I presume that we all already know and at least have heard a remark like this, “Don’t be too smart, especially if you are a woman.” Or this: “Don’t be too ambitious because you will have a hard time finding a husband.”
These are the typical perception in the Indonesian society: the assumption that a woman cannot be better or greater than her man.
Ever since I was a little girl and up to now in my early 20s, I have always imagined myself as an educator. I have big dreams and aspirations. I have always wanted to be someone important. My parents had pretty much supported this dream. Until recently. I have been planning on getting a master’s degree right after I graduate and become a lecturer after, and my father supports me even to this day. My mother, however, has a different view.
“Having a bachelor’s degree is enough especially for a woman like you,” my mother said. “Think about marriage and your own family. I understand that you want to have higher education, but men will be intimidated by your title and profession. It will be difficult then for you to find a spouse.”
Every time she or other people says something along this line, it always leaves me speechless.
A male friend of mine revealed the same line of thinking recently. He had had a crush on me probably for a long time and he was finally making his moves. But he revealed his own bias when he said during one of our chats: “Ah, Mila mah high class.” To him, my ambition and drive means I only go for a boyfriend with “high” qualifications, which is not true at all.
He continued: “Jangan terlau sulit, nanti gak diminati.” vDon’t be too difficult (or fussy), or people will find you less attractive.
That he warned me of becoming less attractive (“diminati”) offended me. It is as if I am an object that needs to be liked, chased and sold. And he probably found me “difficult” because he found it hard to impress me, or to get me to date him. But the thing is, I am just not into him and I don’t feel connected to him.
My male friend was mistaken in thinking that I don’t want to date him because I am picky, or difficult, when it is simply because I don’t feel the same way about him. After that shocking chat, I had hoped that we would remain friends, but, nope, he started acting weird and showed that he no desire to keep in touch with me. So, yes, I think that ended it.
I am not entirely blaming him for his assumption since I have been presenting myself as an independent, young, smart woman. I show how passionate I am about something, I work my ass off, I have principles that I will not trade for anything. I am sassy and I am a feminist. Some men will find me attractive for my independence and persistence; others, however, will find me intimidating, and will fear being outsmarted by me. My command of English, and the thick books I read – these things are enough to make some men walk away.
And it’s not just guys. My dear friend also reminds me to think about marriage, to not be too ambitious and to not be too smart. She says that I am a perfectionist and – once again – picky when it comes to boyfriends. Like my mother, she warns me that men will be too intimidated to approach me.
This belief that women cannot be smarter and greater than men if they want a partner is unjust. The belief that in order to find a spouse and get married, women should be just ordinary, is plain cruel. It should be changed.
The Indonesian culture has long prioritized men on education and career, strengthening the belief that men are the ones who should be smarter, greater and dominating. Men equal power and women equal weakness – men are destined for greatness while women are destined for the ordinary.
We need to change the way we think about women in relation to how they find their spouses. Let us not perpetuate the belief that women are fine with low education or are destined with only one choice: being a housewife. Women can and may be more than that. Don’t discourage those who aim high for themselves and don’t judge those who are passionate and independent. Let’s support them instead and let’s tell people that men and women can be great together without the need to feel intimidated by each other.
And finally, for you who have a similar experience as I do, let’s just say that if a man really loves us, he shouldn’t feel like we are too much, he shouldn’t be intimidated or scared or discouraged by whatever it is in us. Instead, he should be supportive and proud of us.