Nowadays a “feminist” is usually presented in the media in the image of woman-bosses in male-dominated fields, woman activists in various crusades, or rural women defying adversities. But today, I would like to share the story of a different kind of feminists, a more familiar group of women I grew up closely with: the urban housewives.
While living comfortably in a single-income family today may be considered as being privileged (with the sky-rocketing mortgage and school tuitions?), it was more common in the ‘90s. Most of my friends’ moms are housewives. Of course there are moms who works “at the office” (as I would call it back then), but most of them are stay-at-home moms whose main activities revolve around the house, neighborhood, and, in my mom’s case, church.
Our family is also one of those single-income families. My mom spent most of her time at home with her daughters while my dad worked hard at the office and took night classes at the university. It was not until my little sister was old enough that my mom gradually got more involved in our church’s woman organization, where she is still active to this day.
There was one moment that I will never forget. My mom was in the middle of typing the monthly organization bulletin when she told me, “Despite being a housewife, I have always wanted to have a ‘job’, even if I don’t get paid for it.” It was not until I got much older that I understand the depth of her remark.
While there are many career women involved in her church organization’s activities, it was the brigade of housewives that ran its daily affairs. Through her involvement in the organization, I learned that it wasn’t only my mom who kicked ass, but so many other housewives in our church. In the last 15 years, they have shown me what being an empowered woman is all about.
In many church organizations, women’s role is often sadly confined to food or decoration affairs. It was also the case in our church, but women are also the last-minute go-to people to organize unexpected events. These women always take it in stride, however, an in all occasion exceed every expectation.
In every committee they take part in, the women show their strong suits in the way they conduct a thoughtful, detail-oriented management approach while keeping critical eyes with can-do attitude. They have been known to put their foot down on the male-dominated committee in more than one occasion. They are the ones who switched the kid’s holiday goodie bag contents to healthier snack choices.
They wake up at ungodly hours in the suburb of Bekasi to drive across the city to the flowers market at Rawa Belong for cheap flowers, so that couples with extremely limited decoration budget can still have nice flower arrangements for their wedding ceremony. They know that donating food to our priest will mostly be left uneaten, so they suggest people to donate essentials and much-needed but often-forgotten things, like socks and underwear instead.
They organize weekly canteen so that many mothers may earn extra income by selling food. They climb up the scaffolding to put up recycled holiday decorations themselves, in compliance with the Archbishop’s environmental campaign. They shot down an ill-conceived Christmas mass idea from a thoughtless committee member on the ground that it was too costly, took too much time and was too labor intensive.
My church was burned down in the mid-90s, and in our struggle to obtain the permit to rebuild our church, the women organization play a huge role as our ambassadors of goodwill. Each year, they hold charity events that offer free health service or cheap groceries to everyone in the neighborhood, regardless of their religions. They’ve done this for years consistently, so that our church is known as being inclusive, peaceful and tolerant in the diverse neighborhood.
These housewives never talk about the concept of feminism or empowerment. They don’t have the time to. But what they don’t talk about, they show through real contributions that are too often taken for granted.
On a personal level, my mom’s words resonate deeply inside of me. Her involvement is not simply to fill her free time. It’s her way to fulfill her need of self-actualization. By contributing her time, ideas and energy beyond the walls of our house, she becomes happier. By getting involved in a cause for a greater good, she’s empowered. By having an aspiration and making it come true, she gives her daughters an example of being a feminist.
Maria Felicia is a walking contradiction who sometimes is just too opinionated for her own good. When the mood strikes, she loves to cook for two, as long as the boyfriend is there to do the dishes.