In my 2nd year of elementary school, I punched a boy in front of his mother because he mocked me. When I was criticized of my behavior as “not appropriate for girls”, my 8-year old’s words were clear and sharp:
“Emang kenapa kalau aku cewek?”
(“So what if I’m a girl?”)
To think about it, gender issues have always been something I constantly yearn to learn more and be aware of. As a little kid, I grew up alongside my twin brother. We competed hard ever since the square one. I’ve never felt that I should fall short behind him. I could be as good in school as any other boy could be. But as early as in my adolescence, I started to bombard mom with (the inevitable) question of balancing work and family. Recalling the 17 y.o. me, studying for college entrance test:
“Mom, suppose I can get into that top engineering school and be a CEO… (At that time, a woman just became National Oil Company’s CEO for the 1st time in history). How can I be a good mother while working around the clock?”
My family didn’t know the concept of female corporate mothers. All mothers resigned when they entered the having-kids stage, including mine, who was once top-performer in a shoes factory. When asked why she gave it up,
“I couldn’t stand having to silently took a bath in the morning so you and your twin would not wake up, scream, and beg me not to go. I wanted to see you two grow up in my own hands. Every day I came from work, exhausted, and asked myself why do I have to do this? While you were sleeping, I looked at your little faces and decided it was not worth it. So I quitted”
I was petrified by her predictable choice.
I had always known where I wanted to go. My destination was always clear. Top schools. Best scores. Highest achievement. It’s been hard-wired in my mind to be the competitive, type-A personality that I’ve become getting used to. As a kid, teenager, and college student, it didn’t matter. It was good. Until one day, my grandmother came up to me months before graduation,
“Don’t you think of searching for potential husbands? You’re surely a great young woman, but men are scared of you and your achievements. Don’t you think it’s time to slow down and get your friends match you up with someone? Find your nest before you fly, so you can always have a place to go back later on”
At that time, I was the university’s Valedictorian, had two unsuccessful romantic relationships, and a dozen “barely there” love stories with various men, one of whom said to a friend,
“She’s pretty and interesting. But it seems she’s just too smart for me?”
I gave up on finding any men worth dating. The lowest hope was Summer 2013, just in time when I met my last boyfriend. He was very supportive of whatever things I wanted to choose for my future, before the relationship crumbled because of some superstitious predictions by his conservative family.
“Will cause a disintegration. Will not be good for him. Their future may not be good enough.”
With God’s grace, translates clearly into
“She’s too smart, successful, beautiful, dominant, and have such strong power to overshine our man. Forget her. Find another woman who is modest enough to be your bride. This woman is going to cook for you, have babies with you, and would not burden your life”
(Because, hey, no other reasons speak louder than that)
Which moves me into these questions:
- Why, are we women encouraged to reach high during our school years, if the end product will not be appreciated for any of her “superiority”? Why are “successful” women being socially punished?
- How do we, as high-achieving young women, find a spouse who would be supportive of our plans for the future, who would not be overwhelmed by our personal success, whose ego wouldn’t be “hurt”, and who would treat us as equal partners?
The “Having It All”
The mixture of being socially punished and too-late realization of self-worth creates this halo that errodes women’s confidence. The external pressure fractures our strongly-built bricks of pride in our own achievements. It’s sad to be the one who is trapped between the constantly escalating, incoherent expectations. Men never have to regret being who they are.
I’m now working as a Site Manager in a multinational oil and gas company. Now how’s that sound? For me, let’s be realistic:
- It heavily minimizes the possibility of being paired with a man who earns less than me, and not working in Oil&Gas/any comparable industry as well. Even if we’re compatible, the families would squeak. The woman’s would encourage to find another man who “can balance you out” and “We believe there’s better men out there”. The man, unless he also comes from a wealthy or super tolerable family, would not completely be delighted.
- Unless for some lucky exceptions to the rule (which actually happens, once in a while), the man would not want to see her woman getting herself dirty in a drilling mud with old guys as her rig crew. Trust me.
Eventually, the pressure goes on into the woman’s internal considerations. I’ve heard myself asking, and doubting:
- Why this heavily male-dominated industry? Why not a bright career in a big city, with malls just steps away and I can wear beautiful dresses and put on fancy make ups? “Because that’s what’s a woman’s supposed to do?”
- Do I really want to be the corporate leader, ah, do I have to be? Isn’t it enough just to be a regular worker, stuck in a non-existing career ladder….?
- I want kids, and I’m afraid they are not going to grow up as good as I expect them to be. When is the time to slow down? I know I’m ready to compromise if that’s what it takes, slow down my career for my gorgeous little precious, but when?
- When is the right time to get married? If I get married, can I continue working? Do I really want working, at all, after marriage? Being a housewife doesn’t seem to be a bad idea, either. I know a lot of women who are happy with that, and I’m happy for them too.
- Now, where do I find a man to get married with? I’m afraid of being single for the rest of my life. I’ve seen too many older women who haven’t been married, who are successful, who are lovely to be with. And I’m too afraid of how this society will perceive me if I am unmarried.
You may think I’m desperate by writing this.
I am, and I’m not afraid to admit that.
Because it’s too hard to be a woman in this 21st century, where you are expected to be too damn perfect in every aspect of your life. Those who have found her nest before she flies are so lucky, you should be grateful to have someone who wants to be your real partner. Those who can craft out their career plans clearly without having any doubt, ought to be thankful for their courage, because that’s what I’m lacking of right now. Those who cannot stop dreaming and reaching high because they are not afraid, are great, and I wish I could have that positivity.
But I’m inclined on the side that says this is not just me making up stories. These are real women’s issues that may have crossed their minds once in a while. I try hard to avoid saying this, but then again, we are just women. We want to be cared, loved, appreciated, and be heard for our own aspirations. We want to be free and be content with who we are.
Why, why is that too much to ask………..