Free to be you and me
The Jakarta Post - WEEKENDER | Tue, 03/24/2009 3:43 PM |
It was the usual crowd at the regular journalists’ monthly gathering at a trendy bar one rainy Thursday night. There were a few newcomers and a few more very new newcomers who seemed both confused and amazed to learn that Jakarta does have some cool, funky people who frequent a trendy bar.
In this crowd, a group of five men drew my attention. The tall, handsome one standing closest to me was a well-known news presenter, let’s call him Mr. A. Beside him was the bespectacled Mr. B, who had arrived in Jakarta a couple of days before to set up a media office here. There was another with a friendly smile, Mr. C, who worked for an international organization here, and a young Indonesian exuding confidence and playfulness. Mr. D, a banker, cavorted like the capital’s very own Casanova.
The man in the center of the group, the focus of attention – Mr. E – was too funky to be true, talking loudly and throwing out witty asides. People gravitated to him for hugs and kisses. I later found out that he is gay, but he was actually the only one of the men who made me feel comfortable that night.
The group intrigued me because they were discussing the cliché of why women can’t read maps.
Thinking of myself as a women’s rights defender, I tried hard to win the debate with them. Unfortunately, as a woman with a weak ability to read maps myself, my effort was to no avail.
The popular understanding of why “men don’t listen and women can’t read maps” (thanks to the Allan and Barbara Pease’s book of the same title) brought us to discuss the bonding, up-and-down, love–hate relationship between men and women that existed long before the words “s/he is my other half … a soulmate” were invented for the sake of a good story or romantic movie. A man inherits all the ingredients to be a leader: strong will, power, dignity, to name a few. These ideas were nurtured throughout history, accepted by society and instilled in men’s thinking. They, of course, were just born to be that way.
So do men benefit from their upbringing and to some extent the social pressures for them to lead, act and perform? Conversely, is this what handicaps women, the source of the discrimination against them?
The answer is obvious: I believe that upbringing is the main cause – not discrimination against them, conscious or not, by men. Just as significant is the fact (not the problem) that many women are far more interested in their families than outside work, and society clearly approves, reiterating that it is the right choice. Top positions require time, energy and dedication to goals, all of which require being selfish. Ambition, achievement and the struggle to succeed at all costs are all considered men’s attributes. It is not a selfish act for a man to work hard to reach his goals.
These are beliefs that have survived the test of time, even to this day. They were present in the views of the five men I observed that evening. Very different characters, they spoke with one voice about men’s roles and responsibility. Their philosophy was to be (a few) good (men).
Mr. A now rarely makes TV appearances, but is a regular on the media event circuit. He is still a presence. Likewise, resourceful Mr. B always has a stack of name cards to give out.
Mr. D and Mr. E share a common understanding of maintenance, and are more meticulous than most women I know in going to the gym, getting massages and spa treatments and planning their social calendars. Mr. D expects the same dedication to self from the women he dates.
Mr. C was “the thinker” among them, telling me that his friends envy his fancy job title in an international organization and his travels around the world that have brought him to Jakarta. Born in New York City, he is the sappiest New Yorker I have ever met! He only wished he could find a place to call home.
Actress Carrie Fisher once described her experiences with men who, from whatever walk of life, knew their esteemed place in life and as part of the male kingdom.
“I gave up on dating powerful men because they wanted to date women in the service professions,” she told The New York Times in 2005. “So I decided to date guys in the service professions. But I found out that kings want to be treated like kings, and consorts want to be treated like kings, too.”
I have a message for my dear male friends: it takes more than an impressive job description, club memberships and style to display your broad knowledge, and happily intimidate others. Wouldn’t it be better to salute values such as individuality, tolerance and happiness, for all?
Yes, men can let down their fronts and even cry (as American football great Rosey Grier sang for actress and feminist Marlo Thomas in the 1970s) if they want to, because it is part of being who they are, a complete human being. And let’s do it together, in being free to be you and me.
+ Yunetta Anggiamurni (Netta)