A few weeks ago I tweeted about everyday sexism in Indonesia, and had a little bit of chat with Mbak Yoyen and Mbak Deny. I also got a lot of replies for those tweets, and it made me think about other things in Indonesia that I didn’t like.
For the longest time, I have these pent-up frustrations about some things in Indonesia. I find these things to be an everyday occurrence, things that people barely think about because it happens too often that they’re perceived as normal. I think there’s some sort of unconscious acceptance regarding these matters as they’re shaped by the local culture, and people don’t criticize it because maybe they think it’s normal, or because it’s how it is (thanks, culture). Suffice it to say, these things irritate me no end. I wrote about some of them on my list of Things That Shouldn’t Surprise You When You Live in Indonesia, and here’s some more (apologies in advance for the long rant).
1. “Respect people who are older than you”
I’ve heard this being said for more times than I care to count. The problem with this, is that it insinuates that older people deserve more respect, and younger people deserve less. I don’t agree with this at all. You respect people, regardless of their age, religion, sexual orientation, etc. By default, I’m polite and I always respect people until they do something that proves they aren’t worthy of respect (by the way, this also makes me wonder whether this is the reason why the culture of seniority is strong here. I have a lot to say about this, but I’ll save it for another time).
2. “It’s better to get married as soon as possible, while you’re still young”
This, of course, is a very personal thing. But I see many of my peers are being pressured to get married, regardless whether they’re mentally ready or not. There’s even an unwritten age limit that people refer too, and these people would say “The clock is ticking!” and take it even further by saying it’s better to have a minimum age gap with your children. No, no, no. You don’t tell people they should get married, or when to get married. They can get married if they want to, and if not, that’s cool too. And if they want to get married, you leave them alone to decide when they are ready.
3. Wedding as a showcase of wealth and prosperity
When I heard the stories of people selling their houses to fund their children’s weddings, I thought it was exaggerated, and there was no way it could be true. But it is. Wedding in Indonesia is such a big thing, an important affair for the big families. More and more people in my generation opt for much simpler, smaller weddings, but they’re often faced with oppositions from both sets of parents. And so, to avoid arguments and stress, they go along with their parents’ wishes. People who still think that wedding is a showcase of their wealth and prosperity often go out of their way to present themselves in the best possible light, as they know that people scrutinize weddings to form ideas of how well-endowed you are. It is quite common in Indonesia to ‘fake’ some layers of the wedding cakes using styrofoams (because bigger & taller = better, obviously). The bigger your wedding is, the wealthier you are. While it’s entirely up to people how they want to celebrate their weddings, I think it’s necessary to break the perception that the scale of a wedding is related to your wealth.
4. Everyday sexism
A girl needs to wake up early. A girl has to have a tidy room (“How is it gonna be when you’re married and you’re messy?” As if tidying up is a job for girls, and girls only). A wife has to prepare her husband’s breakfast (and any other meal, for that matter). A girl needs to be able to cook, and when they’re deemed good enough at cooking, then they’re ready to be married (isn’t it funny how cooking is designated for women, and yet high-ranking positions like chef are mostly dominated by men?). These are the examples of things that are often said to girls, too often that people have normalized it, unaware that they’re completely sexist. When I hear someone say these things, I’ll tell them that it’s sexist. They need to be made aware of the implications of the things they say. And maybe, you can tell them this quote by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Do not ever tell her that she should do or not do something “because you are a girl.”
‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.
5. Victim blaming
“You were harassed? What were you wearing? Don’t wear something revealing then.”
I’m so, so sick of hearing this (and trust me, living in Indonesia, you’ll hear this a lot).
In here, sexual harassment is not taken seriously. Catcalling is something most girls in Jakarta have experienced (I don’t know about other areas, but I guess it’s pretty much the same). A friend of mine was walking back from her office when someone on a motorbike groped her, then grabbed her hand and dragged her to a dark alley. She managed to break free and ran away (thank god). While this was happening, there was a lady witnessing all of this, and she did nothing. Rika wrote about her experience in Jakarta many years ago, and honestly reading that makes me so angry.
It’s so important to not stay silent when you’re experiencing this, or witnessing this. Scream, draw attention, and tell authorities if you see any. And the most important thing, don’t tell women what to wear, tell men not to harass.
On another topic, in some areas where the patriarchal culture is still strong, women will be blamed if they cannot produce any male offspring. To say that it’s ridiculous is an understatement.
6. Being nosy of people’s personal lives shows that you care
“Do you have a boyfriend? When are you getting married? I’ll be waiting for the invitation.”
“You’re not planning to have children? But why? Children are blessings, and they will bring fortunes.”
“Why do you never go to church anymore?”
Oh people, STFU. It’s none of your business. When asked about getting married, I have this really strong urge to reply “Why do you ask? It’s none of your business. And anyway, you won’t be invited to my wedding. I plan to only invite family and close friends.” When I meet these nosy people, I usually give them a tight smile and say nothing. But I’ve been trying to gather the courage to say, “That is something personal, and it’s inappropriate to ask that.” These people need to learn a lesson too.
This irritates me too often, as it happens almost every time. Not being punctual in Indonesia for casual meetups is acceptable, people don’t really give a fuss about it when you’re late. 15-30 minutes late is okay, no notifications needed. Sometimes 1 hour is even okay, when you live in Jakarta. Dear people, no. Even 5 minutes late is not okay. And if you’re gonna be late, have the courtesy to notify the person you’re meeting. People have their own agendas and to-do list, don’t assume they’ve got all the time in the world.
I know that not all people agree with me, but what do you think about those? Share your thoughts, I’ll very much appreciate it. 🙂