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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Literature Classes

It all started from my favorite poem entitled AN OBSTACLE by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, then my (present) students labeled me as "a woman movement fighter". LOL.

Annually, every even semester I have two classes in one private university in Semarang: Poetry Analysis and Drama Analysis. As an acclaimed feminist, one can guess that I will choose some materials related to women in the two classes. Besides "An Obstacle", I discussed "Reassurance", which was also written by Gilman. I chose it when in the class discussing 'some poems written by the same poet' to recognize the presence of the poet in his/her works. For those who study Gilman's works, they will easily recognize that all of her works represent her ideas as one 'heroine' for equality, be it poems, articles, or short stories.

Gilman lived in an era (1860-1935) where many American women struggled for suffrage. Nevertheless, Gilman never involved herself in such a struggle because she believed that to make women equal with men, having rights to vote in general election was not enough. She opined that women had to get equal rights to work outside the home, as well as to bear their own name, instead of just known as Mrs. X.

To commemorate Kartini Day on April 21 (FYI, Kartini was chosen by Soeharto New Order regime as a heroine for her struggle to give women equal chance to pursue education) I chose two other poems to be discussed in Poetry Analysis class, "Dedication of the Cook" by Anna Wickham, a British poet, and "Women of My Color" by Wanda Coleman, an African American poet. The two poems illustrate different problems women face. Wickham questioned whether women could have their private time to do what they wanted – such as to “indite an ode or mend a sonnet”, to be a great poet – and not troubled by household chores. Meanwhile, Coleman described the unfavorable condition to be born as a black woman. It is obviously stated that African American women had to liberate themselves first from any stereotypes addressed to them, then they could join the white women’s struggle for equality with men.

In Drama Analysis class, I chose TRIFLES by Susan Glaspell. Although this play was written around a century ago, Glaspell sharply chose a topic that is still up-to-date nowadays. She narrated the way men viewed women, bothering ‘trivial’ things too much so that they were not as alert as men, while in fact, from those ‘trifles’ the two women in the play even successfully discovered the background why Minnie Foster murdered her husband.

One very favorable thing for me to teach literature classes: I choose any literary work through which I can expose my feminist perspective, to ‘awaken’ my students from the latent danger of patriarchal culture. :)

PBIS 10.40 270410

My analysis on 'An Obstacle' is at

My analysis on "Women of my Color" is at

My analysis on "Reassurance" is at

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mother - daughter relationship

I just read an article on how parents –especially mothers – wrongly treat their daughters so that it will worsen the relationship between mother – daughter. To make it worse, it will make daughters lose their confidence to be women.

Click here (in Bahasa Indonesia)

The fact that many mothers becoming the biggest critic to their daughters is the main scapegoat. The criticism varies from a ‘trivial’ thing such as wearing ‘improper’ clothes and makeup (according to the mothers’ opinion of course), to the way how daughters comment on their mothers’ confiding in them, to what kind of guy daughters date, until the so-called ridiculous thing in this era – checking their hymen when those mothers find out that their daughters have already had sex out of wedlock and then force them to have hymen operation, in order to be ‘recognized’ as “pure” women when they have their ‘first night’ with their husband later on.

The first point: wearing improper clothes and makeup. Indeed it is true that those ‘mothers’ were also “victims” in their own era. For example when they did not wear ‘proper’ makeup and clothes, they were ridiculed by their contemporaries – let’s say schoolmates, college mates, or workmates. Their being inferior made them feel uneasy. Not being able to find the reason what made them uncomfortable, they took the negative comment to their heart. In fact, it didn’t need to happen like that if they had big confidence to be themselves: to wear clothes and make according to their own taste.

Not wanting their daughters to be ridiculed like how they used to be, those mothers keep criticizing their daughters. They force their daughters to follow the ‘trend’ or even worse, the way patriarchal culture stereotypes women’s appearance. They do not realize that their daughters are different from them. In fact, those mothers just need to be confident, and tell their daughters, “Be yourself, and be confident.”

The second point: the way daughters comment on their mothers. It is also believed that people tend to forget that nothing stays the same, era changes. When their daughters were still little, they tended to listen to anything their mothers said. After the daughters grow up, getting knowledge – both from school / campus or from their socializing with many people, they possibly have different ways of thinking from their mothers. When their mothers confide in them – for example how their husbands treat them badly – the daughters comment something that is perhaps inappropriate, or not to the mothers’ want, the mothers complain strongly, “Why are you so mean to me? Not like when you were a kid?” This then makes their relationship bad. The mothers accuse the daughters misunderstand them. Worse than this, these inferior mothers will threaten their daughters that they will not get a husband if they do not behave well.

Again, in this case, I see how marriage-oriented society – as a result of patriarchal culture – victimizes women.

The third point: judging the guy the daughters date. Instead of having an open heart-to-heart communication between mothers and daughters, there is a tendency that those mothers just judge the guy the daughters date. The mothers’ disapproval without giving clear reasons absolutely worsens the relationship. It will be worse when the mothers keep bugging their daughters whose age is considered to be ‘crucial’ to get married soon. “Don’t make me embarrassed because you are still single in this age. Get a guy and marry him.” However, when the daughters date a guy who is not to the mothers’ ‘taste’, they will be condemned.

Again, the patriarchal culture takes its toll!

The fourth point is the worst of all. In this era, like it or not, having sex outside the wedlock has become sub culture all over the world, including Indonesia. However, many so-called conventional mothers just think about their own ‘good name’ before the parents of the guy the daughter is going to marry. To be able to keep the daughters’ purity is still one thing making them proud to be ‘good parents’. Therefore when they find out that their daughters have had sex outside the wedlock, they will ask their daughters to have hymen operation. They don’t realize that it will even degrade their own self-esteem. Isn’t it better that those mothers – daughters have good and open communication so that they will understand each other well.

When viewing it from feminist point of view, sadly I must say that even in this era, patriarchal culture still strongly exists.

PT56 21.41 110410