Gender Roles: Differences between the US and Indonesia

written by: Gretchen Van Ess
posted in: 2009, Indonesia

IND-Gretchen'sIndoKiWith my time in Indonesia coming to a close, I’ve been thinking about my return to the United States and all of the things I will and will not miss about Indonesia. When I arrive back in the US, I’m not sure how I will respond to lunches that cost more than $3; I have grown quite accustomed to the rice, noodles, fish, and fried chicken all with so much flavor at such a small cost. I will also miss the Muslim call to prayer that is blasted through the still hours of the morning and evening. Though I do not understand a word of this call to prayer, and it occasionally wakes me at 4 a.m., it has been a faithful reminder for me to thank the creator for all of the wonderful gifts and graces I have in my life. And of course, I will miss all of the people I have come to know and love; in offices and cities all over Indonesia I can confidently say I not only have colleagues but also friends.

Though my time in Indonesia has been great, there are a few amenities and luxuries that I am certainly looking forward to upon my return to the States. For starters, I can’t wait to wash and dry my clothes. For the past two months my clothes have been hand washed and line dried; oh, to wear clothes that are still warm from the dryer! I am also looking forward to driving my jeep; I have enjoyed being driven around while in Indonesia and have felt somewhat like a celebrity, but having the freedom to go wherever and whenever I want will be nice. I am also looking forward to air-popped popcorn, a staple in my diet that I have not had for 9 weeks. I also have a new-found appreciation for restrooms that come stocked with paper, soap and running water. Sadly, I will not miss the mandi squat toilet, or the pail of water supplied to wash my hands.

In addition to my reflection about the differences of food, customs, and amenities, I am sure that once I return to the US and step back from this immersion experience, I will begin to make several other observations about these two countries, including ideas about family, community, and religion. There are several observations that already stand out, one of which is gender roles. The following are a few of my observations and comments about how gender roles seem to differ from the roles to which I am accustomed.

  1. Men are always holding babies. Whether it is in the street or on their front porch when families are together, dads and grandpas seem to be in charge of holding, cuddling, and entertaining babies.
  2. On Indonesian domestic flights, women are not allowed to sit in the exit rows until they prove that they are big enough and strong enough to open the door.
  3. At concerts in Indonesia it is the young men and boys who are on the verge of hysteria, who scream, wave, and sing along with the artists.
  4. Pink is not just for little girls’ clothes and popped-collared polo shirts, but also sported by men and women alike with pink cell phones, cameras, and motorcycle helmets.
  5. In Indonesia women who want to receive a degree in architecture are very rare, maybe one in 50. From my experience in architecture school, the number of women was closer to 10 or 20 out of 50.
  6. Indonesia has already had a female president, and though she did not win, this same woman ran again in the past election.

To me it is really interesting how different countries’ ideas about gender and gender roles change and develop in different ways. As we work on relief and development projects all over the world, it is imperative that we understand not only our own perspective on the world, but also take the time to understand the context in which we work.

This entry was posted on July 15, 2009 at 2:51 pm and is filed under 2009, Indonesia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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