First off, let’s make a list of great female leaders that you know. For me, on the top of my head are names such as Susi Pudjiastuti, Sri Mulyani, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, and Condoleezza Rice. You may have different names on your list, but the same pattern must have popped up.
If we examine these generally praised female leaders we can find a pattern. From their looks, all of them favor short hair. All of them also favor dynamic clothing, favoring trousers over skirts whenever possible. From their behavior they tend to portray stoic, analytic calmness. When they have to assert something they are assertive and firm. In short, they behave masculine.
The masculinization of female leaders is both product and precursor of masculine domination on leadership. Ages of male leaders made our society’s image of leadership skewed in favor of male and masculinity. Instead of opposing it, aspiring female leaders use this preconception and incorporate them in their own public personas. Female leaders with motherly nurturing persona, such as Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini, are increasingly rare.
The marginalization of femininity does not only happen in leadership but also in everyday life. Do you still use words like “pussy” or “girly” as an insult for men? Remember the last time we told boys “not to be a girl” when they are needy? I know I still do those things some time, to my shame. Even in Indonesian society, with its strict defense of gender role, it is still more acceptable for a woman to be a butch than for a man to be effeminate.
This societal phenomenon showed that in this era of women emancipation, misogyny has found new target: feminine gender. Female sex may be emancipated. Women can vote, get higher education, and be influential members of society. However, all these achievements are conditional on them behaving like men.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not promoting for gender roles to be restored. Nor do I oppose women who behave masculine. By all means, I support women, and men for that matter, to have the widest choices available on how to behave and defend themselves.
But it is sad that aspiring female leaders should behave masculine to be taken seriously. It is sad that effeminate men should be social outcasts: unaccepted by masculine male, yet not truly female to be member of the feminine groups. No sexes or gender should be discriminated.
This should be the point of view of feminists. I believe in feminism that aims to emancipate the feminine gender, not only female sex. Rampant practice of housewife-shaming, shamed for being submissive to patriarchal society, has led to unwarranted opposition to feminism. True feminism is the one that opens the widest possible path for women to pursue their happiness.
Gede Benny Setia Wirawan is a medical student and blogger based in Denpasar. Apart from health sciences, he is also interested in politics and human rights issues. See his other writings at indonesianliberal.org
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