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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Women: The Oppressed & The Oppressor

Several weeks ago, a workmate of mine told me about a neighbor of hers who was treated very unfairly by his mother. The mother has four children. She treated her husband (or ex husband, I am somewhat not clear, but they lived in different houses) very selfishly. My workmate’s neighbor who was not treated well by his mother would be scolded very poignantly by the mother if he went to the father’s house to “look for an ally” to “face” the selfish mother.

When telling me about this case, my workmate said, “I don’t understand how a woman can be such a cruel person. She didn’t treat her husband well. She forbade her children to be close to the father while she herself didn’t treat the children fairly. She really didn’t represent “woman’s face” who, in the patriarchal culture, was usually the oppressed. Instead of being the oppressed, she herself was the oppressor. How could such a thing happen?”

To comment my workmate’s rhetorical question, I said that we could not really generalize things that happen around us. There must have been a very crucial thing that happened to that woman so that she acted like that. It could be the way she was raised by her parents, or the “lesson” she herself “deducted” from her life experience, or any other things.

“Was she a kind of woman that feminist movement wanted to ‘shape’, very contradictory from the stereotypes of women in the patriarchal culture: submissive, weak, feminine, vulnerable, etc? How could she know about feminist movement while in my opinion she was just a very common woman, not really educated?”

This was the following rhetorical question from my workmate.

I said that when feminist movement wanted to reach ‘equality’ between men and women, it was very different from what she illustrated as “women control men”. Instead of being the oppressed (men were the oppressor), feminist movement did not automatically mean women oppress men back. It was not ‘equality’; it was taking revenge.

How could such a woman exist in the patriarchal culture?


In Jurnal Perempuan number 54 with the main topic “Celebrating Women’s Diversity”, there is one main article that attracted me. It was entitled “’Batu Permata Milik Ayahanda’: Dongeng Tradisional Indonesia” (“’Father’s precious stone’: Indonesian Traditional Fairy Tales”) written by Riris K. Toha-Sarumpaet, a professor of children’s literature from University of Indonesia. The article was the result of Riris’ research on many fairy tales in Indonesia.

In short, there are two categories of women in those fairy tales: the oppressed, and the oppressor. The oppressed women can be found in some fairy tales following Cinderella motive, such as “Putir Busu dan Bawi Sandah” from Dayak, one ethnic group located in Kalimantan, the biggest island in Indonesian archipelago. As an oppressor, people can take “Malin Kundang”—this tale illustrates how the son was cursed to be a stone by the mother. Besides teaching children to be obedient, this fairy tale also depicted a heartless mother who was not willing to forgive the only son. Fairy tales illustrating sibling rivalry—such as “Bawang Merah Bawang Putih”, women simply are contradicted to each other—the oppressor and the oppressed.

When reading or listening to fairy tales with two contradictory kinds of women, children probably internalize the stories into their sub-consciousness. Patriarchal culture—with the help of those fairy tales—cruelly shapes children’s way to view women. As a result, they can grow up without any choices but the two: being the oppressed or the oppressor.


Going back to the case of my workmate’s neighbor, his mother in fact is just another victim of the status quo of patriarchal culture.

PT56 12.45 080108


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