Actress | Gender Equality Campaigner
Be more feminine was something I heard quite a lot growing up. I am the only girl in my family, and grew up around my brothers, so I was a tomboy for sure. At the time, “Be more feminine” to me meant be more “girly” as opposed to the tomboy that I was, and thanks to the media of the 90s, the images I had as a reference for being “girly” were colours like pink and purple, playing with dolls, wearing skirts and dresses etc.
Being told to be more feminine was confusing and strange to me, as every reference I had in my home was not “girly”; I wore my brothers' hand me downs, I loved watching martial arts movies with the boys, I played a lot of sports, my mum didn’t dress in a “girly” way or wear a lot of make-up. Being told to be something that was unfamiliar didn’t make sense to me, but I guess I was lucky to just shrug it off and carry on being myself.
Being told to “be more feminine” as a young adult however, came with different insinuations. For example, being told to be more feminine in the way I speak, I felt they were telling me that I should stay quiet. Or the suggestion that men wouldn’t want to be with me if I wasn't more feminine felt downright insulting. Being told to be more feminine made me feel like I wasn’t accepted for who I was, and that there was something wrong with me.
I think that societal expectations and perceptions that come with femininity are still pretty narrow, and related to the idea of a being a “good woman” which is so often linked to words like Soft, Quiet, Motherly, Pretty etc. These words individually are not problematic – there’s nothing wrong with being soft or quiet – but I think when a “good woman” is described solely as such, that’s where we have a problem.
The idea of femininity should be vast, nuanced and not limited to these traditional labels that for so long have been dictated by men. As women, we should be the ones that get to decide how we define femininity.
I feel that particularly in Asia, there is an obsession with femininity as motherhood or caregiving. It manifests in the way aunties are always asking “Kapan nikah? Kapan punya anak?” (When will you get married? When will you have kids?) or in the fact that women are the first to sacrifice their ambitions to look after their families.
There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with femininity being associated with being a mother or a caregiver as long as our understanding of femininity is also inclusive of woman who choose lives for themselves that are different to traditional gender roles or stereotypes.
This is what the patriarchy has done to us for so long, made femininity something exclusive to women who conform to their ideal images of womanhood. As a result, I stayed clear of the word feminine for so long, because I didn’t think it was a word that I could use to describe myself.
But now at 37, I know that femininity is vast, fluid, and I get to define what it means.
Being #FeminineAndProud means accepting myself and my version of femininity entirely. I will no longer bend or break to conform to the standards of others.
At my age and with my life experiences, I want to be unapologetically me.
I want to promote an idea of femininity that is inclusive of all versions of womanhood. Femininity means wholeheartedly embracing both who we are, as well as other women, and celebrating our different versions of being feminine.
Being #FeminineAndProud means having the courage to be, and celebrate yourself unapologetically.
I try to create space for the women around me – somewhere we can come together to talk, seek advice, share life experiences, challenge each other and hold each other accountable.
This space has organically developed into a larger community initiative called Kawan Puan, where we have been crowd funding to help over 30 NGOs across Indonesia that provide support for victims of violence.
The network of women I have met over the years continues to inspire me; survivors of abuse who advocate for other survivors, women who give all their time and effort to provide much needed services or safe houses to victims, activists who advocate for policy changes that will benefit everyone, not just women.
They have taught me that creating these spaces for others and having access to support systems are paramount in creating healthy, safe and encouraging environments for us all.
This is such a tricky question because there are so many! There is an abundance of Indonesian women that I admire who have become my teachers, my allies and my friends; I am forever grateful for their guidance.
Ultimately though, I would have to say that my mother will always be my woman icon. She has always led by example and taught me to be independent. It’s the values that I inherited from her that I wish to pass down to my children one day.