“Why do you go to school when you’re just a woman?”

This is one of my most favorite graduation pics. Thanks to my Malaysian friend for this 🙂

April 21 is celebrated as “Kartini Day” in Indonesia to commemorate the birthday of – and to honor – R.A. Kartini, one of Indonesian Heroines who fought for women’s equal opportunity for education. The other day I was invited to share my experience and to speak in one of the events that celebrated it. I was given the draft of some questions that the committee would ask in the event, and one of the questions was, “Why are you pursuing your education so high when you are just a woman?” They ended up not asking that question in the event, though. But I’m sure this question is often asked to women who are pursuing their study: “Why would you go to so school? Why studying abroad? Why until doctoral degree? When you’re just a woman.” And I seriously believe we must stop asking such questions that way. Here’s why.

Just for an illustration, when we ask people, “Why are you coming to work when you’re sick?”, it would mean that we’re not supposed to or we must not come to work because we’re sick or that we’re supposed to rest or stay home. Similarly, asking people this question, “Why do you go to school when you’re just a woman?” will only perpetuate the idea – giving the impression – that women do not have to, are not supposed to, or do not need to go to school or pursue high education and that only men are required to go to school, only men must/may/need to go to school and pursue high education. And we know this is not true. Both men and women must and need to go to school or pursue high education the same way with the same rights and obligations.

And, well, actually if you ask me, “Why do you go to school and pursue your study so high?” The answer will be, “BECAUSE I’m a woman.” I need to know my rights and my responsibilities. I need to know how to be independent. Etc. That’s why I need to learn! And, well, we’ve been taught this discourse about women being the first “school” or “teacher” for their children. Well, if the teacher or the school isn’t good enough, what will become of the “graduates”? Are they going to be ready for the next-level schools?

Me when I was graduating from my master’s degree.

Well, I know that maybe I’m not the one to talk about this. My mom didn’t even finish elementary school and yet here I’m pursuing my doctoral study, not to mention in the USA, and by scholarship. So some people might say, “Well, your mom didn’t even finish school but you can still pursue your high education; it means women do not need to pursue high education to raise kid.”

Well, let me tell you something. Yes, it’s true that my mom didn’t finish school but she’s got very high “spirit” to learn. She is very enthusiastic and supportive for education. When my mom was a little, she wanted to go to school. However, for economic reasons, and because her parents (my grandparents, ok 😐) believed that she didn’t need to go to school, she ended up not being to school. I couldn’t tell everything my Mom went through when she was a kid, but I could tell some of it. My mom took the initiative to join her friends from the same village to go to school (Dang, I always get emotional whenever I recall this story she told me!). But, well, she couldn’t attend classes regularly like her friends. When it’s time to plant rice, clean the ricefield from the weeds (you know, the unwanted grasses?), or when it’s harvest seasons, my Mom had to tag along to the farm and work to help my grandparents and to get some money. And she had to find some grasses to feed the cows too. (Well, we villagers used to keep cows for a living). So yeah, my mom had to repeat a year and ended up not finishing her school.

That’s why my mom is really happy if her kids have high passions for educations. She wants us to learn for real, not just playing around at schools. My mom often says, “Even though I didn’t go to school, if I were to compete in rice planting, weeds cleaning, or rice cutting, I’d win; I’d be the champion. Too bad I didn’t go to school. Had I gone to school, I would’ve got the first place/rank!” (Well, sometimes it becomes a burden for us her kids, especially my sister and my brother, because she kinda thinks that if we don’t get good grades, it means we’re not learning for real 🙈😅 Well, I know this is one mindset that should be gradually changed but let’s save it for another time 😊

A proud wildcat I am.

So yes, my mom really thinks that education or going to school is important. And considering how difficult it was for her to get such education back then, she kinda wanted us to LEARN FOR REAL and not to waste our chance to get proper education when everything has been much easier for us. I remember when I was a kid, I was often exempted from doing household chores when I looked like I was studying 😂🙈😅✌️ Sometimes I was just reading some story books but mom thought it’s studying. Gosh, I was such a bad kid 🙈😅 But, hey it’s learning too, no? 😌

But again, just because I can be pursuing my study this high even though my mom couldn’t finish school, it doesn’t mean it’s okay for women not to go to school; it doesn’t mean women do not need to pursue high education. Especially with the challenges we face in this technological era, it’s going to be difficult to teach/guide our kids without sufficient knowledge and skills. Today’s challenge is different, it requires active participation from the parents. Back when I was learning at schools, I could do just fine by learning and paying attention in the classes, my parents barely helped me with my study because, as you know, they couldn’t even if they wanted to since they didn’t finish schools. Now even my mom has been struggling to help my little brother’s study. He’s got more homework; the materials more difficult, and since my parents didn’t understand any of them, they couldn’t help. And now we have internet, where information often spreads uncontrollably, where people can access anything almost without boundaries or limitations, and of course my parents know nothing about it. I can say my parents are “digital illiterate”; they do not even know how WhatsApp works (well, on the bright side, I’m saved from Family WAG, which often becomes nightmares for my peers in Indonesia nowadays 😂😂😂 Well, every cloud has its silver lining 😌😌😌. So, well, my little brother will definitely need to learn about internet, right? But if my parents cannot guide/control its use, he might get access to something he’s not supposed to, or things he’s not ready for yet, or things that need parental guide, which, sadly, my parents wouldn’t be able to provide. So that’s why today’s and future parents need to upgrade themselves, e.g. they must know about internet, so it can be easier to guide their kids and so that kids can learn better.

So yeah, that’s why. So please, don’t ask, “Why do you go to school when you’re just a girl?” Nope, we’re not just a girl. We’re not just a woman. We go to school BECAUSE we’re women. Both men and women have the rights and responsibilities to pursue education. As high as they want. No matter how high it is.

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