Gender equality. Women empowerment. Words that I strongly live by, but have never truly understood until recently. Growing up in a diplomatic household and not being tied down to traditional norms always gave me the freedom to find myself. I grew up with the most supportive set of parents and alongside a strong-willed sister, so, automatically, I had strong roots as a girl growing into womanhood. But as strong as I thought I was, I was yet to experience a moment in my life that would solidify what it meant to be empowered.
Relationships. Marriage. Traditional norms that pressure young women to settle down, especially in Indonesia. Not too long ago, I was in a relationship with who I thought was “the one”. Everything was in line, in addition to dating a good friend, religion and race was not a problem in the picture (Indonesians will understand how crucial these aspects play in a relationship). Automatically, as the hopeless romantic that I was, I was blinded by the notion of getting married and settling down. But to my surprise, the other shoe was about to drop.
The relationship soon became a struggle. I had to constantly watch what I did or said. My voice was gradually fading and keeping him in-check turned into an obligation. Even as I was hit with a personal struggle, I knew I had to keep it to myself for his needs unconsciously became my main priority. Days went on and the quarrels fell to a different level. I was criticized for not being able to run errands perfectly as a wife-to-be should have it down. Taken for granted for every good deed and continuously judged when I just missed his expectations. But what hit a nerve was when he questioned my intentions of going abroad and pursuing a graduate program, once a dream he endlessly supported. Did I now have to justify my dreams and aspirations too?
The strong optimistic woman people knew me as went missing. Maintaining a smile on my face, once effortless, became tiresome. My light and energy was at a critical low. The firm ground holding me shook and collapsed right under me. And when it all came to an end, my inner circle felt the true darkness that fell over.
But not for long. I wasn’t going to let that take the best of me.
I started to question myself. Why? Was I not good enough? How did I fall short of his expectations? Was it my fault? Was I not smart enough? Pretty enough? I was buried with shallow questions that would take its toll on any girl’s self-esteem. Or was I too hard headed? Dreaming too high and wanting to achieve too much? Was it a mistake to reach for a postgraduate degree? Would it make me any less of a future wife and mother?
Then a quote hit me.
“If you are a strong man, you should not feel threatened by strong women,” President Barrack Obama once said. If he was the strong man I thought he was, everything I ever hoped to achieve shouldn’t have shaken him the way it did.
We women have every right to decide what our future looks like. Whether you decide to become a housewife, a career woman, OR BOTH! Nobody has the right to judge you for your decisions. And you don’t owe anybody justification for your life choices. Don’t let a boy belittle you and make you feel that because you are a woman, you are any less than him. Don’t let a boy pressure you to become a person he wants you to be. Don’t let a boy question your beliefs and life goals. Don’t let a boy persuade you that you can’t go out and achieve what you set your mind to. (See how I used boy instead of man? A real man won’t tear you apart, but will go out of their way to respect and support you.)
Time has passed and I’m glad to say that I have found my voice once again. And when people ask Don’t you feel lonely? Why aren’t you dating? Watching a movie on your own? Are you that sad? due to my single presence and lack of urgency in the dating scene, I can proudly say that I don’t need a man to define who I am or to depict what my life should be like. Being single is the perfect time to complete oneself, to take a personal journey and truly understand how it is to be a woman.
So girls, it’s okay to be single. It’s okay to be alone in a coffee shop corner reading a book or go skating in a park. Enjoy what life has to offer and take it a day at a time, even through the darkest ones. Be the courageous, confident, independent woman that future generations will look up to. And as Gandhi once said beautifully,” Be the change you want to see in the world”.
And to him – if he ever reads this – thank you. Thank you for molding me into the empowered woman I am today. You have solidified my dreams, even if it will take a few tumbles and falls to get there. Not only have you given me a true life lesson, you have made a strong woman even stronger.
Bernadetta Ninda is an eternal optimist constantly trying to see the good sides in everything life throws at her. She is a Universitas Indonesia graduate who is passionate about health and nutrition, and isn’t ashamed of it.