What happened to Jonatan Christie is not sexism, here’s why

Vita Kartika Cahyarani

Freelance writer and social media specialist


Jakarta   /  Sun, September 2, 2018  /  12:43 pm

Indonesian shuttler Jonatan Christie celebrates after winning the gold medal in men’s badminton singles on Tuesday. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

Nearing the end of the Asian Games, Indonesia exceeded its target of 20 gold medals. One of those came from Jonatan “Jojo” Christie in the mne's badminton singles final. 

Jojo became a media darling not only because of his talent, but also because of his good looks and how he celebrated his victory. After securing a ticket to the final, Jojo took off his sweat-soaked shirt and tossed it to the audience. Afterwards, he received many compliments -- mostly from women -- praising his good looks and body.

The internet went crazy. Many people commented via Twitter and Instagram, some going as far as saying that their “ovaries are exploding”. This raised the question over whether these comments were a form of sexual objectification and that Jojo was a victim of sexism.

What happened to Jojo is not a form of sexism. Here’s why.

First of all, sexism is the belief that men are superior to women, which then justifies acts of prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination. Such belief can be born out of ignorance or malice, conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional -- but it does not make it any less sexist.

Sexism is both born out of and functions to maintain patriarchy, which literally means rule of fathers. Patriarchy is where males have more social, political, material and ideological power than females. This oppression towards women, then, can happen at individual, collective and institutional level. 

Now, the question is: Can a man be victim of gender-based discrimination and prejudice?

Yes, they can. Still, it is not a reverse sexism or sexism in general.

An important but often overlooked part of sexism is the power relation between genders. 

Jojo is a star athlete with more power over his female fans and commenters. His conscious decision to celebrate his victory by going shirtless during his semifinal and again after the final proved that he did not feel bad doing it. 

At a post-match conference, as quoted by The Jakarta Post, Jojo admitted that he did not know why he did it. However, he understood that he was praised for it. “I don’t know why, but since it made people happy, I just did it. It was spontaneous,” he said.

This reflects the unequal power relation between men and women. Most of the time, when men get praised for their bodies, they would be flattered. Meanwhile, when women get praised for their bodies, most of them feel uncomfortable because unwanted compliments are not merely scary, it is oftentimes threatening. 

Read also: Sexism in the city: Business women take on old-boy London clubs

A male teacher pulling a female student’s bra strap as a form of so-called punishment, a male manager standing behind a female staff member and patting her on the shoulder longer than necessary, a husband forcing his wife to have sex when she does not want to, a father assaulting his own daughter, a male stranger catcalling, breast-grabbing and bottom-pinching a woman walking down a public road -- these are just some of the common, everyday illustrations. 

Women have become the ones who are more harshly judged by the misogynistic moral police based on their behavior and appearance. Sexism can be found everywhere and it is something women experience on a daily basis. In this case, Jojo has full authority over his body and the way it is presented, while unfortunately women do not.

I do not deny that power dynamics do shift around. But ultimately the scale remains tipped in favor of men in general. Men can be affected by prejudice, but because they have privilege in the form of power, they do not experience it the same way women do. 

My point is, power is one of the most important parts of the equation here. This is not to say that men cannot be prejudiced, stereotyped or discriminated against, because many of them actually are. But without power, they do not actually work within the systemic framework of advantage created by the majority to privilege themselves. Thus, it is only sexism if the perpetrator is capable of using that framework. Otherwise, it is prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination. 

First disclaimer. I am not saying that sexual harassment depends on whether the victim feels harassed. What I am saying is that how a victim feels and reacts toward a certain phenomenon relates deeply with what relations she or he has with the other party. Sexual harassment is offensive, uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature conducted by a person in authority towards a subordinate -- and definitely not the other way around.

Second disclaimer. When I say that women cannot be sexist towards men, I do not mean to say that it is morally right for women to be prejudiced against men, nor do I think that it should be accepted. Prejudice is generally bad, and we should treat people the way we want to be treated. What should be highlighted is that there is a huge distinction between sexism and gender-based prejudice.

Men’s appropriation of the term sexism is frustrating, as oppression toward women has happened too long, supported by structural and systemic inequalities. This is not a double standard, as the experiences of men and women are not equal. 

Women and their bodies have been commodified for centuries -- seen as mere property and second-class citizens. The condition may have improved over the years, but it is undeniable that the commodification of women still widely exists. We live in a culture that nurtures patriarchy -- it is deeply rooted and manifested to the point that women are mistreated at the individual as well as institutional level. 

In Jojo’s case, I think it would be a lot wiser if we -- especially women -- turn our admiration to respect and support. We should praise our athletes in regards to their talent, hard work and achievements, and not merely for their looks and bodies. (wng)


Vita Kartika Cahyarani is a Bachelor of Communication graduate who is currently exploring her career in said field. Surabaya born and raised, she believes in life-long education and the power of process. She writes, contemplates and criticizes issues on semanticsatiation.blogspot.com. Say hi, she’s @vitdgaf on each and every social media platform.