Why Feminists Rage
By: Eugenia Leonetta
Systemic Oppression is a phrase often used by people fighting for minority rights. To people who are aware of its manifestation, systemic oppression is as obvious as the noonday sun, looming over in unbearable heat — people can shield themselves with a cap, umbrella, tall buildings, but no one can remove it. But to others fortunate enough to be born with privileges, systemic oppression is a myth perpetuated by angry activists. So when we’re talking about patriarchy, how does systemic oppression towards women look like in Indonesia?
Anywhere in the world, the only institution that is capable of punishing acts of misogyny, such as sexual assault, the wage gap, and other gender-based discrimination, is the state. The state is the only institution with the legal power to create laws to protect women and punish people who refuse to adhere to that law. Systemic oppression exists when the structure of the state inevitably prevents women from getting the protection they so badly need. According to the census in 2017, there are 261.9 million lives in Indonesia, where 130.3 million of them, or around 49.75% of them are women. Logically, the parliament, a government body meant to represent the voice of the people, should reflect that percentage. But, out of 560 members of DPR RI, only 97, or around 19.8% of them are women.
The staggeringly low number of female representations in parliament is just an additional problem to the political atmosphere in Indonesia, where a lot of religious organizations frame female-centric policies as being sacrilegious and anti-religion. For instance, a bill introduced in 2014 to fight sexual abuse (RUU Penghapusan Kekerasan Seksual) was recently vocally rejected by Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), citing reasons such as the bill supports adultery, prostitution, and abortion. They made attractive albeit extremely misleading infographics and published it all over social media. The fact that an arguably well-established political party was behind it, coupled with Indonesians’ lack of ability in processing fake news, made these infographics very believable. To top it off, a petition to reject the bill was made in change.org, and it ended with over 130 thousand signatures. Given the political atmosphere in Indonesia, not all these 97 women support and are willing to give their voice for the anti-sexual harassment bill, and what was left of that are supposed to compete with 463 other men.
It’s not like there is no effort to increase the number of women in parliament. UU №2 Tahun 2008 made a policy that requires political parties to fulfil a 30% female members quota. UU №10 Tahun 2008 posits that political parties can only participate in elections after the 30% quota is fulfilled. But at the end of the day, these women still don’t end up getting seats in the parliament because they lack the support from their own political parties and/or their constituents. This is mainly caused by another structural problem, which is the deeply ingrained doctrine that women are less capable in politics than men, making political parties less likely to support their female members for fear of strategy. As a result, even with these policies in place, having women as members of political parties is mostly tokenization – a move to ensure their participation in elections.
This is how systemic oppression looks like in Indonesia and its manifestation is in the form of a bill that has been pushed to the back burner for 4 years, only to be rejected by political parties and hundred-thousands of other people. This bill is supposed to protect women not only from rape but also from getting groped in public without consent, being catcalled, being forced into prostitution and being forced into abortion, to name a few. Its manifestation is in the form of rapists getting a less-than-a-year sentence from judges and the act being deemed constitutional. Its manifestation is in the form of women being even more discouraged to make Indonesia a safer place for women.
The dominating advice given to activists everywhere is not to be angry, but to educate people around them. This is, of course, the ideal condition. However, imagine the frustration of women knowing what the rejection of the bill means for them. For me personally, it means the catcalls I receive on the street daily will continue. It also means if one of these days I got raped by one of those creepy guys who follow me at night when I’m walking home from the station, I will be shunned by society and the court won’t rule in my favour. For women everywhere, it means they will have to continue seeing politicians and religious figures use religious doctrines to justify marital rape on national television — saying that women lose nothing at all by complying to their husbands’ sexual desires and that it’s their religious responsibility to serve their husbands.
Educating people who are against female-centric policies are even more difficult than educating the average people on other subjects because they are indoctrinated with the belief that feminism is anti-religion. In their local religious congregations, they are forced to believe that people who spread the agenda of feminism are trying to convert the religious to be sinners. This means a feminist who is trying to correct the misconceptions people have about feminism will be labelled as sacrilegious and shut out before they can get to their point. This also means that people who might believe women should have equal rights to men can’t reconcile their conscience with misleading religious teachings. Saying that it’s frustrating would be an understatement to explain how helpless we feel knowing that there is very little thing that we can do to change Indonesia’s political atmosphere towards feminism. It’s exasperating knowing that we have no choice but to accept the risks of walking home alone at night.
To a lot of men, systemic oppression is not something they can intuitively realize. They are not exposed to nearly as much sexual harassment in public places as women, or the discrimination at the workplace or nonchalant condescending remarks from people around them, like comments on their clothes, their make-up, or their choice of career over family. This is why most wouldn’t understand the rage feminists feel upon hearing another rape on the news, or when they see that the 14-year-old girl sexually abused by her father (a politician affiliated to PKS) since 3 years old is accused of enjoying it by a netizen on Facebook. Most wouldn’t understand why it’s so hard to keep our head cool.
This writing isn’t meant to offer a solution on systemic oppression, it’s to offer an insider look on why feminists can’t always patiently educate others who ignorantly sprout 10 sexist statements per minute. We rage because of our helplessness, and we rage for not being able to beat the systemic oppression. There’s only so much emotional capital one can have to cope with the dangers of systemic oppression while responding to people who don’t seem to care about said oppression. Yes, being angry doesn’t change the fact that women aren’t well-represented in parliament, and it won’t prevent rape from happening. But there isn’t much we can do in a political atmosphere like this.