The Truth About Indonesian Men

January 15, 2015
Indonesia, indonesia men, men, safety
The Truth About Indonesian Men

The Truth About Indonesian Men

Dear Indonesian men on my street:

I have an idea of what you might have thought.

A girl stumbled into this small, simple warung, a typical Indonesian restaurant, one day. Alone. She’s pretty enough, skinny and young. Small. Her hair’s chopped short into a pixie cut, mostly for herself, but also because she hopes that “boyish” hair will lessen the attention directed towards her.

She wears modest clothes, an ankle-length skirt, and a high-necked shirt — for the same reason. She’s of Filipino descent, so she already blends in. She knows the drill after a year of living in Indonesia ; the less attention she gets, the freer she’ll be to wander where and when she pleases.

Hoots. Hollers. Whistles. “Who are you? How are you today? What is your name? Hello! You are beautiful! Nice to meet you!. . .”

It’s not going to work. You, all of you, notice her, as soon as she walks tentatively into the warung. She knows there are a lot of men here; they’re hard to miss, with their noisy conversations, their boisterous games of dominoes and cards, their sheer numbers.

Letter to the Indonesian Men Who Catcall at Me Everyday
Catcalling happens everywhere.

The Truth About Indonesian Men

But she knows the servers are women. She thinks it’ll be okay. It’s right next to her new kos, her boarding house. She’s hungry and in her first week back in the city, she still hasn’t gotten the time to get food from the market. She vaguely remembers her boss pointing to it and saying it wasn’t very good, but she assumes he means the food.

There’s roti bakar, toast with sweet and savory toppings. She loves roti bakar. She’s never had a truly bad experience in a warung. The food’s cheap and delicious and very Indonesian. She’ll be safe. But it’s all over once she opens her mouth. The strange accent, the hesitant imperfect grasp of Bahasa Indonesia — she looks Indonesian, but she isn’t.

You start hooting, asking her questions — where are you from? what is your name? — and when the server can’t understand her order, a couple of you pitch in, as though to be nice.

When her food arrives, she gulps it down quickly in the din and leaves and decides only to buy roti baker on the street from now on. She isn’t going to come back here. She hopes that’ll be the end of it.

I’ve been lucky so far; you all seem content to keep it verbal. None of you have tried to touch me.

It’s not.

Every time I walk down my street — and I do this a lot in order to get to work and eat at the other three warungs that aren’t populated by obnoxious men like you — I brace myself. Sometimes, I speed up. Sometimes, I try to be confident, sure-footed.

Either way, I do not look to my right.

But it comes anyway.

Hoots. Hollers. Whistles. “Who are you? How are you today? What is your name? Hello! You are beautiful! Nice to meet you!. . .”

It’s very rare that I avoid your crucible. Usually, only when the warung is at low population levels or there’s a particularly engaging game or conversation — I assume — going on. I breathe a sigh of relief when that happens and bounce a little more springily to my destination.

I’ve been lucky so far; you all seem content to keep it verbal. None of you have tried to touch me. You don’t even bother to move from your seats as far as I can tell.

After especially loud and annoying catcalling, I start to stereotype Indonesian men in my head, even as the number of male Indonesian friends I have surpasses the number of my fingers and toes.

But I’m not going to thank you for that. The barest shred of decency (or maybe laziness or timidity, who knows?) like that doesn’t deserve a thanks, a pat on the back, a cookie.

But it makes my daily tramps down the street psychologically tiring. It makes me hate you. It makes me wish you ill. I curse you often, as I walk home or to work or to get food.

After especially loud and annoying catcalling, I start to stereotype Indonesian men in my head, even as the number of  Indonesian men (friends) I have surpasses the number of my fingers and toes.

Imagine being small. Imagine being smaller than the average man. And Imagine that, since adolescence, you have never been sure that you wouldn’t be bothered on the street.

They’re good guys; they don’t catcall at me. They see me as a person and respect my boundaries by engaging in conversations, not catcalling.

It’s difficult to explain to people who haven’t been catcalled at since they hit puberty–pretty much all of you with a Y chromosome. But this has happened to me everywhere–North America, Europe, Asia.

Dear Indonesian men on my street: I have an idea of what you might have thought.

You may think I’m exaggerating. You may think I’m over-sensitive. But I want you to try a thought experiment.

Imagine being small. Imagine being smaller than the average man. And Imagine that since adolescence, you have never been sure that you wouldn’t be bothered on the street. Never.

Imagine being barraged by strangers’ voices. Strangers who are all bigger than you.  Imagine that what they’re all saying is they think you’re pretty. Think that sounds good? Translate this to “Pretty enough to rape.” Maybe that’s not what they mean, but how do I know that?

You are part of a worldwide society of men who think it’s okay to catcall at women.

Imagine that you’re afraid because you know the statistics. After all, in America, often seen as a more progressive nation in comparison, one out of six women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).

Imagine the psychological exhaustion that comes from trying to calculate your safety. Every. Single. Minute. You’re. Out. Like. This. And. Some. Annoying. Men. Won’t. Leave. You. Alone.

I know it isn’t just Indonesia. As easy as it could be for me to blame this country, that would be unfair and inaccurate and mean-spirited of me. Sure, this is a patriarchal country, but this patriarchal country is part of a patriarchal world. You are part of a worldwide society of men who think it’s okay to catcall at women.

The Truth About Indonesian Men

I want you to be better. I want you to think of Raden Ajeng Kartini, the badass Javanese woman who pushed for women’s education during the Dutch colonial period and helped form the Indonesian national identity. The one whose birthday on April 21 is a public holiday in celebration of Indonesian women. Maybe you don’t honor her enough, but that’s a place to start.

I want you to think of the women you love and the women who love you. I want you to think about whether you’d want these women to be harassed so much that they’re scared and filled with hatred.

I’m not going to stop walking down the street. I’m not going to stop doing what I have to do on a daily basis because you are there.

Most of all, I want you to feel empathy. I want you to feel horror at what you’re doing. What other men are doing. How all these things, catcalling and stalking and rape and domestic violence and so on exist on a continuum. None of these things are the same, no, but they all exist in a world that props up men and makes it unsafe for women.

I’m not going to stop walking down the street. I’m not going to stop doing what I have to do on a daily basis because you are there.

But I’m never going to acknowledge you. I’m never going to give you whatever you think you can get from me. In fact, I’m never going to think you’re “not that bad” for the barest decency you perform for not touching me.

I’m just going to keep walking, and I’m not going to look back.

 

Have you traveled to Indonesia and dated Indonesian men? What were your impressions? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

The Truth About Indonesian Men


About Anna Cabe

Anna CabeAnna Cabe is currently working as an English teacher in Palembang, Indonesia. Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, she has visited family in the Philippines, studied abroad in Spain and Scotland, and explored several other countries besides, including Thailand, Ireland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Malaysia. In addition to constant globe-trotting, she loves cooking, films, reading, museums, trivia, lively discussions, and writing. Follow her Indonesian adventures at Sojourner in Sumatra and @annablabs on Twitter.

3 thoughts on “The Truth About Indonesian Men

  1. Avatar
    puspa
    January 23, 2017
    Reply

    Hi anna, I experience the same thing like you. I live in a house next to the construction building where the construction workers catcalling me every single day. What I normally do is look them in the eyes and ask them why they’re doing that, trust me they’re scared when you look at them

    It’s quite surprising to me to come back to my country but experience this kind of thing, which is something that never happen to me before when I lived in australia

  2. Avatar
    Ruth
    August 18, 2016
    Reply

    I’ve experienced the same in Indonesia. I find it totally demeaning and disgusting and where I’m from in Australia is never this bad. I’ve experienced the same feelings as you and hate the discomfort of walking down the street now.

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