Millions of Indonesian women are poor and do carry a double burden. So did my mother Lena who, I’m proud to say, was a working class heroine.
She ran the household and earned an income in a shop. All her life after childhood she worked hard and did so enthusiastically, vigorously and successfully. Unlike the ladies living in the luxurious villas and lavish mansions in the nearby but extremely different quarter of the village, she couldn’t source out her ironing, cooking, laundry and taking care of her offspring. Her strains brought her the love and respect of my father who never dreamt of claiming the hierarchical position of head of the family. And it got her the eternal admiration and gratitude of me who can live relatively comfortable only because of her sacrifices. Moreover grandchildren adored and loved her for her warmth. But perhaps most rewarding was she grew to be a formidable financial and psychological independent personality. She was emancipated in a way some of those upper-class ladies only theorized about.
Indonesia counts millions of working class heroines. They are working their buds off in the fields, in a shop, in informal trade, in other people’s households or by working simple industrial labour. And often take care of their families too. It should, but actually it many times doesn’t, earn them all the respect they are entitled to. Factually they meet belittlement, social disapproval and (verbal) abuse. Which is sad.
But isn’t this sadder? A proud husband and father is quoted in this article saying: A good family requires a sholehah wife. We could say it like this, that with a blink of an eye, she gives herself to you. I mean she knows by herself what to do and how to behave towards her husband, that is, to be completely obedient. In short a pious, “righteous wife“. So in fact he is saying his wife has to live up to his expectations. The stay-at-home-wife. She won’t legally act by herself. Always asks her husband’s permission. Not as a choice but as a duty. A sexual commodity to the husband ruled by the social-controlled female moral obligation to be subservient to the King of the house. Anyone can draw the picture.
It’s quite possible this man in spite of his “principles” on gender relations, always behaves kind and gentle towards his wife. Though Men’s Program of Rifka Annisa, which is about curing abusive husbands, relates this mind set to domestic violence.
Anyhow I can’t but wonder: “did some archaeologist dig him up, did someone find him hidden under a stone?”
Actually he is just a common villager. Not a nasty macho. Quite the opposite. He is a conventional, normal guy in the cultural setting of his Javanese village life. It’s one off those communities located in Pasiran and Lemahduwur where the research for the article took place. He is just convinced he is doing the right thing. The hierarchy of man and women is sacred as it stems from the holy story of the creation. First Adam,, next Eve. It’s a traditional, not necessarily mainstream interpretation. But his opinions are those of the community he belongs to. Of both men and women. That last part is the really worrying part.
My mother Lena also was a pious woman. But thank God she was not a sholelah wife. She was a formidable personality in her own right.
May these dazed husbands see the light. Let their righteous wives shed their yokes soon. And let them become working class heroines too.