Banality of Sexism
Part One of Campus Life
It was a normal day at campus. Rainy season had just stopped and slowly the sun began to sting. Sooner than later, we were covered in sweat and our skin began to turn darker—we could’ve had heat strokes, too; but we wouldn’t complain. Depok is much, much worse in the rain.
It all started with a broadcast message in a WhatsApp group. My friends and I were lounging at the cafeteria when suddenly we had a dozen new notifications on our phones. The initial message was simple: there had been attempts of rape in the area of Kukusan Teknik, which was where my boarding house located. A friend responded by saying that it was some faux tukang ojek; while some others heard that the suspect(s) lurked in the dark waiting for a fitting prey. Within minutes, the WhatsApp group became a cultivation of paranoia. Everyone, myself included, chose to ignore the fact that it was yet to be verified.
For the following few weeks I attended lectures wearing the baggiest among my skinny jeans and a long sleeved or loose shirt. I skipped any kinds of extracurricular activity and went straight to my boarding house, by foot. I wouldn’t risk taking an ojek, even in broad daylight. If I really had to stay late at campus, I would beg one of my guy friends to walk me home.
I was proud to say I had done everything in my power to prevent rape, and subsequently, I had not been raped. Not once, not even a little.
When the rumor faded a couple of months later, I knew it was time to pat myself in the back. I must be one lucky female person! But we all know it was more about privilege than luck. And I had earned the privilege of not getting raped, considering all the effort I made, all that hard work. But I was not necessarily free from all kinds of sexual harassment.
I still got catcalled from time to time. But I guess it’s O.K.; it’s nothing I could not handle. Later when I got used to it, it even started to sound like a compliment in my ears that whenever I was not catcalled, I would find it rather offensive. Excuse me, Sir, but am I not much of a pretty woman to have your attention?
(I know. I should have not sought flattery from a bunch of drooling baboons. I should have known better. There are far better things for them to do than to stare and whistle at a woman’s almost non-existent cleavage as she walks down the street. My bad.)
One night, about ten months later, Gina and I fell asleep on the train back from Pasar Minggu. We were supposed to get off on our campus station but instead awoken when the train already arrived in Depok Baru station. Sleepy and a bit dizzy, we got off the train, walked to the other railway platform and waited for our train back home. About thirty minutes passed and the station was still as quiet as ever. We at last did what we should have done earlier. Turned out it’s a bit past midnight. We had missed the last train.
We checked with the security and it seemed that the only way back to our boarding houses is by taking an angkot. But to get to the main road where we would take an angkot, we must walk through a bus station next to the train station. Gina and I looked at each other and knew right away this couldn’t be good. I was wearing a low-cut red dress (I really was, I am not just saying it to fit the narrative), while Gina was wearing a black bodycon dress—we were attending our friends’ graduation ceremony the earlier noon. I could feel the confidence we had during the day drastically switched to fear that following night. From the look of it, it’s like we were asking for rape.
We tried to be strong for each other, or at least that’s what it looked like we’re doing doing, and walked to the bus station. In case you are wondering, that was not my first time at a bus station, or taking an angkot in that matter, so the dim lights and the huge dumpsters did not really scare me, let alone surprise me.
All along I hoped for us to be invisible. But as soon as we turned left, there were a bunch of men playing gaplek and that is when I felt like we were at the opening scene of a Law & Order episode, you know, where somebody got murdered.
When we walked past them, one of them called us out with the ever-familiar phrase, “Neng. . . mau ke mana, Neng?” (“Hey girl, where are you going?”) We kept walking and pretended we heard nothing. But it seemed like it only bothered them to see our reaction, or lack thereof, because a moment later another one of them shouted, “Eh, ikutin, ayok ikutin!” (“Let’s follow them!”). His friends barbarically shouted “Ayo! Ayo!” (“Come on, let’s go!”) in perfect unison.
Predictably, I tried to walk faster. But Gina held me back, saying, “Don’t worry, they’re just trying to get in your head.” I held my tears, “How do you know they’re not really after us?” “Just trust me, O.K.” “Can I at least check?” “No, don’t look back. You’re not Cinta and this is no fucking AADC.” I would laugh if I were not so scared. This is no fucking AADC indeed.
Still in one piece, we finally hit the main road. We hopped into the first angkot we saw, got off at the intersection and went our separate ways. Once I got inside my room, I went straight to the bathroom and took a long, hot shower. Then I logged onto Twitter for sometime. Until it’s almost two in the morning and I still could not manage to close my eyes.
I texted Gina and asked her if it was normal that I felt somewhat violated. I told her, it was not my first time being catcalled but it was the first time I heard someone explicitly shouted he would follow me.
Gina told me to try to shake it off, not because it was not wrong, but because there was nothing we could possibly do about it. As a humanities student, I knew in my heart that we needed to educate those baboons; however, as a person, I didn’t think there was a way we could. We were not happy to disappoint all those brilliant, brave, and persistent feminists in our textbooks, who share our cause and pain and oppression. But in the end we had to choose our battles, I guess. And though we were 100% sure we were not overreacting, we knew that is exactly how people would think of us had we told them about this.
So we—I—tried to shake it off. For a long time after, I kept telling myself that perhaps such behaviors were not necessarily harassments. They were facticity, plain and simple. Hence, we have just got to suck it up like any other adults. As long as I wear appropriate clothes and stay away from bus stations after midnight—or simply not falling asleep on a train—I will be safe. Some places are expected to be crooked but there are some others that are happy, and good, and just.
Yesterday, just like any normal day at campus, my friends and I sat at the cafeteria, chatting and giggling over things that may or may not pass the Bechdel Test. It was almost noon when I decided, before it got crowded, to queue in front of the tupat sayur counter. It was not a long queue, just another woman, a man and I. A middle-aged woman took our orders and shouted at a middle-aged man cooking back in the tiny kitchen. “Three tupat sayur!—two ladies and a man.” I did not know what that was all about until five minutes later our orders came out.
And here we go again.