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Talking About Men, Chauvinism and Discrimination

So here I am, sitting alone in an over-populated bar pretending to read a ten-centimetre-thick book on 'Atomic Structure of a Nuclear Bomb'.

It all started when I had enough of being harassed every time I sat by myself in Kelly's Bar; my favourite place to hang out. My understanding of night entertainment spots is that they are places where everybody can go to relax, either alone or with friends, while enjoying their favourite drinks, snacks and music, right? Well, not quite. I used to stop at Kelly's by myself on my way home from work. I was never able to enjoy the place because men, particularly westerners, constantly harassed me. After extensive research on the social behaviour of weirdoes, I devised a solution to overcome the problem. I realised that guys would not harass a woman who sits alone reading a heavy-duty book. The books could be about politics, finance, or any topic that makes people frown (my favourite's is called 'One Step Further from Insanity'). The thought of starting a conversation with a woman, who is not brainless, which also means 'not an easy target' for them, is just too scary.

Being a twenty something local woman who is married to an expatriate, I always think twice before spending a night out. I need hours just to choose the right outfit. The tricky part is that doesn't give off a 'slutty' impression. Although I personally think that we should wear whatever we are comfortable with, I have found that many people are critical of local women who go out at night, especially those who are married to foreigners. Try to show a little cleavage, and people around you will automatically assume that you are an ex-bar-bimbo or something. Since I also enjoy observing nightlife in Jakarta, I have to be smart not to be victimised by chauvinists and keep myself one step ahead of the discrimination around me.

Unfortunately I can't always wear my T-shirt emblazoned with the words 'Look, I have an MBA, a successful career and happen to be married to an expatriate' all the time, can I?

A friend of mine, a very sweet 'straight' Indonesian woman, was once treated like a social pariah and refused entry into a club in a five-star hotel. An entourage of security guards, who seemed to be enjoying the power, blocked her at the entrance.

"I'm sorry, you cannot enter. Your dress does not comply with our code," they said arrogantly. She was wearing a sleeveless top and long slacks. Okay, she had her navel exposed, but gees. every teenager in the shopping malls does that! As she was being harassed, a group of Caucasian women casually entered the club without being questioned by any of the security guards. Some women in the group were wearing a lot more revealing outfits than what my friend had on. She has confided to me that sometimes she wishes she were white.

I remember when I was invited to a friend's farewell party. All of the guests happened to be Caucasians except me. When I entered the predominantly white-skin filled room, there was a moment of silence. The guys scrutinised me from head to toe, and the women became unexplainably uncomfortable.

"Holy molly, who is that woman?" whispered one guy just loud enough for me to hear.

"Oh, yeah, she's Brad's wife," answered the other guy.

Gees! Thanks a lot! I felt I had a big sign over my head that reads: "Already Taken". I didn't even have a name. I was just Brad's wife! Chauvinists!

What a typical scenario! The explanation is almost as frustrating as the bureaucracy in Indonesia's immigration. Firstly, for these big 'C' (Chauvinist) men, it is impossible for women to have both looks and brains. Women who have looks are definitely worth talking to. Just because they are good looking. It is always a wise investment for the big 'C' group to try and not get bored talking about where these women get their nails done. You never know, you might get lucky. Secondly, women who have looks and a spouse are apparently not worth talking to. Why is that? Well, it's because they think these women do not enough mental capacity to have an intellectual conversations, plus because they more than likely will have zero opportunity to date them. This phenomenon becomes very intense when it involves women in my position.

A few days ago, I was in my office, getting ready to go home when my husband rang. He asked me if we could meet up at Kelly's.

So there I was again, sitting alone in a crowded bar in Jakarta and guess what . I forgot my book! Obviously my ultra formal all black working attire didn't help matters any. People still couldn't look at me as a normal person, just waiting for somebody to show up (some 'working girls' wear office dresses to attract potential customers with higher tastes). Some guys who were sitting across from me, who looked like the characters in 'Grumpy Old Men', were trying to give me some kind of primitive signals to ask me to come over. Thank God, my husband arrived shortly after that.

When my husband and I were getting ready to leave the place, one member of the geriatric club said to my husband: 'Not bad . there you go, good catch mate!'. I'm sorry, there's no way I can tell you how we settled the problem without being censored by the Webmaster!

Look, I am aware that there must be a reason why these men are acting the way they do. It's no secret that bars are hot money earners for some women, who are also known as working girls, night butterflies or whatever in Jakarta. But hey, nobody can categorise an entire gender over one or two examples. I'm proud to be Indonesian and happily married to a foreigner, why should I be subjected to these Neanderthal attitudes?

I wonder if the saying: 'Don't judge a book by its cover' actually means anything.

First published in The Jakarta Post


"Okay Aida ,,, you don't pull any punches, do you?? I'd love to hear your thoughts on expat wives and their activities... :)"

"... could you be a bit more understanding of the poor lonely expat guy who's looking for a friendly face?"