In December last year I attended a feminist training held by Solidaritas Perempuan Kinasih Yogyakarta. The three-day event was participated by high school and college students, house-wives, and working mothers from different communities and organizations. The speaker, Agustina Prasetyo Nunuk Murniati, or Ibu Nunuk, was a lecturer, counselor, and founder of Padepokan Perempuan Gaia Yogyakarta.
Ibu Nunuk brought a positive energy during the event. She encouraged us to be open with one another although we had never met before. We were also given time to share our experiences of being women.
“Experience is neutral,” she said. “It is neither right nor wrong. It is just the way it is. Don’t be afraid of being wrong. Share your experience honestly.”
So there we went, sharing our intimate stories to each other. I shared my experience of being abused in a romantic relationship. My ex-boyfriend never hurt me physically, but I was accustomed to gaslighting, silent treatment, projection, suicide threat, and self-harm exhibition. Other participants shared their experiences from abusive marriages, arranged marriage, childhood trauma, to sexual harassments.
From then on, I considered that being women in a patriarchal society is never easy. We were in this together. We were all oppressed, and I wasn’t alone. We all felt a spiritual bond as women.
Ibu Nunuk taught us about feminism. She told us that most women in our society were not feminist yet, as they don’t realize they are being oppressed. They consider it normal to submit themselves to men, to keep quiet about their abuses, to accept sexual intercourse with their partners even if they don’t want to, to give up their dreams so they could take care of their children, to do domestic tasks because they think they live for these purposes only.
Feminist, on the other hand, are enlightened women who are aware of being oppressed based on their own experiences. Of course, this simple definition surprised me. I thought that a feminist is someone who campaigns for feminism – activists who join social movements or advocate against sexist policies.
This definition startled me. I raised my hand and asked her, “I started learning about feminism about a year ago, when I knew that as a partner I was being oppressed. But, at the time, I couldn’t get out of the toxic relationship. I was aware, but couldn’t take the appropriate action for justice.
Fortunately after a long journey, our relationship finally ended. But, I often feel inferior whenever I remember that. Can you tell me, am I a feminist or not?”
Ibu Nunuk answered, “Yes, you are a feminist. You are aware that there is something wrong in your relationship when your partner becomes superior and make you feel inferior. The thing is, you understand it from your own experience. The act for justice is another thing to dig to find the feminist potential within you. It is a long process, a lifetime. That’s why, it is an individual process. Only oneself can answer if one is a feminist woman.”
She added: “So, don’t believe it if another woman or man tells you that they are more feminist than you or vice versa. That’s not true. Comparison only comes from within oneself.”
Her answer reassured me. I am bit a proud of myself because I have been doing a good job. All of sudden, I looked around and realized that I was surrounded by other feminists: a woman who freed herself after six years of abusive marriage, a young mother who stood her ground after refusing a sexual intercourse with her neighbor and being vilified by him, a college girl who learned to forgive her sexist parents, a mother who worked day and night to raise the children she had with an irresponsible husband from an arranged marriage.
These women did not advocate against sexist policies, they were not on the streets protesting, but they were feminists – for they have struggled to free themselves from shackles of being a woman.
Risma Yunita is a freelancer teacher who is currently working with the Abhiseva Community (www.instagram.com/abhiseva.community). She loves to read books, craft-making, and writing. Visit her on instagram @rismayw.