Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dilemma of An Educated Girl

Apparently, one's trajectory should be in-line with his/her gender. 

Education, education, education. For the past twenty years, numerous family members, friends and teachers have drilled in the salience of an education. To understand, know and be able to contribute somehow dominated my goals for as long as I could remember. Despite having enough interests to stay afloat in the maddening world of academia, which unfortunately includes extra-curricular activities, research, and work, I completely fell for a horrible ploy that with education and work experience, everything would be alright. 

Is Society Still So Tied Up?
Sculpture by F. Widayanto

Well, maybe I forgot to read the fine print, as it turns out, being highly educated, eloquent, and sophisticated is not particularly attractive. Additionally, being an open-minded, yet critical thinker is "shockingly" not an added bonus. There goes years of hoop jumping, resume writing, and speed reading. The problem is, generally, to strive towards a particular goal for a long period of time is to gain an identity. Here's an anecdote for you, after a few weeks of hanging out with different groups of people, be it young or old, educated or not, I learned if I were to be reduced to three adjectives it would be, professional, intelligent, and critical. One person has even jokingly called me the "Lady of Steel". 

As a child, I married the desire to become a princess and the possibility to avoid becoming a damsel in distress. Eight year old me foolishly believed that a strong princess, who could fend for herself, would still be attractive to prince charming (Yes, I still want my very own prince charming!). Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that way at all. On the other hand, I have gathered that women should, dare I say, avoid high educational ambitions in favor of more feminine, more gender normative skills, be it a demure wife who knows enough knowledge to speak at the dinner table or an individual who is content with placing her husband's needs above hers. 

Maybe, we shouldn't go down the rabbit hole in the first place?

Can intelligence and ambitions become attractive attributes of a woman? Can a wife take care of a family, whilst leading a company? Can society reach gender equality?

These are just some questions that echo in my head, especially when I am in Jakarta. Perhaps, rather than ruminating on the idea, I should just conform with society and start making lemonades from the lemons that I have gathered thus far. My mind and heart have become a battleground for issues that pertain to both men and women of my generation, the generation before us and the generation after. 

Sometimes when I am just a few inches away from choosing the gender-normative path, I can't help but wonder what would become of me as a mother to a son and/or a daughter. How could I teach my children to strive for equality, when I, myself, have knelt before the throne of "normalcy"? How can I teach my son to overcome his (possible) insecurity that his wife would be more successful than he is? How can I teach my daughter to reach her dreams, despite what her boyfriend, husband or society says? How can I send them off to school, knowing that only one of them will profit from it? 

I might be asking the wrong questions here, I might be thinking way too far ahead. But, after twenty years of living, I do know that the past determines the present and the future, just as my current actions would influence an entire lifetime. 

 *Author owns rights to photos above

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