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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Is Feminism Against Marriage?

Is feminism against marriage?

Indeed many feminists opine that marriage is one institution that often oppresses women. Moreover in Indonesia where the marriage document states that in a marriage

Husbands act as breadwinner while wives act as the housewife/homemaker. Therefore, the husband is to support the family’s daily/monthly needs (as much as the husband’s ability to earn money), and the wife gets financial support from the husband as much as the husband’s ability to earn money.

Husbands lead and guide the family while wives respect and obey the husbands.

Husbands protect wives and children while wives take care of the household.

Husbands find solutions for problems faced by the family and wives respect and obey the solutions.

Husbands help wives do wives’ household chores.

At a glance the statements in the marriage document seem fine. However, when we pay more attention to the statements and read between the lines, we can see the imbalance of husbands and wives’ position in a family. Let us discuss the items one by one.

The first point, the appointment of men as breadwinner and women as the homemaker is an oppression. The use of words “give financial support as much as (or as low as?) to the wives will give space for men to do violence. Moreover with some hadith proposed by many ulemas (experts in Islamic teachings), “A pious woman is a woman who receives the money from the husband no matter how small the amount is and thank God for that.” While in the culture, people believe that a good (and smart) woman is a woman who can manage the money well.

When a man is not lucky to get money to give the wife, the wife must understand that. As a pious, good, and smart woman, the wife even oftentimes has to be able to find a way to survive. For those who are familiar with literary work, you can refer to the similar situation with the marriage between Torvald and Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s A DOLL’S HOUSE.

In fact the oppression here is for both men and women. They cannot choose which role they want to have. They must take it for granted. If not, they must be ready to be labeled ‘not normal’. One college friend of mine who decided together with her husband that she was the breadwinner and the husband was the homemaker once told me that she often got insulting questions, not only from public, but also from their own relatives.

In this era where it is already common for women to work to earn money in public sphere, they are still obliged to be homemakers because the marriage document states so. This made the oppression to women bigger.

The second point to me shows a very clear oppression to women. Not only can men lead and guide the family, women can do it as well. It is better if the statement is changed into both men and women lead and guide the family together, and respect each other. The words RESPECT EACH OTHER is more important to be emphasized, in my opinion. I find many examples of oppression because of the consensus of “the husband loves the wife and the wife respects the husband.” Many men complain to their wives, “Don’t you consider me as a man anymore so that you don’t listen to me?” A very tricky question that miraculously shuts women’s mouth and obey their husband because they are afraid to be labeled not a good and pious wife,
RESPECTING EACH OTHER can also be applied to better the third point. When a man respects his wife’s rights to do things she wants to do, he will understand that. Automatically protecting the wife and also the children will happen. Doing the household chores together will be more fairly and beautifully seen rather than the chores are only done by one side, the wife, and the man just busily observes his wife doing while saying, “You were born to do those household chores, my sweety. On the contrary, I was born only to look at you doing them.” In Indonesia, cooking, cleaning the house, washing and ironing clothes are still often viewed as women’s duties at home (because those women do not get paid professionally for those things.)

The fourth point is very oppressive to women. When facing problems, both man and woman had better discuss them together, measure the positive and negative points of the problems together, and then find solutions together. Both man and woman have equally the same right to express their opinions. And? Doing and obeying the solutions together. No party will be forced to listen and obey the other party.

The last point is good. However, when it is related to the first point—women as the homemaker, doing household chores is the main duty of a wife—many men will avoid doing this. Besides, dividing duties based on sex is still very strong in Indonesia. Many people still consider it as a wonderful thing when the husband helps doing household chores. Instead of considering it as something natural, people still adore men who are willing to help the wife do the cooking or washing clothes, for example.

Is it possible to change what has been stated in the marriage document so that marriage becomes women-friendly? I am doubtful of it thinking that Indonesian government is still very patriarchal (although we already had a woman president). Besides, is the problem easily solved only by changing the statements if the mind of many Indonesian people are still patriarchal?

Whether a marriage is oppressive to women or not, it all comes back to the two parties, the husband and the wife. As long as they respect each other, no matter what is stated in the document, none of them will feel oppressed. However, I must say that it needs a big courage on the husband’s side to oppose the mainstream of patriarchal culture. The example is from my college friend’s marriage life. She acts as the breadwinner while the husband acts as the homemakers and takes care of the children. Another example is my ex workmate. She is a full housewife while her husband is a specialist. She has divided the household chores with her husband. She mostly takes care of the two children they have, the husband does the cooking, the washing and ironing clothes, and cleaning the house. My friend will help her husband when he is busy with the patients.

When this happens, it is NOT IMPOSSIBLE for feminist women to get married. Marriage is no longer a cage for talented women to actualize themselves.

PT56 10.20 160507


Anonymous said...

Equality in Qur'an is very clear, see QS.Nuur:3 or Nuur:26. As its implication, the only thing to do for a feminist woman is to marry a feminist man.

A Feminist Blog said...

That is what I have been thinking too.