Thursday, March 29, 2007


Anne Wilson Schaef, the author of the book Women’s Reality: an Emerging Female System in a White Male Society, explains the condition of women within a dominant white male society Schaef defines this white male system as, “the system in which we live, and in it, the power and influence are held by white males” (1992: 8). However, this system is not completely real because it is only the product of the powerful white male people. Not all white males are members of this system nor do they share in the power of dominance that most people associate with being a white male.

The dominant white males’ society is supported by four myths. The first myth is that the white male system is the only thing that exists (Schaef. 1992:14). It implies that the others are nothing and have little value on influence within society. Because of this myth, everything should be seen as the white male system sees it. If females, for example, are doing something that is not same as the white male system’s perception, they will be considered crazy, stupid, and ugly (Schaef 1992:14).

The second myth is that the white male system is innately superior (Schaef 1992:15). In the white male system, everybody is born either male or female and innate in that is a value in the larger culture. The white male system believes that innate superiority is the birthright of males and, thus, to be born female is to be born second-class. Thus, females who play their roles are inferior, and females who subvert their roles in the white male system are characterized as “bitches” or otherwise devalued (Schaef 1992:16).

The third myth is that the white male system knows and understands everything (Schaef 1992:16). Because the white male system claims to know everything, it thinks that it can have power over everything, including females. Consequently, everything in the white female system should be in the white male system’s control, since other systems outside the white male system are seen as inferior for not knowing and understanding anything.

The fourth myth is that the white male system is totally logical, rational, and objective (Schaef 1992:17). The effect of these myths is that the members of this system never want to hear opinions from others because others are illogical, irrational, and subjective. Females also cannot decide anything since in the white male system’s myth, females are irrational, illogical, and subjective. Thus, all of women’s decisions must be based on the white male system. From myth to reality, the system of the white male has many parts.

Females are influenced by the white male system, which affects women entire lives. Much of women’s lives depends on what the white male system constructs for them. Because females are controlled by the white male system, everything has to be in accordance with what the white male system prescribes as the role of the female. The white male system uses many techniques to dominate and control females.
Schaef (1992: 73) described what she called stoppers, a number of techniques used to keep women under control of the white male system. Stoppers appear in many various forms like rape, battering, and some other physical violence. Others seem to be more subtle ways, for instance, offensively telling to women they are not rational, sick, bad, crazy, and stupid (1992:73). When women’s opinion is not able to be accepted, they will feel that there is something wrong with them, and their confidence is gone. As a result, women are going to agree with what the white male system says because they do not want to be accused of being crazy, stupid, and ugly (Schaef. 1992: 74). Many women do not realize that stoppers are mere methods to make them back off from their perceptions, and return to the white male system’s ways. Women fear that stoppers are accurate, and they are stopped by them.

Actually, the male system of dominance described by Schaef has broader implication than just white male societies. Patriarchy occurs not only among white people but also among people of color, such as in Indonesia. Indonesia is a country that still keeps patriarchal culture and traditions, so Indonesian males dominate the economic, social and political systems in Indonesia. In this paper, I compare the dominant male systems in white cultures and the dominant male system of Indonesia, explaining the implications for women worldwide, and particularly examining Indonesian women.


According to Schaef, a goal in women’s lives is to achieve perfect marriage. Almost every woman wants to live together with her “soul mate.” Women feel that happiness can be achieved if they can pour their love for somebody they truly loved (1992:64). Therefore, women will sacrifice anything to achieve the perfect marriage.

In the white male system, the perfect marriage has two parts: public and private (Schaef 1992:64). The public perfect marriage is the relationship between a woman and a man in the public sphere or outside house. In this sphere, the man acts as the women’s parent while the woman is like the child who has to follow what the man says, whether she agrees or not (Schaef 1992:65). For example, when the couple goes to a family gathering, the woman cannot contradict what the man says, because in this area, the woman is the man’s child. If the woman does not follow this rule, the public perfect marriage will break.

Another aspect of the perfect marriage is the private perfect marriage. Unlike the public perfect marriage, in the private perfect marriage or behind closed doors, the woman is the parent of a man. Everything should be in her control (Schaef 1992:66).Which clothes the man is going to wear is arranged by the woman, for instance. If in this case, the man breaks the rule and helps his wife to prepare his clothes or takes some other household responsibility away from the woman, the private perfect marriage is shattered.

Marriage is also a main goal for Indonesian women. Indonesian males, in this male dominated system, believe that women are something to be bought or sold, and marriage and the price paid is an indication of the value of a women. From this, we can understand that in Indonesian women’s perception, widow is more valuable than somebody who has not married yet, because being a widow indicates that the woman has already accomplished her goal. It means that the woman has been validated by marriage. Thus, Indonesian women will sacrifice anything, such as education and career so that they can have a marriage.

Several weeks ago, for example, my girlfriend told me that she received a scholarship to continue her study abroad. I knew that studying abroad was her dream since she became my classmate as an undergraduate. On the other hand, she already planned to marry this year. Although she is still wishful about her scholarship, she decided to resign it and get married instead. In her opinion, she won’t become anything if she does not marry.

The concept of marriage also influences most parents’ thinking in Indonesia. In their opinion, marriage is more important for their daughters than education. Therefore, it is a common situation that many teenage girls drop out from senior high schools for marriage. Dramatically, in many traditional areas, to make sure that their daughters will marry, most parents arrange marriages for their daughters. My cousin told me that her parents already arranged her marriage when she was still in her mother’s womb. Then, she got married after she graduated from her junior high school.

As in the white male system, the dominant male system in Indonesia believes the two faces of the perfect marriage, public and private. To illustrate, in private areas, everything is held by a woman, so when the man helps his wife to decide on everything that the women must do, in people’s perception, the private perfect marriage is failing. For instance, my male neighbor was surprised when he visited my house, and he found that my husband prepared dinner for us. He thought that there was something wrong with my household because in private area, the man is the child of a woman. On the other hand, in the public perfect marriage, the man controls everything. If a household does not apply this rule, it means that a household is not a perfect marriage. I could understand when the teller in bank had difficulty accepting that my husband opened an account in the bank with my name because in people’s perception, only a man can deal with money, so the teller thought that my marriage was not a perfect marriage.

From that information, we can figure out that the reality of marriage in the male dominated system of the United States and in the Indonesian dominant system is same. In my opinion, the concept of marriage puts women in a subordinate position. Since the male dominant system says that the value of a woman is her life in the home and subordination to her husband in marriage, women tend to focus on this goal and forsake opportunities to develop themselves. Even though, the private perfect married women are parents of men in the home, they still serve men and do so by publicly subordinating themselves. As house workers, women have to prepare everything for their husbands. In this case men are bosses, and women are the unpaid laborers that make their for profit labor possible. The public perfect marriage also ties women economically to the success of their men in the public sphere. Women cannot decide anything because in this area women are subservient to their husbands.


Schaef explained that in the dominant white male system, to be a valid human being, women have to have children (1992: 86). If women cannot give birth, they do not have value. Women are not able to choose whether they will or won’t have children. In this case, they lose their basic right to choose to conceive and raise a child or not.

The concept of motherhood also influences the relationships between mother and children. Schaef remarked there are four basic levels of mothers relating to sons and daughters. The first is the innate condition. For sons, mothers teach that superiority is part of the male birthright (1992:84). Unlike with sons, mothers tells their daughters that they are inferior (1992:86). The second basic level is the class issue. Mothers give different treatment to sons and daughters. In the class issue, mothers instill in sons that they have power to control and oppress others. In this case, mothers are in positions of inferiority. Although the mother has given birth to her son, she also will be under his control because her son is a member of the male dominant system (1992:85). However for her daughter, the mother teaches differently. Schaef said, “The second level is extremely important and has to do with the fact that women recognize one another as members of the same oppressed class” (1992:87). Mother is going to share her suffering condition with her daughter.

Ambition is the third basic level of relationship between mother and children. Because mother wants her son to be a powerful man, she pushes her son to explore everything. On the other hand, mother realizes that she cannot accompany her son since this opportunity is only available for men (Schaef 1992:85). For daughters, mother is ambiguous. Mother wishes that her daughter becomes an educated person, and that her daughter will have better life than she has. However, mother also says that her daughter has to follow the culture as she has already done by getting married, having children, and being a house worker (Schaef. 1992: 89). This condition, of course, will tie daughters and make it difficult for them to develop themselves.
The last basic level is the power to validate, or as Schaef called it the “I hate your guts” (1992: 86). In this level, women must bear children as the way for them to be valid human beings. In addition, having a boy is more valuable than having a girl, so women always want to have a boy. This condition affects the relationship between mothers and sons. Although mother loves her children so much, she hates her children’s guts, because of their power over her, and because of fact that they can validate of her existence. Schaef said, “We love our children, but we hate what they stand for” (1992: 86). Even though having a girl is better than none, a girl, in the dominant system, is not the offspring that is hoped. Therefore, mother hates her daughter’s gut because her gut cannot help mother to uphold her existence in the culture. “Yet she resents the fact that another being has the power to validate her-especially if that being is not only tiny but innately inferior,” Schaef wrote in her book (1992: 89).

As in the dominant white male system, in the dominant Indonesian system, we have the concept of motherhood too. In the Indonesian system of male dominance, women have to have children. The result is that women attempt to do anything to become mothers. Indeed, it has been taught since females are young as a rite of passage and a fulfillment of duty. A woman who obeys her husband’s commandment and always serves her children is cited to be the standard by which successful woman are measured. This, however, is not without its problems.

The concept of motherhood in the Indonesian male dominant system affected me personally. After graduating from a senior high school, I wanted to apply for a bachelor’s degree. However, at the time, my father gave me a stipulation. If I was going to continue my study, I had to marry. As other parents, my parents also thought that I could study after I have a child. The concept of mother had influenced my parents’ opinion. They wanted me to fill the role of the ideal successful women and were doing their best to help me. Actually, my mother wishes that I could get better life by continuing my study; on the other hand, my mother supported me getting married. However, my parents were thinking within a male dominated social paradigm.

I remember one day I accompanied my girlfriend who gave birth to a beautiful daughter. Although she and her daughter were healthy, her husband was still disappointed because his wife did not give him a boy. In another case, when my first child – a boy- was born, I received a different comment. Actually, everybody gave me congratulations. My female neighbor also said, “If you have a boy in your first born, you won’t get much pain if your second born is a girl. Giving birth for a boy is more difficult and painful than for a girl.” From this, I can understand that in the Indonesian dominant system, having a boy is more valuable.

Being a perfect mother in Indonesia is another major concept of “mother.” The dominant system indoctrinates woman that they are to always be present for their kids. Therefore, a good mother is a woman who pours her life to serve her kids. It means that all of the mothers’ activities must be around their children, and they must forget their dreams so they can always accompany their kids. A man wants a wife who can stay in the whole day with his kids, while he is out on the town with his friends or working.

My friend dubs me “an insurgent mother.” Usually the name “insurgent” is given to children who disregard to their duty to their parents. However, she thinks that I am an insurgent mother because I decided to continue my study in Hawaii and left my sons in Indonesia. In her opinion, I denied my responsibility to my sons and abandoned my culture. This opinion lives not only in my friend’s mind but also in almost all Indonesian people’s minds due to culturally defined roles and expectations. One of my male friends said that I am an egoist mother because I left my sons without thinking about consequences to them. Moreover, he mentioned that he would not marry a woman like me, who only think about herself, and does not care for her kids.

To be honest, the first time I heard that I felt guilty and I agreed with him that I am not a good mother. At the time, I thought I already made a mistake with my decision to continue my studies. Even though I believed that my sons are living in a good place with their grandparents, and I knew that developing myself is the same as developing my family, I felt I could not provide for my sons well enough. Guilt almost became a stopper for my future.

Indonesian males want their wives to be good mothers for two good reasons. First, they are afraid that if their wives either continue their education or participate in outside activities, they will become more intelligent, and Indonesian males will lose their control of their wives. An educated wife can become a threat to their husband’s authority. To illustrate, when a man has an educated wife, it is difficult to arrange everything as he wants because an educated wife usually is more opinionated and may have a better idea than her husband. Second, the concept of the “good mother” keeps women in their position, as Indonesian males want women to be. If women are not in the category of good mother, they will feel guilt and cultural shaming. Because of that, many are women left behind in the home.

From that information, we can see that the concept of motherhood in the dominant white male system and in the Indonesian dominant system is not different. Having children in both dominant systems is the existence of women. In this case, women do not have choice because in both of the dominant systems, women have to have children. The existence and value of women is much influenced by whether they have children or not. In the dominant system, the existence of women is validated after they have a boy. In addition, the relationship between mother and daughter also has two faces. Mother pushes her daughter to achieve a good life, but at the same time, mother asks her daughter to follow the culture as mother did. In the dominant Indonesian system, to be a good mother has also become a stopper for women because women are tied to


Men prosper from dominant male systems both in white society and in Indonesia. In fact, the concept of marriage in both male dominated systems is the same, and the implication of the concept of marriage puts women in the inferior place. Women are always pushed to focus their main goal in life on achieving the “perfect” marriage, so they do not have opportunity to achieve career or political success. In “perfect” marriages, women are publically subservient to their children and their husbands. Women cannot develop themselves because this concept goes against the socially prescribed roles of what it means to be a good woman. Thus, whatever the color of women is and wherever women live, they are to treated as inferiors and merely the biological carriers of males who will continue to dominate society. In addition, men support their own dominance and continue to perpetuate cultural myths that validate the disparity of power in