December, 14 2017
Dear Ridwan Kamil, Remove Yourself from Your Wife's Narrative

An open letter to Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil, whose comments on social media have often been criticized for being sexist.

by Theodora Sarah Abigail
Issues // Politics and Society
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Dear Pak Ridwan, I’m writing this letter to you because I read your recent Instagram post about how proud you are of your wife’s accomplishments. I found the sentiment very sweet.

You then seemed confused as to why people left rude comments on your post, or took issue with parts of your caption. I saw the defense you provided in the following posts.

You say that your marriage was founded in a belief and love in Islam, which is something I can recognize and appreciate. After all, my own marriage is founded in a belief and love in Catholicism. In Catholicism, wives are also expected to submit to their husbands, who act as the head of the households.

Don’t believe me? Read Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do the Lord.”

It’s pretty clear that as a Catholic wife, I have to submit to my husband. I have to respect his place as the head of the family. I’m sure you’d agree with everything I’m saying so far.

But, here’s the thing: if you read on a little bit more, you’ll get to Ephesians 5:25, which says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

So, in Catholicism, wives do have to submit to their husbands. But husbands must also to love and submit to – and even sacrifice themselves for – their wives too. It has to work both ways.

But that’s not why I’m writing this letter.

You said in your Instagram caption that you “care very much about the potential for women to move forward.” This is the first statement you make – that you’ve given your wife permission to be as great as she possibly can be because you care about women.

Look, Pak Ridwan. I mean this very respectfully, but, honestly, when I read your comment, I don’t feel like you really care about me. I don’t feel like you care about women at all. I think that you care about yourself.

Let me break down your caption: “I give my wife permission and support to study for her master’s degree. I’ve even given her permission to lead more than six organizations.”

 

I often invite her to watch football and practice climbing with me, and even go rafting, activities that some believe belong to the world of men. That’s because I respect modern women very, very much."

And here’s the clincher: “If I demand that my wife focuses on raising our family and requested that she go for spa treatments regularly and asks her to take care of her body and face so that she is always lovely and clean, it’s because that’s part of the nature of her gender, so that I always fall in love with her more each day.”

Pak, I can respect the foundation of your marriage, and I congratulate you for being married for 21 years. You’re clearly doing something right. But at the same time, I find that your claim that you care about women lacks sincerity.

When I read your post, all I hear about is you, you, you, and you. What I hear is that you think your wife should be grateful, because you have given her so many opportunities to succeed. She should be thanking you, because you are a kind husband who supports her dreams.

What about her? If you really believe in women’s potential, why didn’t you talk more about your wife? Why did you talk about yourself as a man and about everything you’ve done for her as a husband?

Caring about women means giving them the freedom to learn about who they are and what they want. It means valuing them, not just as women, but as individuals. What we’ve been fighting for all this time is recognition and respect based on our own successes and achievements. We are wives, sisters, daughters, and mothers, but we are also humans who deserve to be valued based on our own merit.

If you really want to prove that you care about women, try talking less about your contributions and more about her success. Talk about her strengths and accomplishments. Let people know that she’s amazing not because you “allow” her to be or because you “support” her. She would be amazing with or without you. You aren’t the reason she accomplishes wonderful things. She does that all by herself.

Think of it this way: women (and everyone) are like stars. Stars produce their own light. Your wife is a star that produces light. She shines brightly because that’s her nature as a star, not because you allow her to do that. If her light isn’t visible, then something – or someone – must be blocking it.

Your entire caption says, “My wife shines because I let her,” and “My wife shines so brightly because of me.” And your last statement says, “I control how bright she shines, and demand that she shines even brighter to fulfill her responsibility to me, her husband.”

Do you see how selfish and arrogant that sounds?

As women, all we want is to shine freely. And sometimes being a feminist or caring about women simply involves stepping aside and giving them the spotlight for a change. Want to learn how to really help women? Remove yourself from the narrative for a second, and think about how you can help women shine freely. Let them stand on their own two feet.

My warmest regards,
Ebi

 
Theodora Sarah Abigail is a writer and ordinary girl living in Jakarta with her husband and daughter. She is the author of In the Hands of a Mischievous God and writes occasionally on her blog.