si parasit lajang by ayu utami: perception of marriage, female genital mutilation, et cetera

The other day, I read about Ayu Utami from her interview with Whiteboardjournal (here). Ayu is a critical Indonesian novelist whose novel Saman received international accolades. For so long, I thought Indonesian novels have only been about one’s romantic and religious adventures, as those are what usually put on the best-selling list in Gramedia bookstores. That was why my narrow-minded self used to only read Indonesian novels for fun, for guilty pleasures. Not only recently did I find out about amazing old school Indonesian writers who have led me into indulging more Indonesian literature. Turns out that it was me whose mind was prejudiced towards local authors because growing up, I only consumed Ilana Tan and Raditya Dika’s cliche novels. Not to mention that I used to adapt this post-colonialism thinking about how foreign literatures were better than local ones. Well, I did read Andrea Hirata’s Laskar Pelangi, but it was too long ago..

Si Parasit Lajang was first published in 2003—the novel is filled with a collection of Ayu’s personal stories and sketches. Compared to her other novels, Si Parasit Lajang is more informal yet still is filled with her own critical thinkings in life. Basically in the novel, she opposes society’s idea of marriage by refusing to get married herself. Then again, this novel was published more than a decade ago. Since then, Ayu has published the sequel of this novel called Eks-Parasit Lajang, and gotten married in a Catholic church. Nonetheless (according to her website), Ayu decided to marry solely to show solidarity for her Catholic community that experienced discrimination at that time. She said:

I love him. I’m able to love him without any marriage traditions. I’ve lived together with him for 10 years, thus it doesn’t really matter whether we get married or not, I just want to show solidarity for my Catholic community

For so long, society has assumed “marriage” as being successful — if you aren’t married, then you’ll be doomed with negative assumptions of being a loser, a failure, or even an old wretched virgin (even if not being married does not necessarily equal a virgin). In addition to that, there’s also a misogynist assumption between “virginity” and “marriage” that is advocated by a certain religion. “You can only have sex when you are already married”, they say. Now I have a question: What if one’s virginity is ripped due to rape? Is she not pure anymore? Virginity is an abstract idea: it’s beyond absurd to assume virginity as a woman’s purity. Ayu writes about how women’s orgasm are considered as myths, so they are suppressed into doing intercourse only as a reproduction activity. One of Ayu’s short story is titled “School Sex Education”, which tells about how sex education at school only represents abstinence by simply showing sex organs: penis for the boys, and vagina for the girls (“Don’t have sex if you don’t want to get pregnant and die, kids“, they say). The concept of sex education should have been broader than that: how about the responsibility of contraception? Instead of teaching about abstinence, why not teach them about protection, ya know what I mean. There are young girls out here getting pregnant because they have not received enough education on the use of contraception, yet society has the audacity to be all rude and judgemental towards them. Society’s system of patriarchy glorifies men’s privilege — oh, it’s okay if you are not a virgin, as long as you’re a male. No one can identify whether a male is a virgin or not; therefore, he is free from the social pressure to stay “pure”. No one cares. On the other hand, a female is unreasonably pressured by society & certain religions to nurture her virginity — girls are assumed as sluts, or murahan, when they aren’t virgins anymore. See the double standard there?

Ayu hated the concept of virginity for women, the word bencong for transgender, obscure sex education at school, and the idea of polygamy. In the chapter regarding polygamy, she tells about a man who chose to marry two wives instead of having an affair. When asked about why he wouldn’t just have an affair rather than marrying yet another woman, he answered, “God condemns adultery; He will cry if I have an affair”. Ayu then gave the best come-back statement that I could ever think of by saying, “Why would you choose to hurt your wife, the weak side in this case, than hurting God, who is already mighty and strong?“. Through this novel, I also learn that there’s such a thing called “Female Genital Mutilation”, which is common in some parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (even in Indonesia!). FGM removes the clitoral parts and labia, which eradicates any pleasure for women during intercourse. The health effects include difficulty urinating and passing menstrual flow, chronic pain, the development of cysts, an inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth, and fatal bleeding. This is the reason why we need feminism, the patriarchy in this world is just too immense.

I do not entirely oppose marriage, I kind of see it like having a religion. You can trust God, but you can also have the liberty to not trust any gods. You can be married, but you also have the choice to not be. One who chooses to believe in God (me, for example) craves security in both life and afterlife. This is practically the same as someone who chooses to marry: he/she wishes to have security in life by having a spouse and several kids. For me personally, marriage isn’t a big deal, especially wedding party. It’s just a money-wasting ceremony to legalize a couple’s love, but most people see it as a measure of happiness, popularity, and wealth. In conclusion, every person has his/her own opinions. I just find it extremely ridiculous when a girl is called successful by society, just because she marries a rich guy. But then again, everyone has different opinions. Who am I to judge?



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