One night, my daughter came to me in tears. She told me how as she was standing in front of the house where she takes her extra math lessons earlier that day, two men on a motorbike passed by and grabbed her breasts.
I hugged her tight and we both cried. I felt my heart racing faster and in a matter of seconds I was filled with anguish, anger, and helplessness all at the same time. I turned to logic, yet nothing seems to make sense.
It has been almost two months since the incident and the practical side of me told her to stay inside the teacher’s house until I pick her up. And, yet, I have been mulling over the incident every day since.
I was furious because my daughter’s body was violated. I was furious because I felt like I have failed to do my job as her mother to protect her. But then, I realized that the speed of the rising of the fury in me was probably also triggered by the memory of the many times I personally have also endured men who helped themselves to my body.
The memory of the feelings I felt when that happened. The memory of what I have read and heard from other women who also have endured the same thing. It was the collective memory of violations that triggered the rising of the fury that soon after took after me.
Women and Anger
It was un-woman-ly to be angry. We were told that the ideal woman smiles in her misery. She speaks softly or stays quiet in her disagreement. I grew up with the stories of Mother Mary who wept below Jesus’ feet as he was crucified and prayed. Now that I am a mother, I think if I were in her shoes (heaven forbids), I would be more like a wounded wild animal than a graceful lady. But maybe that’s why she’s considered holy and I am considered crazy.
I am not exactly exaggerating. I am often considered crazy because instead of walking away when men on the street catcall me, I turn and walk towards them to ask them what they wanted to tell me. Or sometimes just to tell them to f*** off. I was considered crazy when I told a friend that I visited each one of the parents of the children that had shouted sexual innuendos at my daughter in the pool to tell them to teach their boys to respect women better.
No matter how hard I tried, I just can’t seem to stay silent.
I am furious. I am angry.
I am furious that we, as women, keep being told to bear the responsibility of men’s inability to control themselves from helping themselves to what is not theirs. I am furious that other women would ask me what my daughter was wearing when I shared this story with them.
She was in her school uniform. Loose white shirt and a long skirt. But it doesn’t matter. She could be in her shorts and tank tops or she could be drunk as drunk can be.
The question should be: Why are we giving excuses to men who violates our bodies?
If you decide to take something off the shelf in the supermarket without paying, it will plainly be considered stealing. No matter how tempting these items were displayed or how hungry you were at the time. No one would blame the stolen items for being so temptingly on display.
If I can easily find people agreeing with me on the supermarket example, why is it so hard for so many people to agree that women should not have to be responsible for men’s behaviour?
And it’s not just daughters, I also have a son, one I love dearly and teach fiercely that to be a man – a real man that is – is to have the ability to control himself even when hormones are raging in him. To be able to treat others with respect and, no, women are no different than others. So treat them with bloody respect.
Please. Silence is not golden. It is time for us to change our perception of what constitutes an ideal woman and an ideal man. A woman should not be passive. A woman should be actively determining both her present and her future. A woman should be actively defending what is hers and be free to choose what she deems best for her. It is not OK for men to help themselves to touch, grab or comment on what is not theirs. It is never OK, no matter how tempting what you see might be.
I am a woman, I am a mother, and I am furious.
I hope you are as furious as I am.
Dianthus Saputra was a journalist turned cinematographer turned mother whose affair with journalism and writing started at Jurnal Perempuan. However, as a mother of both girls and boy, she often finds herself revisiting her concept of feminism and perpetually trying to translate it into something she can share with her kids.