I would not have realized how feminism has been internalized so much in me if I had never been asked by those who read my book why most of the short stories I wrote are about women and their fights although I’m a male writer.
At first I didn’t know the answer. I also wondered why I subconsciously made those choices for my book. My first guess was because of my nine years’ involvement in English debate tournaments, where equality for all had always been one of the hottest topics debated. Then one day I had a book discussion with Feby Indirani, author of Bukan Perawan Maria (Not Virgin Mary), and she told me: “Who and what you truly are will be reflected in your writing.”
At that moment I finally understood that feminism wasn’t merely the topic of my stories. It is what my debate coach once said about intellectual property being “the result of your whole life experiences since you were born or even still in the womb. It’s exactly what makes you human.”
That’s it. Feminism has always been my life experiences. It is the result of being raised by my parents, an experience that have solidified to form my own core values.
My mom didn’t come from a wealthy family. She’s the seventh of nine children. When she graduated from junior high school, she decided to enter nursing school because she knew her parents would not be able to afford sending her to university to obtain her bachelor’s degree. By 15, she had understood this, and as the result she wasn’t even 20 years old when she had already started to earn money and help support her parents. She even helped finance her big brother’s wedding.
She continued to be a strong independent woman even after she was married and to this day. When my dad didn’t have a job or didn’t earn enough money, Mom was there to make sure all our needs were fulfilled. As a child I used to wake up seeing her busy at her desk, moonlighting as insurance agent to supplement her primary income as a midwife. Many mornings after delivering a baby until dawn she was busy prepping me and my siblings for school.
She once told her children that men should be able to have a proper job and salary because men are expected to provide a living for their family. Women, on the other hand, should be able to be much more than men by having work and steady income, and not let themselves be dependent on the men. Also if their marriages ever turn sour because their husbands are abusive or cheating on them, they do not have to fear leaving the men and living on their own.
My mom never taught us that women should work to help the husband provide a living for their families. Fulfilling the needs of the children may be instinctual, so many mothers would work when their husbands can’t, but that isn’t the primary goal of working women, according to her. The main purpose is that so the women can be equal and have dignity. She said that when the women could earn money on their own, men would think twice before demeaning them.
My father is never ashamed to help taking care of the house. He does the dishes and laundry (even when we already had domestic assistants to do them), he cooks rice for the family, and he makes his own coffee. He is not the kind of man who believes that the mother is the one responsible for the children’s development in the family. In fact, he was involved in his children’s activities both in and outside school.
I never saw my mom’s position being seen as lower than my dad and vice versa. I believe that my little brother and sister also feel that they are equal. This is probably why my little sister’s has always outshined other students, including boys, in school.
There is one thing, though, about my dad. Even a man like him was prone to violent behavior some time. True to the toxic masculinity culture, he used to not know how to channel his emotion when he was upset, and would instead turn physically violent. He has changed gradually because my siblings and I often confront him whenever he turns violent toward us or our mom.
Fortunately, my mom is not a weak submissive woman. She is not scared to confront and even fight him back when it happens. On the occassions when my parents were involved in a verbal quarrel, my dad tried to control his anger so he would not turn violent. Eventually he would drive off and leave the house to visit his mother’s grave. Deep down he is softhearted man who will go to his mother when he is sad, which I find sweet.
My family is anything but perfect. My parents might not be the best parents. However, it is from them that I have learned how men and women are always equal and must respect each other’s dignity as fellow human beings. This belief has been with me since I was a kid, and I’m proud to say that I’m a feminist guy because my parents have implicitly taught me to be (because I doubt they even know what feminism is).
A female junior of mine in English debate has said this: “In a world like this where there’s too much patriarchy, there’s no such a thing as being too feminist.
Liswindio Apendicaesar is the author of a collection of short stories “Malam untuk Ashkii Dighin” and a member of editorial board of Bulletin Sastra Pawon. He loves Cardcaptor Sakura so much and currently is following the sequel: Cardcaptor Sakura Clear Card Arc.