Thursday, February 14, 2013


My friend directed me to this blog:

Academic Men Explain Things To Me

The blog is full of contributions by female academics, researchers, and students who are frustrated that their intellectual prowess is unrecognized or snubbed by male counterparts. That he commented on her hair instead of her presentation. That he said the exact same thing she said five minutes ago but the professor praised his opinion instead.  That he dared to explain in a condescending tone something that she was an expert on.

After the tenth post I became a little exhausted and started viewing posts at random.  Something was off. I couldn't relate to any of them.  But look how many contributions there are, hundreds! This was the inner-perspective of hundreds of intelligent and achieved women: bitter, angry. And inevitably, falling into the same trap of condescension towards their male coworkers.

I wondered if I had missed something all this time.  In all the years that I have spent studying, researching, working professionally, and working independently, I have never once felt bothered by a frustrating situation of male bigotry.  Not once.  I have racked my brains and not found one.  And this is Indonesia, the land where "Sexy Woman Caught in Hotel with Party Leader" can be an actual headline by a serious media publication, and some politicians make a career-defining milestone out of regulating the length of your skirt.  Am I missing something?

Then I start to recall a few things that did make me frustrated, but for some reason I have never attributed these to male bigotry:

1. My early career in the government was short-lived because my boss was attracted to me, without my knowledge.  From the beginning of the job, his stunningly beautiful wife launched a baffling personal vendetta against me, which I did not know the reason for until after I resigned and he made an inappropriate attempt on me.  Throughout the job he would frequently deny me interesting projects I was capable of doing, simply because his wife was planning on attending and he didn't want to put her in a bad mood.  I suppose if I were a male, or less attractive, this would never have happened. But if my boss were a more honorable man and his wife were a less insecure woman this would never have happened either.

2.  At a party in Cambridge, I met a man from Portugal who decided to lecture me about the human rights crimes committed by Indonesia against East Timor.  I politely listened and told him of recent developments after the downfall of Soeharto, admitting there was still much work to be done but there was more transparency and they are now an independent country since the referendum and there was the truth and reconciliation commission and etcetera. Suffice to say he was either drunk or uninterested in other people's opinions but his own, despite the other person being obviously well-informed. But I don't think it was because I'm a female.

3. As I was about to slice a tomato in my own kitchen, disastrous then-boyfriend Mr. Nine suddenly exclaimed, "Whoa! whoa! whoa! That's not how you cut a tomato! You could cut your finger doing that!  Here, watch me do it."  To which I was completely taken aback because I had been cutting tomatoes since I was in elementary school and had never so much as grazed my skin.  Not for once did I think this was an example of male mistrust over female abilities.  Nor did I think this was an example of chauvinist attempt to maintain male dominance in the relationship.  I simply thought he was an asshole.

4. During my bittersweet glorious days of singlehood I had been frequently advised (often by my own mother, no less) not to display intelligence or academic achievements too much because it might "intimidate men". The discourse is still fresh and hot at the moment, with a recent medieval discussion I caught on twitter last week on the theme of "do men like smart girls?"  The majority answered, "not a priority trait," and some men vehemently defended "smart girls as extremely attractive", and many women chirped in and said something in the lines of, "I'm smart and I can still be loving at the same time."  A very puzzling discourse that wrongly juxtaposes "smart vs. attractive" and "smart vs. loving" and "smart vs. submissive" as if they were different sides of a dead coin that had no power to choose its own flipper.   I still did not think that all this attempt to "dumb down women" was an example of male chauvinism.  Rather I think it is a collective insecurity towards things they don't understand. Men have told me I am intimidating and women have told me I am intimidating. If they all demanded to be comfortable with me they would all be pressurizing me to be dumb, but they don't do that. The decision to be smart or dumb lies in ME, lies in whether I care that they are intimidated or not.  And if I were desperately looking for a man in my life, I might be concerned about intimidated males.  It so happens that I was not desperate and therefore I did not care and therefore I wasn't bothered.

Ultimately I have always been baffled by feminists, especially their eagerness to blame the male gender for all the injustices in life. I admit that there are situations of horror that I may not be able to empathize with, of women who are subjugated by their culture, religion, and society, who are banned from school, punished if they are raped, and stoned to death if they express their love for someone. The people who work hard to protect these women are admirably standing up to not just feminist values but also human rights values.

But female academics being bothered by "mansplaining" is a wholly different matter.