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My son learns feminism at school (and at home)

Ligwina Hananto
Ligwina Hananto

Financial trainer, entrepreneur, writer, stand-up comedian, runner, wife, mother, learner

Jakarta | Fri, April 21, 2017 | 01:43 pm
My son learns feminism at school (and at home)

Illustration for a classroom (Shutterstock/File)

“Hi Mamah! I learned about feminism at school today.” My 15-year-old son, Muhammad Azra, greeted me one afternoon.

Feminism was not a topic I expected to be discussing with him. I have always felt very strongly about feminism. I pledge to ensure that my daughters – who are 12 years old and five years old – understand the importance of free will in their lives. They shall be free thinkers. They shall be women who understand their choices and become responsible human beings.

With my son, I was taken by surprise.

Azra continued, telling me that he had discussed gender roles at school. It was not a discussion about what was right or what was wrong. It was more of a discussion about what the students experienced at home and in their surroundings.

“For example,” I noticed excitement in his voice, “for some of my friends, mothers are expected to be at home all the time, while the fathers are absent a lot. I don’t see how women should be limited to certain roles only because they are women.”

I looked at him in awe. I became teary-eyed when he continued his argument.

“That’s because I don’t see this at home. We don’t really have gender role stereotypes at home. Ayah works a lot, but I see you work, too. You both work not because you are a man or a woman. You work because you can and you want to.”

That afternoon marked a turning point for me to see that the conversation on feminism should include our men. Whether you like it or not, in this country, men do play a significant role in deciding the lives of women.

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Looking back, I truly believe that whatever I have today, the men in my life have played their roles to ensure and allow me to pursue my hopes and dreams.

I come from a religious, conservative middle-class Indonesian family. Not exactly a stronghold for feminist to flourish. My dad is a retired mining engineer, and my mom is a retired high school teacher. Throughout his career, my dad has worked at multinational companies, alongside people from different parts of the world. He is a devout Muslim, not just someone who goes to Friday prayers. He takes his rituals very seriously. He expects me and my brother to follow in his footsteps, but somehow I never felt being pushed into religion. He has shown me and my brother how one can be a citizen of the world and a devout Muslim at the same time. The West and Islam can co-exist in my dad’s world. I believe he got this trait from my grandparents.

Growing up, I was bestowed with education and everything that came with it. While my brother went to France, I was allowed to go to Australia to pursue education. We were both given the same opportunity – there was never a man-only or a woman-only opportunity. My brother has been a strong partner for me. He has always been my best cheerleader. He is comfortable with being surrounded by strong-willed women throughout his life.

Getting married at a young age has not stopped me from doing what I love doing. My husband did ask me to stop working for a while – only until we were well equipped to leave baby Azra at home with adequate supervision. Firstborn jitters got in our way. But after that, he provided relief by caring for the boy when I went back to university. He is the kind of man who jumps into child-caring duties whenever possible. He is involved at school and makes time to sit down with our son and our daughters.

As a Muslim woman in a developing country, I have been blessed with a father, a brother, a husband and now a son who understand the importance of feminism. Feminism for me is about a woman being able to make her own life choices. I chose to pursue higher education. I chose the man I wanted to marry. I chose to stop working. I chose to wear my hijab. I chose my method of birth control. I chose to start a business. I chose to vote. I chose how I spend and save my money.

I choose to be myself.

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I know there are so many women who are enjoying this liberating feeling of being able to choose. However, I acknowledge not all women in Indonesia have this privilige. I know, not all Muslim women in the world have this privilige. They do not have the opportunity to be surrounded by my band of feminist men.

This is what we have successfully provided for our 15-year-old son. In our family he sees a woman who chooses what she wants to do with her life. He sees a man who chooses to create pathways for everyone in his family to flourish. The strongest word in both sentences is ‘choose’. For feminism to progress, we need to allow room for choices.

We need more feminist men to create pathways together. Let men and women have their own choices and make their own life decisions. Let’s start with, surprisingly, our sons. 

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