedidikan tinggi bagi kaum perempuan juga meningkat dengan pesat. Jumlah kaum perempuan yang melanjutkan kuliah tambah banyak. Di antara mereka inilah muncul Betty Friedan yang menuliskan pengalamannya sebagai seorang perempuan terpelajar yang “dikungkung” tembok rumah tangga (dan juga banyak perempuan yang lain yang dia wawancara sebelum menuangkannya dalam buku yang berjudul “A Feminine Mystique” (1963).

Selain itu, kebutuhan konsumerisme yang semakin meningkat, dan dengan semakin meluasnya kehadiran “kaum kelas menengah” dalam mencukupi kehidupannya, banyak keluarga yang akhirnya memiliki dua pencari nafkah—baik suami maupun istri. Dari sinilah muncul kebutuhan akan perlakuan yang sama kepada pekerja laki-laki maupun perempuan, termasuk di antaranya adalah gaji dan kesempatan untuk meningkatkan karir yang sama.

Bersama-sama dengan para pejuang kulit hitam untuk menghapus segregasi antara kulit putih dan kulit hitam dengan adanya Jim Crow Law, para feminis muda ini menyuarakan women’s liberation.

PT56 12.05 240407

One Case of Domestic Violence

Some days ago, one local newspaper reported one case—a wife reported her husband to the police because he married another woman without her agreement. She said that her husband had left her for some years. When she found out that her husband had married another woman, she asked him to be back to him. However, he refused. That’s why she reported her husband to the police.

The husband said that he married his (first) wife because he was forced to do that not because he loved her. She got pregnant from another man. And to “save” her from society’s accusation of being a bitch, he married her with agreement that they would get divorced after the baby was born. Unfortunately, his (first) wife did not divorce him as soon as she promised. Therefore, he left her.

When asked by the police why he did not divorce his first wife first before he married his second wife, he said that to file a divorce, he needed more money than to marry his girlfriend whom he said he loved. To file a divorce, someone needs to provide around Rp. 1.250.000,00 or around US$ 120, while to marry a woman, someone only needs around Rp. 400.000,00 or around US $ 40.

When I talked about this to a friend, she said, “Let us see it from the bright side, Nana. It means that our government does not want people to file a divorce easily. Broken family is not good, is it? In another side, our government even wants to encourage the citizens to get married. Getting married is good, isn’t it?”

My response was, “But, from this case, we can see that it even causes domestic violence. The man irresponsibly left his wife—apart from his excuse that he married her for pity only. He should have prepared himself with such a possibility. No matter what, many Indonesian people still adore marriage higher than being single, although they are not happy in the marriage. They would show other people that they are married and falsely happy rather than live single and people in the community pitifully look at them, ‘Oh poor you, nobody wants you’. And apparently his first wife was included into such a group.”

PT56 18.05 220407

Kartini's clinic

I am of opinion that in a way or another, Indonesian people can feel proud because the name of KARTINI, one heroine for women's education is immortalized to be used as a name of one clinic in America.

Check out the following site:

A-NET 09.00 250407

Tukul and RUU APP?

Salah satu artikel dalam Suara Merdeka yang berjudul “’Empat Mata’ dalam Kognisi Masyarakat” terbit hari Selasa 24 April (halaman 6) menulis tentang betapa kurang kerjaannya manusia (termasuk aku yang hobby blogging ini LOL) sehingga berusaha mencari-cari celah untuk menandai kekurangan orang lain. Well, at least, this is what I was thinking when reading that article. LOL.

Sekelompok orang yang menamakan diri wakil KPID (singkatan dari apa ya? LOL. Mungkin Komisi Penyiaran Indonesia Daerah? LOL.) datang bersilaturrahmi dengan Komisi Fatwa MUI Jawa Tengah untuk membicarakan masalah peran publik dalam mengatur penyiaran. Ada dua hal utama yang dirasa sangat mengganggu. Pertama, ungkapan salam persahabatan yang menggunakan adegan ciuman pipi. Yang kedua hal kesopanan dan kepantasan dalam menggunakan kata-kata yang dipakai host. Berdasarkan pengamatan MUI, banyak kata-kata yang berkesan menjurus dan memiliki makna mesum, cabul, dan vulgar.

Komisi Fatwa MUI Jateng mengharapkan dihapuskannya adegan ciuman sebagai ucapan selamat datang kepada bintang tamu, karena dikhawatirkan adegan tersebut akan menggugah birahi yang menonton. Serta bagi para bintang tamu maupun tokoh pendamping agar memakai pakaian yang tidak minimalis.

Wah, jadi ingat RUU APP deh. Kalau RUU yang menunjukkan ketidakcerdasan si pembuat ini jadi disahkan, mungkinkah Tukul—dan beberapa bintang tamunya—akan dikenai hukuman pidana karena telah menunjukkan pornoaksi? Padahal kalau tidak salah jam tayang “Empat Mata” bisa dimasukkan malam hari, dimana anak-anak diharapkan telah tidur? Salahkan saja orang tua anak-anak yang membiarkan anak-anak yang masih di bawah umur belum tidur pada jam itu dan ikut menonton “Empat Mata”.

PT56 13.05 240407

Monday, April 23, 2007

God's Law for Women?

This article is written to counter what is stated in one local newspaper in my hometown, entitled “Dilema Gerakan Perempuan” (“Dilemma in Women’s Movement”). In short, the writer of the article stated that Women’s Movement is hampered by one main thing—that is to educate children. When a woman wants to pursue career outside the house, she is not to forget her main duty in the family—educating children.

This article focuses on two things; firstly why women’s movement was mentioned to start in the nineteenth century, and secondly, to counter the writer’s statement that the main duty of a woman in the family is to educate children.

Ali Anshori—the writer’s article—stated that women’s movement started in the nineteenth century. In fact, if we want to date back to the previous centuries, there had been some brilliant women who had their books published where they questioned whether women were really created to be the second after men, and also to encouraged their contemporaries to “rise” to be equal with men. . For example, Margaret Cavendish (1623-1674), whose work was admired by Virginia Woolf, especially Cavendish’s “Female Orations” (Gilbert & Gubar page 72-73), Mary Astell (1666-1731) with her “A Serious Proposal to the Ladies”, and Mary Woolstonecraft (1759-1797) with her most well-known book entitled “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”. These three works contained “awakening” ideas for women.

Nevertheless, indeed we can say that women’s movement became solid in the middle of the nineteenth century, with the first women’s “summit” on July 19, 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, America. The idea of this summit came from Elizabeth Cady Stanton who later wrote “The Woman’s Bible” that criticized the masculine bias in Judeo-Christian tradition.

The Industrial Revolution that happened in Europe in the eighteenth century and in America in the nineteenth century had really changed the lifestyle of the people living in those two continents. With more factories established, the way to earn income in the families changed. Before the Industrial Revolution many American families focused on home industry and agriculture for both men and women, after the revolution, many men poured out of the house to work in factories. Previously both men and women worked hand in hand in their home industry and agriculture, including to educate children, the Industrial Revolution engendered “new” lifestyle; that was men worked outside the house, women stayed home, perhaps to continue their home industry, or agriculture, and to educate children.

Historian Barbara Welter stated that the Industrial Revolution had changed American men to be materialistic creature, no longer pious as their ancestors coming to that chosen land in the beginning of the seventeenth century. Feeling guilty because having changed the “sacred” land with the chosen people to be merely counting house, American men worked hand in hand with Church to create a new “domain” or “sphere” for women: that was to stay home, and not to follow those men to pour out factories, because they have “sacred” duty, that was to educate the next generations to be as pious as their ancestors several centuries before. ( One thing to be underlined here, though, that this so-called “new lifestyle” was applied only among the middle and upper social classes. People belonging into the low class society—including the African American who were still under the slavery bondage, could not “enjoy” this “modern” thing. The women in the low class society still had to join the bulk of workforce outside the house to survive.

This impact of the Industrial Revolution that even imprisoned women and separated them from men’s sphere spurred American women in the nineteenth century to work together solidly for equality, and not individually anymore just like many other women living much before them. Only producing literary work “campaigning” equality between women and men was no longer enough, a real action was necessary to be taken. Moreover, with abundant Conduct Literature published in that era—to support women to be domestic creature, women were not allowed to read other than the Bible and Conduct Literature itself. (

The second point that I want to counter is that educating children exclusively belongs to women’s main duty in family. Apparently we cannot separate it from what was spread widely in America in the nineteenth century through the teachings of Church and the publication of Conduct Literature.

When we talk about dichotomy of men and women’s duties based on their sex, we cannot avoid talking about “destiny” or God’s law to men and women. God’s law of course will always be the same from the beginning of this world existed until what people call as the doomsday (for those who believe in it) everywhere in the world. Outside that, let us say habit (or culture) that existed in one place in one time that can be different in another place and another time is not called as God’s law or natural law. This is socially constructed.

What are God’s laws for women?

1. Menstruation.
Women’s bodies were created in such a way by God so that they will get menstruation when they reach a certain age. Menstruation will stop when they reach certain age too.

2. Conceiving.
As a result of getting menstruation and women producing ovum, women’s bodies will get pregnant when the ovum they produce “meets” sperm.
It is important to underline here, though, that not all women can get pregnant although they already get menstruation and probably their ovum “meets” sperm entering their cervix. Why? It is all God’s secret.

3. Delivering babies and breastfeeding them.
Delivering babies is the consequence of conceiving. While breastfeeding, after delivering babies, women’s breasts produce milk to be given to the new born babies.

However, it is also important to note that not all women who just deliver babies produce milk (or enough milk) for the babies. It means it is acceptable then if a woman chooses to give other milk to her baby. Muslim people believe that Prophet Muhammad’s mother did not breastfeed her son so that she needed another woman to breastfeed Muhammad.

Women from all ages in all places undergo those four things mentioned above. However, God’s law for women perhaps only stops in number one—menstruation—when God does not allow a woman to get pregnant, moreover to deliver and breastfeed babies. Men cannot undergo these things since their bodies are not created to be like that.

So, where is the position of educating children? Is it also exclusively created by God to belong to women only? To educate children, a woman practically does not need to use her womb, her menstrual cycle with ovum, vagina, or breasts. Point of view that educating children exclusively belongs to men is the “product” of certain society in one time. When age advances, isn’t it very possible that this socially constructed view changes too?

In one paragraph of his article, Ali Anshori wrote: perempuan bisa menuntut haknya untuk menjadi wanita karir, sembari tetap melaksanakan tugas dalam lingkup rumah tangga. Persoalan justru muncul ketika hak bisa berdiri tegak, sementara kewajiban terabaikan.” (women can demand their right to be career women, while still doing their duties inside the family. A problem will appear when women demand their right, while they ignore the obligation.) I need to add here that in the article Ali Anshori considered breastfeeding is one form of educating children.

Which obligation did he mean? Breastfeeding is not the same as educating children. Did he mean that conceiving is one obligation of women too? In the past before contraceptives were invented or ways to avoid getting pregnant was publicly known, it was possible for a woman to get pregnant every year after they got married, until they got menopouse or died. In this era? With many kinds of contraceptives, a woman can choose to have a baby each year after getting married (if God allows her to get pregnant) like her predecessors decades or centuries ago, or to have a baby each five years, or anytime she feels ready for that. This is a woman’s prerogative.

Besides that, with more job vacancies offered to them, it is very possible to have a new “profession” for men—househusband. When a woman has a very good career, and she needs full support from her husband, it is very likely for them then to decide who will stay home and do household chores—including educating children—the man or the woman. There is nothing wrong here as long as this is the agreement of both sides.

PT56 16.10 220407

Monday, April 16, 2007

Response on "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?"

Response on Carol Joyce Oates’s “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?”

In reading this short story, I was struck by its wonderful and hidden power of pulling me to a young teenager’s unconscious life. It withdrew me to Connie’s unconscious mind which bursts out in her daydream while she is alone at home. I recognized that it is about Connie’s daydream through some illogical and weird things found in her acquaintance with Arnold Friend who comes to her house.

The beginning part of the story reveals her conscious life which is embodied in her daily contact with others. This part, however, is very effectual to grasp Connie’s unconscious life especially to figure out what happens to her at one non is only her daydream. It starts from her pride in her beauty and her uneasiness toward her mother’s attitude, who, in her opinion, is cynical to her because her mother’s beauty has faded due to her old age. Connie’s lousy relationship with her mother makes her wish that she and her mother are dead so all her problems disappear. “She makes me want to throw up sometimes” (p. 226) Her bad feeling at home, stimulates her to have totally different attitude and appearance while she is out with her friends. I see it as a split personality. “Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not at home” (p. 227). Her split personality thus reflects her real life and her dream. Her house with her know-everything mother, her plain and steady sister June and busy father is the conscious life that she has to face, while having fun with her friends is her hidden or dream life.

All Connie’s suppressed feeling and desire in fact are revealed in her day dream. Her glance at a boy with shaggy black hair while she is out with Eddie easily brings her to her dream. The boy turns into Arnold Friend who comes to her house to ask her out. Her pride in her beauty is manifested through Arnold’s praise (Arnold’s last words “My sweet little blue-eyed girl” is in fact Connie’s wish of having blue eyes instead of her brown eyes.) Arnold’s knowing of everything, including her family, shows that Connie wishes someone to understand her. Arnold’s seduction to come out of her house and go with her reflects her hidden desire to leave her house, but her insistence of being inside may reveal her inward struggle. The dead woman in her dream seems like referring to her mother. In her conscious life, she sometimes wishes her mother dead and that comes true in her dream. Her death opens a way for her to leave the house. At once her mother is dead, she just needs a little effort to move out because her father is not a big deal for her. this is seen through Arnold’s words “This place you are now inside your daddy’s house is nothing but a cardboard box I can knock down anytime.” (p. 228). Her final decision to come out of her house is her ultimate unconscious mind.

I found this story really interesting since its illogical and weird parts actually can appear in one’s dream. A dream which usually reveals one’s unconscious mind opens any impossible things to happen. Arnold’s knowing of everything, his saying that he is eighteen even though his appearance is a thirty-year-old man, Ellie’s forty-year-old face are weird things and Connie’s willing to go with them regardless their weirdness shows that everything can happen in one’s unconscious mind.

Yogya, May 2003


What has happened to Kristina—one potential dangdut singer in Indonesia-can be considered as one example of how men in Indonesia generally still think that their wives are their property. Islam has been abused by many conservative men in this case. Men who are thought as the head of the family have full rights to decide what to do in the family, including to let their wife work outside the house, or even do a simple thing to do, just go outside the house, let’s say to go shopping or visiting her own parents.

I still remember when I was a kid, my elementary school teacher told my classmates and me about an example of a saliha (pious) wife who did not dare to go out of the house because her husband told her to stay home all the time before he went to war. Even when her parent was about to die, she insisted not to leave the house by saying, “Tell my parent that I cannot leave the house because my husband didn’t let me go. Send my regards to my parent.” Even, when her parent died, she stayed put.

When someone told Prophet Muhammad about this ‘incident’ by saying bad thing about the woman (because she did not care to visit her ailing parent), Prophet Muhammad was believed to say, “The parent will go to heaven easily for he has such a pious daughter.”

The message that my teacher wanted to tell us was clear, a woman must always listen to what her husband says.

I used to believe in such a fairy tale. However now I keep questioning whether that really happened in the time of Prophet Muhammad, or it was just a made-up story by irresponsible and inferior men to make women listen to what they say.

Going back to Kristina. Although she does not want to admit that her husband forbids her to resume her career as one potential dangdut singer in Indonesia after getting married, it is clearly seen that her husband has misused the teaching of Islam to show his gut as husband. He knew Kristina as one popular singer, with her busy schedules for show, and that she was one main breadwinner in the family. Under Kristina, there are many people who earn their money by working in the management of Kristina as a singer. Al Amin—Kristina’s husband—is not supposed to forget that. With the dissolve of the management, many people lose their jobs and we know that is it difficult to get a job in Indonesia nowadays. Kristina herself is not happy with that but she cannot do much because she stopped singing after her wedding.

She is in between now. Will she continue her choice to be Al Amin’s wife and be a pious wife to listen to anything her husband says to her? Or will she resume her career to make her parents happy by supporting their life financially and at the same time she can open some job vacancies for some people?

I am wondering if she made any prenuptial agreement with her husband about her career.

PT56 12.35 160407

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Divorce in Indonesia

The Jakarta Post
Saturday, April 7, 2007

Changing views spur divorce rate

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It is undeniable that divorce rates in Indonesia are rising, believed to be caused by changing views on holy matrimony. It seems marriage is now merely regarded as one of the many avenues people can take in life.

"I estimate there will be a 3.6 percent increase in divorce rates each year," National Commission for Child Protection secretary general, Arist Merdeka Sirait, said here Friday.

Sarlito Wirawan Sarwono, chairman of the Asian Psychologists' Association (APA), said, "There is indeed an increasing trend of divorce (in Indonesia). However, I don't have the percentage on that.

"Nowadays, there are various options for both men and women, like polygamous marriage, cyber sex, one night stands and contraception," he said, adding that the frequency of extramarital relations was also likely to increase.

A psychologist from the University of Indonesia, Winarini Wilman, said divorce often occurred when spouses felt dissatisfied with the inequalities associated with give-and-take aspects of a relationship.

"The availability of opportunities and a person's moral values about what is good and bad also play significant roles here," she said.

"Most husbands who betray their spouses do so for sexual adventure, while most wives seek more intimate emotional relationships and to upgrade their self-esteem.

"The culture is more tolerant toward infidelity among men. For example, cases in which the wife fails to become pregnant and the man seeks another sexual partner," said Winarini.

According to child protection commission data, from January 2006 to March 2007 a total of 327 divorce cases were reported to the commission, of which nine resulted from infidelity.

Despite Winarini's view that infidelity was a trait exhibited predominantly by husbands, the commission's report showed that seven out of nine cases reported had been triggered by wives' infidelity.

"The reports do not speak (about divorce) in general because the cases that come to the commission are specific," Sarlito said.

Sixty-two percent of divorce cases reported to the commission were the result of the family's economic condition.

"A wife might also see divorce as a way out of being trapped as the cash cow in a marriage," Winarini said.

Arist said that in 2006, some 15,000 divorce cases went through Jakarta's five district courts. Of these, 32 percent were triggered by infidelity.

Winarini said divorce between parents could damage children of any age. Adolescents are most vulnerable because they are in the process of developing the faculties of logic and thought. However, the negative impacts associated with divorce can also be felt by children under the age of five.

"Preventive action should start from within one's self. A person must be able to activate a pattern of thinking that is realistic, proportional and positive," she said.

Winarini pointed out that in a marriage, it is necessary to keep learning about one's spouse. "Learning about each other is a lifetime process."

She said the keys to marriage success were tolerance and the understanding that people change.

Consolidating the purpose of marriage is also important, because entrance into marriage also means happiness for the sake of all stakeholders in the family -- the wife, the husband and the children.

Nana’s comment:
The increasing rates of divorce, in my view, is inevitably also caused by the more financially independence in women. More women pour out to the job field outside the house, make themselves financially independent. More women realize that they are equal with their husbands, moreover with the amount of money they get from their job and they use to support the household needs. However, I am of opinion that the number of men who realize that their wives are equal with them is not as many as the number of women who think that way. The reason is of course, men still think conventionally that they must be the boss in the family, must be the king respected by their wife, while at the same time they forget that women must be respected too. when this kind of relationship happens between a conventional man and a progressive woman, divorce inevitably is likely to happen. The woman thinks that she can survive without her husband now that she has her own paycheck.
Besides, I also agree with Winarini stating that consolidating the purpose of marriage is also important. In the reality many people get married only to follow the consensus that people were born to get married, to be considered as “normal” creature. They still believe that marriage is the only gate to be happy in this life. When they get stuck in their marriage and the marriage in fact shows the contradictory thing—let’s say that marriage does not only tell us about happiness just like what is usually narrated in the fairy tales—and when the women get high confidence to “oppose” the consensus that to be happy is to get married, this will absolutely increase the number of divorce.
PT56 07.30 140407

Friday, April 13, 2007

Widow in Indonesia

Shattering the myth of the 'rapacious widow'Julia Suryakusuma, Jakarta

Even before my first husband died in 2001, I knew widows in Indonesia got a raw deal. Isolated and discriminated against, they are regarded with pity and fear. Pity because they're on their own and have to fend for themselves; and fear because they could lure husbands away. They are regarded by others as potential marriage wreckers.

This is especially true of young, attractive jandas—the term used in Indonesia for both widows and divorcees.

Jandas are seen sexually initiated, hungry and deprived of sexual sustenance in the absense of a regular sexual partner. If you don’t believe me and want a depressing insight into the Indonesian psyche on widows try Googling janda muda.

This is of course a cruel distortion of reality. Not all jandas are on the make—on the contrary, they are often the poorest of the poor.

In Indonesia, the loss of an adult male usually means the loss of the main source of income.

For poor families, this is devastating—and invariably plunges them into poverty. Children suffer because their mothers are unable to pay for their education. They are pulled out of school and made to work, often initiating a cycle of poverty that can last for generations. Not a happy thought.

From the time I started seriously studying women in Indonesia in the mid 1980s, I often felt extremely vexed that women without husbands don’t seem to exist. Not officially, at any rate.

Government programs provide resources including capital, training, credit and income generating programs—but only to the legal head of household: a man.

This is stipulated in the 1974 Marriage Law. Women are considered legal dependents of men and the rights and needs of widows, divorcees and single women are just not recognized.

The reality is, however, there are a many households in Indonesia with a woman as its head – as high as 25 percent in some areas, due to high rates of divorce and desertion.

In conflict zones such as Aceh, the levels are higher still. Shocking.

So imagine my relief when I discovered the Program for Women Headed Households (PEKKA), a development project that works with widows. – wow a first.

On a recent work visit to Sukabumi and as part of a research project with my new husband, Tim, I met a group of PEKKA women while we were surveying their knowledge of religious courts.

These courts sit parallel to the civil courts across the archipelago and deal primarily with questions of marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Clearly these are things that matter a lot to women.

I had heard about PEKKA before and had met Nani Zulmarmini, the group’s national coordinator, but had never really had anything to do with its members. So I was delighted to meet a group of PEKKA women in a tiny village near Sukabumi. There were about 20 of them, ranging in age from 30 to 60. they were very simple women and most worked as farm or plantation laborers. Some of the oder ones were illiterate while others hardly spoke Indonesian properly.

Because I am from West java, my Sundanese enabled me to easily establish a rapport with them. In addition, I did field research in 1984 in another sub district of Sukabumi so I felt very much in my element.

I was shocked at hoe poor they were. Some earned only Rp. 200.000,00 per month and they had to support dependents. Fortunately PEKKA was on the scene, helping them establish extra income generating activities and giving out scholarship for children.

Because without PEKKA, the children of Sukabumi’s jandas would be expanding the ranks of Indonesia’s many millions of child laborers.

Since it was founded in 1999, PEKKA has reached more than 6,500 women in more than 300 villages across 38 sub districts in eight provinces: Aceh, West Java, Central Java, West Kalimantan, West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara, Southeast Sulawesi and North Maluku.

Before PEKKA existed, no development project in Indonesia had ever worked with widows, especially in areas of large-scale conflict. In the New Order, women’s programs had to be channeled through the Family Welfare Movement (PKK), which was sponsored, and aimed at wives only – as if no other type of women existed.

In areas like Aceh – where thousands of men have been killed over decades of conflict and by recent natural disasters, and where the entire adult populations of some villages consists of widows – the notion would be laughable, if it were not so utterly tragic.

But there is some good nes today PEKKA has a special programs in Aceh. Besides income generating and microfinance activiti4s, PEKKA also offers vocational, leadership and legal training, as well as literacy, bookkeeping, and health classes. PEKKA also offers a social fund for older women and for those who can’t work – like Bu Amina, who at 104, is undoubtedly the oldest PEKKA member in Tampoek Blang village.

Sudarmi is another PEKKA member in Aceh. After her husband was gunned down she was given the chance to become a photographer through a unique program PEKKA had devised to help women bolster their confidence. While she was hesitant at first, after some training, she grew to love it, and now hopes to become a professional photographer.

Sudarmi was one of 20 women whose work was exhibited in Washington in 2004. This event was hosted by the World Bank, which, with the National Commission on violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), is the main supporter of PEKKA.

PEKKA really has transformed the lives of hundreds of widows, female heads of households and their dependents.

More importantly, in the long run, it is slowly changing social attitudes.

Thanks to PEKKA, widowed or divorced Indonesian women who are poor, uneducated, illiterate, unskilled, dependent and diffident have become empowered and in charge of their lives, and able to make a positive contribution to society.

The writer is the author of Sex, Power and Nation. She can be contacted on

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jack London's "The Law of Life"

Response on Jack London’s “The Law of Life”

Death is as natural as birth. The difference is that birth usually brings happiness to people around the baby born, while death usually gives sadness to people around the deceased person. (Well, at least this is what I oftentimes find in Indonesian’s culture.) I do not know how old this earth is, how many babies have been born, how many people have died. London said, “They did not count, they were episodes. They had passed away like clouds from a summer sky.” People come and go in this world. Their life in this world is just like an episode. “To perpetuate was the task of life” means that it is natural for babies to be born in this world, to continue human being’s life in this world. “Its law was death” means that after undergoing an episode of life in this world, it is natural for people to die. No one escapes from death.

However, it is scary to imagine how someone faces death by being left alone in a cold place, no shelter, no food, no drink, only many wild animals around, like what Koskoosh undergoes in Jack London’s short story entitled “The Law of Life”. For old people who think that their death is close at present time—I concluded that the story in “The Law of Life” happened in an Indian tribe living around the nineteenth century or before that—they choose to be at home in a warm place surrounded people they love such as spouse, children, grandchildren while waiting for their last breath to stop. Nevertheless, nobody can choose what kind of death they prefer.

Waiting for death to come being surrounded by his spouse, children, and grandchildren is something that Koskoosh has to face. He cannot ask his son to take him with the tribesmen because he himself “had abandoned his own father on an upper reach of the Klondike one winter”, and before his son leaves him, Koskoosh says “It is well. I am as a last year’s leaf, clinging lightly to the stem … My eyes no longer show me the way of my feet, and my feet are heavy, and I am tired. It is well.” By saying that, Koskoosh knows the consequence, he will be left alone and wait for death without anybody around. But Koskoosh does not complain. It is, in fact, the way of life of his tribe. Other people in that tribe will experience the same thing. “He had been born close to the earth, close to the earth had he lived, and the law thereof was not new to him. It was the law of all flesh.” I guess, later on, Koskoosh’s son will undergo the same thing too like what his father does, if he does not die in a war as a warrior—one pride in Native American culture—or when hunting animals for food.

Why did those Native American people have such a weird habit—that can be considered as killing old people slowly but cruelly? The hard struggle to survive in that era made them do so. They had to fight with the white people that wanted to rob their territory and the nomadic habit. Instead of being a burden in one community when moving from one area to another area, the old people peacefully “reconciled” with their so-called fate. Sacrificing ourselves mattered much more than the egotism. Isn’t it the core of being a warrior?

Yogya, April 2003

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Marita Bonner's "On Being Young - a Woman - and Colored

Marita Bonner dreams of equality among human beings as a matter against race and gender discrimination. To express her dreams, in her “On Being Young – a Woman – and Colored” she describes that women who are young and colored are very much disadvantaged.

At the first place, she explains briefly that all young people should be just the same everywhere; they own their spirit and courage to seize the days and world; life is full of curiosity and supported by “nourishing” and “warm” environment as in a sunny catnip field. But I got the feeling that being compared to a kitten, young people are inexperienced, full of weaknesses. That is why the dreams are like “a desire to dash three or four ways seize you”. She also dreams that every young girl dreams that there is no different rank between a man and a woman, as what she describes as one of a girl’s dream of her future: … a husband you can look up to without looking down on yourself. Unfortunately, those are all just dream.

Furthermore, she finds out that everywhere women are in the same boat. They are measured by a measurement by standards known within a limited group and not those of an unlimited, seeing, world … Being a woman is limited by many things set by male domination, whereas it should be standards of both – unlimited, seeing, world – male and female. They feel that strange longing seized hold of them, but they are made like the blind, blind mice; mice whose eyes have been blinded. Women are stereotyped as “dumb” and “blind”. They do not deserve to hear things or see things. Although they live a gay life (as compared to colorful parties), they feel that such gaiety is just a boring condition, like plain whole bread taste like ashes or stuffed costly chocolates that make the taste go stale if you have too many of them.

The worst condition is suffered by colored young women. being colored in general, a person is cut off, flung together, shoved aside in a bundle because of color. … the colored people are generally disadvantageous. The colored women are seen only as a gross collection of desires. They are stereotyped as stupid. (Do you need to be told what that is being …?) and as having no “polite” behavior (talk in staccato squawks—brittle as seashells--, “champ” gum, cover two yards square when laughing, taste runs to violent colors, impossible perfumes and more impossible clothes.) As the peak of the suffering Bonner writes that every part of you becomes bitter. The colored women live with a chip on their shoulder. Moreover, being a woman, they have to go about it gently and quietly, to find out and to discover just what is wrong. Just what can be done. Therefore, Bonner imagines that in such quietness as a woman’s perhaps Buddha is a brown woman. of course, this may mean figuratively, Buddha is a woman by gender –- attitude, the best example for this is women’s endurance – the case that may happen to anybody. This comparison tells me that Bonner dreams that race and gender discrimination should not exist.

Bonner’s dreams may come true in some parts of the world this day. However, there are still many women, especially the colored, who need to struggle as hard as live fish in a basket.

Yogya, May 2003

Househusband (3)

Continuing talking about ‘househusband’, I realize that in many cases ‘househusband’ can generate financial oppression to women, instead of making women’s position equal or higher than man in one family. I found many cases from people living in my area where the woman is the breadwinner and the man stays at home. At first, both of them worked. Then, monetary crisis that has struck Indonesia since 1997 has made many men lose their jobs. This made many women become the breadwinner in the family. However, the culture that women do the household chores still goes on. Therefore, women even have more burden, to be the breadwinner and also do the household chores. What do those unemployed men do? Nothing. They just gamble, or worse still, even spend his wife’s money on alcohol since they think that they need to leave their depression as unemployed men for a while by making themselves drunk.

Worse again, in one ethnic group in Indonesia called SASAK living in Lombok Island. The culture there believes that it will be a prestigious thing when a woman becomes the nth wife of a man (not the only wife of the man). Although at the very beginning their ancestors decided that only rich and capable men could have more than one wife, in the process nowadays, many poor men also practice polygamy, and they even survive from their wives’ money. Those men do not need to bother themselves how to support the lives of their wives and children because even the wives work to ear money to survive by themselves and feed the husband. The promise that those women who are willing to ‘share’ their husband to go to heaven after life is so strong that those women do not complain with that. (Jurnal Perempuan number 43 published in July 2005).

It shows that the patriarchal society is very strong and that the financial independence of those women does not help much to make their position equal with men. Many Marxist feminists believe that by having financial independence will make women equal with men. However, it is not suitable to be applied in one culture where the point of view of the people is still strongly patriarchal: no matter what happens men will always have higher position than women. In the practice, the women who have role as the breadwinner even get double oppression, although oftentimes they themselves do not realize it, because they take it for granted, without questioning their destiny.

PT56 23.45 060407

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Television in Indonesia

I am not a couch potato who loves to spend hours daily in front of television. However, I remember when I was in junior and senior high school (1980-1986), I liked to watch some serials—that all were imported from America—on television, such as The Saint (with Roger Moore) or Return of The Saint (starred by Ian Ogilvy), BJ and the Bear, Mannix, TJ Hooker (the primary star is William Shatner who also played in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea or old version of Startrek), and my favorite serial, The Six Million Dollar Man; I claim to undergo puppy love to Lee Majors starring as Steve Austin. (It is not clear whether I was puppily in love with Lee Majors or the imaginary character Steve Austin.) LOL. I also loved watching Little House on the Prairie with Michael Landon as Pa and Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls the writer of Little House on the Prairie. During this era, there was only one television station in Indonesia – TVRI – that belongs to the government.

In 1986 after graduating from senior high school, I moved to Yogya to pursue my study at English Department of Gadjah Mada University. I lived in a boarding room and I didn’t have television so that it was difficult for me to watch it. I very rarely went to the main building to watch television although the landlady provided a television in the family room for the boarders. I recognized it as the start to ignore television in my life. The launching of some private television stations –RCTI and SCTV – did not really attract me to be a couch potato.

In 1993, after graduating from my bachelor’s degree, before getting a job, I spent some time to watch television while enjoying my role as full housewife and taking care of my little daughter, Angie. Two serials I liked to watch most were The Highlander and McGyver. I also liked watching RAVEN because Lee Majors played in it too.  I did not watch Friends and Melrose Place because they were on quite late at night, when I already went to bed to lullaby Angie and myself. LOL.I recognized that the beginning of the 1990s was the start of the booming of some telenovelas from Mexico. At first Maria Mercedez; it competed the Wild Rose and the soap opera of DALLAS. I watched Maria Mercedez, and also Marimar with Thalia as the main attraction. In the middle of 1990s, television stations started to show Japanese soap operas, starting with Tokyo Love Story. By the end of 1990s, more and more Asian soap operas became favorite programs on television.

After getting busier and busier with my job, practically I did not have leisure time to enjoy television programs.

Right now there are about ten television stations in Indonesia.

Last March 25 2007 I read a quite interesting article in one local newspaper stating that American movies no longer become the main attraction on television in Indonesia. After 2002, there have been more and more sinetrons (television serials) made by Indonesian production houses. These last two years, Korean telenovelas have caught Indonesian viewers’ hearts too.

The writer of the article questioned (or concluded?) whether Indonesian people already become dull so that they cannot differentiate qualified and unqualified television programs—especially the serials, or soap operas, or telenovelas. They will choose to watch Indonesian (or Korean) soap operas although the stories are not really interesting –not to mention educative—rather than to watch American serials, such as True Calling, Six Feet Under, etc.

What does this phenomenon tell us? Is it as simple as that by concluding that Indonesian people’ intelligence have become blunt?

First, we are not to forget that the situation now is different from one or two decades ago where there was only one television station—TVRI. It belonged to the government so that the interference of the government to decide what programs to show on television was very obvious. The very strong interference of the government in the personal lives was very strong at that time – not only to choose what political party to vote, I guess. TVRI indeed became the main media of the government to “shape” kind of citizens they wanted. When there was soap opera produced by Indonesian production house, the government had to be sure first that the story would not endanger the established position of Soeharto’s regime. By showing a lot of American movies on television, the government did not need to do strict control, except for the possibility of porn scenes.

Information Department—as one department in Indonesian government—was closed some years ago so that the government did not really have high chance to dictate what to show on television.

Second, the success of Mexican and Asian soap operas in Indonesian televisions could not be separated from the actors and actresses who have similar physical appearance with most Indonesian people so that they thought that they did not watch “dreams” on television, but something real (the main plot of Maria Mercedez was a poor girl who married a good-looking and rich young man seemed real because Thalia was not really “white”, besides the soap operas were translated into Indonesian Language, compared to, let’s say DALLAS or DINASTY.)

Third, the booming of reality show to look for “star” has changed many young generations’ ideal. Being a doctor or engineer is no longer the main goal in Indonesian’ kids nowadays compared to their “predecessors”, a decade or two decades ago kids would say, “I want to be a doctor” or “I want to be an engineer”, but now kids will say, “I want to be a celebrity”  celebrity here means as a pop star. Being an actor or actress has attracted the young generations to get lucrative profession, they do not need to pursue their education till high, if only graduating from senior high school is already enough to make them live comfortably. The abundance of the soap operas—with low quality—guarantees them that there will always be chance to make their dreams come true. By joining a reality show, they will keep their dream to be rich and popular. The production house’s owners of course do not bother to make qualified serials if they already get high profit with “so so” stories and “so so” acting technique from the actors and actresses.

Why do television stations show such rubbish on television?

Profit. They do not need to spend much money to buy movies from America.

Why do Indonesian people watch such rubbish on television?

Because they feel like they watch themselves on the roles played by actors and actresses.

PT56 13.05 050407

Pregnancy Outside Wedlock

Pregnancy out of wedlock will influence children’s delinquent emotion?

One article in the local newspaper stated that environment will shape people’s personality. A child who grows up in a loving, caring family will grow up to be loving and caring too; while a child who grows up in a family where the family members are hostile to one another will grow up to be a similar person too. I do agree with this. However, when the writer stated that a child born out of wedlock will eventually get defect in their personality, it is not that easy to draw a conclusion like that. We have to find out what shapes a child/a person to be unloving and delinquent.

Why do people – especially in Indonesia – tend to say that children born out of wedlock will get trouble in their emotion? It is mostly because of the consensus that women who get pregnant before they legally get married are bitch, no matter what causes a woman to get pregnant, be it

 as the result of the innocence of a young girl who does not know about having sex will make her pregnant – due to lack of sexual education,
 or as the result of the oppression done by their boyfriend to “show her true love by having sex”
 or as the result of the innocent couple not knowing what they are doing
 or even as the result of rape

This societal oppression to women who get pregnant out of wedlock will influence the emotion of the mother-to-be, will hurt her feeling as the accusation from society as a “girl who cannot keep her self-value” by doing “forbidden thing”. This oppression will make her reject her baby so that she will hate the baby. Moreover if she does not get moral support from the family; or even the family will consider her as a disgrace too; the result will be worse.

This all comes from hypocritical society that considers sex as a filthy thing to do for those who are not married yet. Giving a proper sexual education is considered a taboo thing.

When a woman gets pregnant out of wedlock – moreover if it is her own choice because having a baby is everybody’s right, not getting involved in a marriage is everybody’s right too – and she realizes the responsibility – such as welcoming and loving her baby-to-be, we do not need to feel worried that she will produce a baby that will get trouble in the moral and spiritual emotion.

I dream of seeing society that has humanity to one another, will support one another, to create more humane next generations.

PT56 11.40 050407

Condom for Women

Condom for women: solution or problem?

It is believed that wearing condom (for men) when doing ‘love sport’ will reduce the sensitivity of the penis so that it will reduce the satisfaction got by the wearer—men. Well, at least this is in Indonesia. Consequently, many men refuse to wear condom—both to protect themselves from the possibility to get sexual virus and to protect their partner from the same possibility, and also from the possibility to get pregnant. Therefore, the number of unwanted pregnancy and women’s vulnerability to get sexual disease is quite high in Indonesia.

It is also believed that to avoid the possibility to get pregnant is mostly women’s affair, and not men. Women must be available when some “alien things” planted in their body, such as implant, IUD, or consuming birth control pills. This results in women’s inconvenience in their body; such as the hormone engendered by implant and pills influence their up-and-down emotion, while physically, many women become obese, some others bleed for a long time every month and get skinny, some others get acne in their faces due to the changing hormone in their body. However, women do not have any other choice but do that – letting medical experts plant those alien things in their bodies or consuming pills – when they want to void pregnancy. Meanwhile to protect themselves from the possibility to get influenced by sexual disease, women do not have any choice because most men refuse to wear condom. The best choice is of course no sex at all. LOL. However, this must be very impossible to do because then men will use biased gender interpretation of women that those women who refuse to “serve” their husbands in bed will go to hell. (But there is no belief that men will go to hell when their wife wants to get sexual satisfaction and the husband refuses.)

Therefore, is the availability of condom for women for women’s privileges? They will really have high control for their own body?

I myself see it still as men’s privileges because they no longer need to bother themselves to “prepare anything” before doing ‘the love sport’. They can just come to bed, enjoy the sport, cum, and then snore. Women still have to bother themselves to do this and that. When the condom they wear leaks, they still have to take the risk—pregnancy.

Why is it always unfair?

PT56 10. 40 050407

Househusband (2)

Talking about househusbands, (you can refer to my previous post entitled “Househusbands”), I remember one classmate of mine when I pursued my study at American Studies Graduate Program of Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. In the beginning of my study, I got to know her, and she told me (also my classmates) that she moved to Yogya together with her son and husband. They rented a house for three of them, bringing with them some furniture they needed in their daily life. My first personal questions were: “What does her husband do? Unemployed? So that he could follow where his wife is going—to pursue her Master’s Degree? How could that classmate of mine be confident to face her new community having an unemployed husband?” (NOTE: Many women I know personally will feel embarrassed/shy if they have unemployed husbands so that they tend to hide it.)

(Un)luckily I was not a kind of nosy person so I didn’t try looking for answers of those questions of mine. In the middle of that first semester, my friend got sick—very exhausted doing abundant of assignments, and apparently she didn’t have strong body—so that she needed to be hospitalized. At that time, I tried answering my own questions: “This friend of mine happened not to have strong body, she easily got sick. For this, her husband joined her to come to this city, to take care of her.

Gradually, I knew her quite better because we often did assignments together. From our chats, I knew that it was their decision together—that my friend kept pursuing her career as one lecturer in one private college in Indonesia, and her husband became a househusband. This was quite a difficult decision to make because they got criticism from their own family/relatives. The ‘belief’ that in the family men are the primary breadwinners and if a woman works she will just be a secondary one is still very strong in Indonesia. When a man has a lower income than his wife, it can be already considered as an easy excuse to have familial conflict, READ  men will lose their dignity for that, it will hurt their pride. Therefore, they will feel inferior. A man who feels inferior then tend to abuse his wife to show that no matter what he is still the superior in the family. Moreover a husband who doesn’t have his own income?

I had to give my two thumbs up to this classmate and her husband because it even didn’t bother them at all. Before taking that decision—to quit from his job—the husband already thought about it seriously, including to face the ‘mockery’ from society as ‘an irresponsible husband’ because he didn’t support his wife and son financially. Many people who didn’t know the situation of the family easily appointed the husband as an irresponsible person by not having a steady job.

As an outsider, I could see that their relationship was equal. My classmate never showed bossy personality because she was the breadwinner. Her husband didn’t show any inferiority. One time I went to their dwelling to do an assignment. My friend and I were busy discussing, preparing paper and presentation, while her husband was tending their kid (who was four years old at that time), and then preparing lunch for all of us.

When my classmate graduated with flying colors, another classmate of mine—who happened to have a not supportive husband—commented, “She is successful in her career and study not because her own capabilities, but also because the strong support from her husband.”

That classmate of mine said that although she was the breadwinner, her husband was the ministry of Finance in the family. LOL.

PT56 13.45 040407

Monday, April 02, 2007

Mother-Daughter Relationship

Below is the paper I wrote for the final project of AMERICAN’S MULTICULTURALISM IN LITERATURE class I attended four years ago, and Professor Hugh Egan from Ithaca College New York was the lecturer. (NOTE: I was not a feminist yet. LOL.)


The story Two Kinds written by Amy Tan reminds me of my own experience with my daughter. Like the narrator’s mother, I also want my daughter to be a prodigy. When Angie—my only daughter—was two years old, I taught her to read. I bought a lot of children books full of colorful pictures. She was really interested so that she enjoyed opening the books, looking at the colorful pictures, and trying to memorize alphabets under each picture. I was very pleased when she could read and distinguish many kinds of colors—red, blue, white, yellow, pink, purple, black, green, brown, orange, and grey—at three years old. Her teachers at playgroup were astonished to know that. She said that children of that age usually could not read yet, and they were expected to know only three main colors—red, yellow, and green.

At kindergarten, she excelled over her classmates. She got her first trophy in dancing competition during her two years in kindergarten. Her teacher told me that she has talent in dancing. I did not send her to a special dancing class yet at that time. She got dancing lesson at school. In welfare party of kindergarten, besides leading her classmates recite Holy Alquran—we are Muslim—she performed dances and read a poem. I was very proud of her at that time though I knew that Angie was very tired at the end of the party.

At the first year of elementary school, besides going to school in the morning, she joined some activities in the afternoon—she joined English course, dancing, drawing, and also fashion modeling and a kind of leadership class to boost her self-confidence. This is because I realize that I am not a confident person to perform something in front of audience. I want her to be self-confident. Once in a while, my sister who worked as a radio announcer asked Angie to accompany her as an announcer in a children program in her workplace.

Different from my daughter, I never joined any kind of courses when I was a kid. At that time, joining courses was not a popular pastime. Besides, for my parents, to be a pious person is much more important than to be a prodigy. Therefore, I was sent to an Islamic elementary school. (I sent Angie to a public/state elementary school.) I believe my parents expected me to grow up to be a pious woman who would do the teachings of Islam strictly, just like them. They gave more attention whether I did the teachings of Islam—praying five times a day and fasting in Ramadhan month for 30 days besides reciting the Holy Alquran daily—than whether I studied at home, e.g. to do homework. My parents would be angry if I did not pray or recite Alquran, but they were not angry if I did not study. Besides, my parents taught me to obey whatever they told me to do. In Indonesia, children are taught like that, they are not supposed to oppose their parents in all aspects (except if the parents ask something considered sinful in the religion teachings, e.g. stealing). Parents are considered to know better what is good or bad for their children because of their advancement in age and experience.

During the last decade, I saw the culture changing. I think this is due to the globalization era. Indonesian people get influence from other countries; e.g. from movies, news, etc. when I was a kid, my parents did not give a special attention to my study—to be the best student in class for example. Now parents expect their children to study in the best school and to be the best student in class. Besides, they also want their children to have other activities outside school, such as joining English course, computer, drawing, dancing, playing music instrument, fashion modeling classes, and so on. (To meet the parents’ demand, people open such courses because they see it as lucrative business.) When I was a kid, it was not common for parents to talk about their children’s achievement in and outside school. Now, it becomes very common. A’s parents may ask B’s parents about the child’s achievement, while the children themselves ask each other, “Have you ever won a competition? What kind of competition? How many trophies have you got?” or “What kind of activities do you join outside school?” and so on, just like in the story of Two Kinds. And like in Two Kinds, I also find some parents who really want to see their children on the screen on television. They will do everything they can as long as they can make their dream—and not always their children’s—come true.

This phenomenon also influenced me. Having only one child, maybe I unconsciously gave a heavy burden to Angie. I wanted her to be the best student at school while at the same time I also wanted her to get a lot of achievements from her activities outside school. If I had more than one child, maybe I would share the burden with other children. For example, Angie got achievement at school (e.g. as the best student), another child would be a national swimmer, another one again a famous fashion model. Well, I do not know.

While the narrator in Two Kinds did not like her mother’s idea to make her prodigy, my daughter enjoyed all her activities outside school at that time. Especially she enjoyed most when she joined some competitions and became the winner, e.g. reading poem in English, reciting the Holy Alquran, dancing, and fashion modeling. I did not ignore her school though, she was the second best student in her class.

When she was at the third grade of elementary school (eight years old at that time), I started to teach her to ‘argue’ things when she did not like things I said or did to her. different from the narrator’s mother in Two Kinds, I did not really want her to obey anything I said or asked her to do for my sake. I wanted her to do things because she enjoyed it, and she felt that she needed and wanted to do it, not because she wanted to make me happy. I did not want our relationship like common mother-daughter relationship in Indonesia, and old-fashioned way where the mother commands and the daughter obeys—a kind of relationship I had with my mother when I was a kid. I want our relationship just like between friends. She was free to express her opinion to me about everything.

As I said earlier, my parents taught me to obey what they said. I was not supposed to disagree with their idea. In fact, I did not feel happy for that. However, I was taught that to oppose parents is sinful. Raised in a religious family, I did not dare to commit sin, because I was taught that sinful people would go to hell, the worst place that God has ever created, a very terrible place. On the other hand, if I obeyed what my parents said, I would go to heaven, the best and most comfortable place that God has created.

However, I did not really feel happy to be raised in such an atmosphere. I was not really open to my parents, worrying if my parents could not understand me and I would make them angry when I had a different idea from them. I was more open to my friends, telling them what I felt because they understood me more. It made my relationship with them not so intimate. I do not want such a thing to happen between Angie and me. I am worried if I am strict to my daughter, ask her to obey whatever I say to her, without respecting and listening to what she says, I will make my daughter confide in her friends more than in me. I do not like the idea that she tells her friends more than she tells me. I want her to regard me as someone who will always understand her, so that she will tell me freely what she thinks, feels, and does. I want to be the most trusted friend for her.

Because of my teaching to argue with me, Angie started to refuse to join any kind of activities and competitions. When I asked her why she refused, she just answered, “I just do not want to.” I told her, “It’s okay if you do not want to do something. But when you refuse to do it, or when you choose to do it, you must have a good reason for that. It is not wise to say, “I just do not want to do that!” but she still said the same thing. “I just don’t want to. No other reason.” Frankly speaking, I was disappointed. However, I had to respect what she wanted. Only once in a while she was willing to do the activities she usually did before or joined competition. She did not refuse offers like being a master of ceremony (she was the MC of an opening ceremony of Children’s Day in Central Java last year), a radio announcer, and a fashion model.

Going back to the story Two Kinds, I am very impressed with the narrator’s way to protest her mother. She said frankly, “I’m not going to play anymore. Why should I? I’m not a genius.” … “You want me to be someone that I’m not! I’ll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be!” Being born in America, though her mother was a Chinese immigrant, the narrator really had “courage” to oppose her mother. I believe she adopted American culture about freedom that she saw in her surrounding. When you feel like doing something, do it. When you do not like it, don’t do it. I dream that one day my daughter will speak up to me, to express what she feels about something, to give me clear reasons when she decides to do something or refuses to do it, and not just says, “I simply don’t want to do it, Ma!” or “I just want to do it, Ma!”

My comment about the narrator’s mother is that she is “split” into two. I think she migrated to the United States—like any other immigrants—to achieve success, meaning having much money while at the same time to forget her bitter past life. Besides, she also was inspired with one of American dreams—you can be whatever you want to be. She wanted her daughter—the narrator—to be whatever she wanted her daughter to be. In this case, she wanted to make the narrator an American child (to be like Shirley Temple for example). On the other hand, she still adhered to Chinese tradition. She insisted that the narrator be an obedient daughter. In her opinion, a child must obey what the parents command. A child is the property of parents so that the child is not free to decide his/her own future. It means that the narrator’s mother wanted to make her child an American child without forgetting that she has Chinese blood in the body.

I was sorry when the narrator said, “I wish I wasn’t your daughter. I wish you weren’t my mother.” In my opinion, it is a terrible thing to hear our daughter saying that. I would be very upset and feel miserable in her position. And it was a shame that in order to ‘defeat’ her mother’s obstinacy, the narrator said, “I wish I’d never been born! I wish I were dead!” I believe it struck her so hard that at last she stopped her ambition to make her daughter a prodigy.

Indeed, we must realize that our children do not rally belong to us. God does not really give them to us, He just lends them to us. Like what Anne Bradstreet wrote in one of her poem “Farewell fair flower that for a space was lent, Then, ta’en away unto eternity.” And in Islam, there is a tradition to say “Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un” which means “in fact everything and everyone on this earth belongs to God, so to Him everything and everyone will go back at the end” when we hear news that someone passes away.

It is true that through us—parents—children were born. However, it does not mean that they are ours so that we can do anything we want to do to them as if they were our properties. They have their own thinking, feeling, interest, which are different from our way of thinking, feeling, and interest.

The story reminds me that maybe it could happen to me too. My ambition to make my daughter a prodigy can ruin our relationship. I have to always remember that she is not me, she has her own world which is different from mine. She has her own way of thinking, feeling, and interest which may be contradictory to mine. And I have to respect that. In fact, I’d love to see her grow up and be a different person from me. in Indonesia—and maybe also in other nations—parents mostly want to see their children be better than they are in all aspects, having better education, job, luck, destiny, and especially for me, I want to see my daughter grow up having better character traits than I do—more intelligent, pious, broadminded, open-minded, confident, successful, and also wise. Too much to ask, yes, I realize that. but I think, other parents may share the same feeling with me.


As I read this revealing essay, I think that your daughter is quite lucky to have a mother as introspective and self-examining as you are. This is a nice meditation on how parental ambition can be self-defeating, turning kids into rebels rather than prodigies. I’m fascinated by a number things. First, you hint that your daughter started to rebel after you encouraged her in the art of argument—although her rebellion did not really take the form of argument, right? Second, you conclude (with Bradstreet) that children are only “lent” by God rather than given permanently, and I wonder if that religious thought actually provides the kind of comfort you say it does. There is something heartbreaking in seeing children willfully turn away from parental preferences, but it is also a normal psychological process by which they must define their own identities. It is this sort of explanation (rather than a religious explanation) that I rely upon when I think of my own children. (And we have some experiences in common.) I’m fascinated by your choice to emphasize education over religion (at least more than your parents emphasized it) in your own household, which leads to my question about whether traditional religion provides the kinds of answers you need. Fine work.

Yogya, June, 2003

About Marriage

About Marriage
By Denise Levertov

Don’t lock me in wedlock, I want
marriage, an

I told you about the
green light of

(a veil of quiet befallen
the downtown park,

Saturday after
noon, long
shadows and cool

air, scent of
new grass,
fresh leaves,

blossom on the threshold of

and the birds I met there,
birds of passage breaking their journey,
three birds each of a different species:

the azalea breasted with round poll, dark,
the brindled, merry, mousegliding one,
and the smallest, golden as gorse and wearing
a black Venetian mask

and with them the three douce hen birds
feathered in tender, lively brown—

I stood
a half-hour under the enchantment,
no one passed near,
the birds saw me and
let me be
near them.)

It’s not
I would be

and met you
in a green
airy space, not
locked in.
PT56 17.10 280307


Househusbands of the world, unite!
Julia Suryakusuma, Jakarta

Dina and Eddy are in their mid 30s, with two young children. They're an ordinary educated, middle-class Indonesian couple ... except that Dina is completing a PhD in anthropology overseas. That means Eddy, who has degrees in religious studies and strategic studies and used to be a journalist for a national newspaper, is now a househusband, and will be until 2010.

A typical day starts with Eddy dropping the children off at school and Dina at the university. At 8 a.m. he makes his way to the warehouse where he works part-time as a forklift operator. At 4 p.m., he picks up the children from school and Dina from university and they return home together. In the evening they cook and do household chores together but Eddy does most of it while Dina studies -- and right now he looks after everything, because Dina is away in Aceh for a few months doing field work.

Eddy sees their domestic arrangements as perfectly natural. "Family members," he says, "should take turns supporting each other, especially husbands and wives." Now it's Dina's turn to be supported, because she has the opportunity to further her studies and career.

A good Muslim, Eddy says everybody has the right to advance themselves. In fact, according to Islam, to advance yourself in the field of knowledge and education is more than a right. It is a sacred duty, and an obligation for both men and women.

The first word revealed of the Koran was "Iqra": READ! Seek knowledge! Be educated! Al-Zumr, paragraph 9, reveals: "Are they equal, those who know and those who do not know?" Al-Baqarah, paragraph 269, reveals: "Allah grants wisdom to whom He pleases and to whom wisdom is granted indeed he receives an overflowing benefit."

You may think, well, Eddy certainly comes from a progressive, modern background! You'd be wrong. Eddy's parents are just ordinary farmers, working paddy fields in Padang, West Sumatra. But in his family it was always common for the boys to cook, wash and clean up, as part of their training to become independent and self-sufficient adults.

This probably has something to do with the matrilineal traditions of his ethnic group, the Minangkabau, but Eddy sees it more in terms of his own personal family values: if you're part of a family, you put the interests of the family first. So, if an opportunity opens up for any family member, male or female, they should be supported, to advance the family as a whole.

I asked if his arrangements with Dina were unique. "No, no," he said. "We've got many friends who do what we do." He's right, of course. The househusband phenomenon is increasingly common, although it's still far from being recognized socially. In Indonesia, as elsewhere in the world, family structures are changing, as education and work opportunities increase for women, but also because of economic necessity. In the Philippines, for example, the number of children in the care of their fathers has hugely increased since the 1980s, as more and more women leave to become overseas workers.

For these women, their role as nurturer is changing to that of provider. There is a growing number of men who are, conversely, claiming their right to nurture. These are often not professed feminists, but simply ordinary guys who want to be fathers and husbands and support their children and partners at home. It's a humanizing phenomenon, the other side of the coin from women claiming their right to a role besides wife and mother.

This is the case with Timbo, a classmate of my son Aditya at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane. Timbo used his degree in industrial design to work for a few years, but now his wife Jodi has a more lucrative job as a medical doctor. For the last two years he's been a full-time househusband.

"It's a challenge," he admits: with two infant children, he had to learn the art of childrearing on the spot, while handling all the demands of running a household and supporting Jodi. He says he needs to feel valued as a supporter, but he gets that, together with much personal satisfaction, in his role as a care-giver.

Parents and extended family members are supportive, but socially he feels it's assumed that men are the providers in all households. He told me of an incident when Jodi's credit card statements were sent to him, when in fact he was only a supplementary card holder -- just because he's a Mr. and not a Mrs.

Whatever gains feminism may have made, most men still think of themselves as meant to work -- outside the house. The stereotypes are so deeply ingrained that even Nena, an ardent feminist friend of mine, has mixed feelings on the matter. She told me that her journalist husband's dream is to stay home and write, look after the garden, and not worry about bringing money home, leaving all that to his wife. Nena admitted she wasn't sure she'd be happy to shoulder all the responsibility for keeping the family finances afloat.

Reconfiguring gender roles isn't always easy. Just imagine: if Hillary Clinton becomes President, then Bill, once the world's most powerful man, will become its most prominent househusband. How will he adjust to supervising the White House menu? I hope he's been watching the TV series Commander in Chief (Sunday nights on Metro TV in Indonesia) to pick up a few tips from Rod Callaway, the screen husband of Mackenzie Allen, "first
Female president of the U.S."

Well, whether he likes it or not, Bill Clinton as househusband would probably make it a bit easier for Eddy and Timbo and all the other househusbands of the world, adored in private but overlooked in public. Who would have thought Bill would turn out be a feminist after all?

The writer is the author of Sex, Power and nation. She can be contacted at or