When Privilege Keeps Indonesian Women From Speaking Up

This article was first published on Overachiever Magazine on 13th June 2019.

Since I started writing dissenting opinions in a popular public online media, I have garnered an audience of young women from the ages of 18 to late 20s. I find it surprising that they look up to me. I know I could be problematic in certain ways, but I didn’t like how women idolized me in such a way. I shy away from a lot of appearances and have become more private nowadays due to the possibility of online and offline persecution from conservative right wing in Indonesia. On the other hand, I have had women come to me and say they admire me for the courage to speak up on the atrocities happening everywhere around, and they ask me how to become like me who have the courage to speak up.

Before answering their questions, I always tell them that I am in certain ways privileged and oppressed at the same time. My family is well off even though my father is much more leaning to the conservative politics of Islam, and my mother pride herself as a moderate Muslim that still upholds the traditional Muslim values of life. On the other hand, I have been living separately from my parents since I was 14, even though I come back and forth to visit them, I am still sponsored by them. I have the luxury of freedom from the surveillance of conservative parents and financial support. So yes, I have to make them aware about the privilege that I have to speak out because not a lot of people can afford the safety of speaking out towards the conservatives that has become mainstream.

But even though I have the unconditional financial support of my parents as a cis-woman of Muslim descendant in a Muslim majority country, I still had to fight my parents. Since they are working in a government institution, more often than not, I have to “behave” according to their standards. So somehow it was best to keep me away from their circle as I was deemed too rebellious. In every advice that young women ask for, I try not to tell them how to be like me. I find this hard to articulate because their struggle may not be the same as mine and can be many times harder. It is hard to tell someone to fight if they are not equipped with tools, safety and a support system. But at the same time, I tell them that they can’t expect anyone to empower themselves if they can’t decide for themselves. This can be problematic in many ways because women’s layer of oppression is multidimensional. It is not about “if I can become like this then you can become like me.” That doesn’t work for many women, especially women who are under privileged and minority people of color. Empowering is not enough if we don’t set women free from the social and economic shackles that was invented by the patriarchs to keep us dependent to the men in our lives.

Today, women are still held back to speak up or even write about what makes them uneasy about the ongoing oppression that they face in their own society. They fear that they may face persecution and lose relationships that may have different views. They are scared that they may not have the support of their parents if they start to speak up. This is also why women who are anti feminists claim that they don’t need feminism because they felt that they already have access towards economic stability, health and education. This is what privilege looks like. Women who are privilege and calls themselves anti feminists tend to underestimate the possibility that their rights might be taken away through any form of systematized oppression and discrimination any time. They tend to overlook the root cause of the inequalities that other women have outside of their circle and comfort zone. They see underprivileged women as a charity playground to pride themselves as the holier than thou. Instead of fighting the unequal system that creates the poor, they try to maintain the status quo of their privilege status and exploit other underprivileged women to work for them with a far lower income. So, if someone were to question and to deconstruct their source of privilege, they fear that they might lose it as well. This also explains why men are reluctant to accept feminism because they don’t want to lose the status quo and their privileges. Even women who have these accesses and understand what feminism is, will still face difficulties in how they place themselves in the society. A lot of women don’t realize their worth and only consider their worth in the eyes of others. They still seek validation even though they know the people whom they seek validation would never agree on their arguments. And making them realize their worth and that their dignity is what to fight for, is much harder.

Until now, I still haven’t found a formula to empower women and make themselves free. Somehow, I don’t intend to, because I am not here to save women. I am here to support other women as we are both equals. I am here to assist them with the tools, the safety and the support system other women don’t have. I don’t want to tell women what to do. I want women to know what they want and what is best for them. I am here to explain why such things happen and what they can do to fight for themselves. We might lose a few friends because we don’t see eye to eye on the definition of womanhood or any other aspect of human rights, but we also gain new friends as well that can support us to break free. And this is where women stand together.