A few days ago, the Social Studies class at my school talked about feminism. Based on my own experience, this topic hasn't been discussed much and truthfully, it intrigued me a lot. My teacher asked me to watch a film, and we were required to do a full-length worksheet in response to the said movie.
The film talked about a figure named R. A. Kartini. For those who don't know, Kartini is a noblewoman, born to a Regent father in Jepara, a city located in the Central region of Java, Indonesia. She is regarded as one of Indonesia's first and most well-known feminist icon, founder of one of the first schools for women in the country.
Born in a Dutch-colonized Indonesia, Kartini was unlike any other women at the time. She was outspoken, courageous, and far more intellectual than the rest. She was expressive, and most importantly, she was kind. In a time where opportunities lacked for women, Kartini used her royal privilege as a way to help women, as well as the poor, to help them learn. The success of her efforts became a massive change at the time, and her performance was the beginning of the change. Since then, women have had more chances in chasing their dreams, sparked by the bravery of Kartini herself.
Though I may have stated little of what was known of Kartini, I could only imagine how difficult it must've been for her. Throughout the film, I could see the differences between our present and the past, where choosing was not an option for women. I was able to glimpse the unfair treatment, from the practice of polygamy that used to be oh-so-common, to the belief where women are only required to do hard labor and are prevented from learning, as well as the many rules that they must follow to be viewed by the general public nicely, especially through the eyes of royal-born Kartini where the pressure became ten-fold. The little trip to the past made me realize how discriminated women were before, and how much they have suffered, just because of their gender.
After the film, I decided to look deeper into what feminism is and further explanations on what its purposes are. That's when I found a journal, that talked about a theory of feminism through the eyes of French feminist and philosopher Luce Irigaray. Notably, she had many known works that expressed her views on feminism, one of the most famous titled The Sex is Not One. The piece talked about the expression and views of women in different cultures, as well as the connections between language and sexuality. The journal also talked further about how women are restrained from their rights, and ultimately discussed about its purpose: to realize the absence of difference in sexuality.
If I were to be honest, the journal itself was a lengthy read, and there were many terms where I had to research the meaning of so I could understand. Though, I must say I did love the read– Irigaray's perception towards the problem was direct, deep and complex. Her words were constructed neatly and concisively, and it gave me much insight.
A few points I gathered from her journal were mostly the correlation between the use of language towards women. At one point, I recall her mentioning how in the past, women were not considered as subjects, rather more to objects. At first, I admit the term confused me, but then I quickly caught onto her explanation. She explained that in a literature work, subjects are the main character; the views and actions of the subjects ultimately affects the whole storyline. While objects are often less significant– they're always at the receiving part of the story, and their views are often left unsaid. Most of the time, the subject does something to the object, while the object can only receive it.
Her explanation meant that women were unable to express themselves, and their opinions were not as perceived as men at the time. Their options were limited, and what they do and say were as if they were prisoners in an invisible cage. The rights for one to be able to choose and to express is now a universal right, but if we take a look back in time, it had seemed as if the said universal right did not apply to women in the past.
Another theory she had stated was the usage of symbolic language. Irigaray explained how society's views at the time were built through the words of men, because women weren't able to express their feelings, will and experiences at the time. This lead to a stereotype, where women are watered down to be the "weak, uneducated and insignificant." The term 'symbolic language,' here meant that a person is able to state something based on the current reality, affirms it and asserts the truth about the reality's natural, cultural and social condition. (Silvermann, 1998 as cited in Pinggong, 2018) Through this, women are able to assert themselves in a patriarchal society.
Though the journal I have read stated how Irigaray's points may have been radical, and controversial, the very few points I was able to gather above became an argument I rather agreed on. My wording might have been simple, and there could be more depth to her theories that I unfortunately could not grasp, but through the points above I could recognize what feminism's true point was; gender equality.
If you would take a look to the world around us, many of you would realize that the perfect state of "gender-equality," has not been achieved yet; in fact we are rather far from the final destination. In many traditional families I have come to know around me, I found out that the "women are not allowed to have high education," mindset still existed. In many countries abroad, I also noticed the variety of problems where women are not protected, unable to speak up, and live in a society that did not favor them in the slightest bit.
I must state that though cultures are one thing, human rights is another. Though the United Nations itself has stated that all rights are equal and subjected to all people, obviously including women, this doesn't seem true in a lot of cases. I believe that everyone is entitled to speak freely without burden, to express themselves without limit, and to live without regrets. But until now, for a lot of women, it doesn't seem all that easy.
The argument stated in this blog might have been shallow, and scrapes only a small part of the surface, but I truly hope I was able to assure my stance on this. I hope that these efforts, to strive for gender equality and to create a world where every woman are safe and happy, would pay off in the distant future.
To close this blog, I'll add a quote. Thank you for reading it until this far! I appreciate the time given and I hope to see you in another blog.
– Pinggong, Z. (2018). Reclaiming Luce Irigaray: Language and space of the "other". Linguistics and Literature Studies, 6(5), 250–258. https://doi.org/10.13189/lls.2018.060508)
– Nelson Mandela