Commentary: Misogyny on the Train to Bogor

The sun sets over the National Monument (Monas) in Jakarta, as train passengers are seen in a reflection. (Antara Photo/Wahyu Putro A.)

By : Amron Hamdi | on 9:02 PM January 29, 2016
Category : Opinion, Commentary

Riding a train from Jakarta to Bogor’s Botanical Garden has become a pleasant routine for me. I developed this habit realizing that living in Jakarta’s city center is not particularly good for my health because out of 365 days in a year, the city only provides an average of 84 days of clean air, due to heavy pollution. Therefore, I try to meet my own quota of visiting the garden a couple times a year especially when I feel that I need to cleanse my lungs with fresh oxygen produced by the giant and beautiful trees in the garden. It is cheap and very close by, and by using public transport I leave only a small carbon footprint.

Last Saturday morning was my first ride in 2016. It was like any other ride; I bought the ticket and waited for about five minutes for my train to arrive. I popped in and because there was no seat left, I stood almost the entire ride. But I noticed something new in the train, at least the one I rode that morning. There were LCDs placed next to straphangers at the center of the train wagons and they played variety entertainment. It ranged from motivational quotes, trivial information such as the top 10 of deadliest fish and whatnot.

Basically, I was very entertained. Unfortunately, this ended when the show got to a segment where a stand-up comedian was joking about something I found quite inappropriate in the public sphere.

As I was standing very close to the LCD, I could hear clearly that the comedian, who often appears on national television channels, joked about young girls with short pants, or hot pants, which he referred to as “celana gemes.” He explained why he believed those pants were called celana gemes: “Because when you see young girls wearing them, you simply feel gemes.”

When he talked, he made this gesture as if he was squeezing something. This was the part where I felt the comedian featured on the commuter line entertainment feed had gone a little out of line. The comedian was 30-40 years old, was talking about young girls in hot pants, and at some point remarked that he wanted to squeeze young girls’ bottoms. And he did not stop there. He added another joke about girls with bad skin daring to wear hot pants. “The girls simply put pain to men’s eyes and not to mention that they commit a sin,” said the comedian.

Such jokes may be deemed harmless in a small group of adult and/or all-men audience setting. But on a public train where there were -- and will always be -- women (young and old) and children, the jokes might be perceived differently.

The comedian went beyond so-called “cute aggression,” a term coined by Rebecca Dyer of Yale University to describe a situation during which something cute, like images of wide-eyed kittens, causes us to become aggressive (precisely what slang term gemes means in Indonesian).

Sure enough, wanting to squeeze young girls’ bottoms for wearing tight shorts is not an expression of cute aggression at all. It is simply a very wrong message to pass on to young men and boys on the train, or anyone else watching for that matter. Worse, any young girl with unflattering skin who happened to choose a “wrong, inappropriate or sinful” outfit that day was also not there to be publicly ridiculed.

While the comedian might have had a good intention, in trying to entertain people, he actually turned out patronizing women in short pants and humiliating those with unflattering skin.

In fact, the comedian's remarks amount to blatant misogyny, as he suggested that women's value is contingent upon their sexual conduct (real or assumed), that their sexuality is shameful (and even sinful), and that other people have the right to judge them for what they do with their own bodies. He was slut-shaming strangers, one of a number of common sexist types of behaviors, as this Bustle article explains.

On the one hand, KAI Commuter Jabodetabek should be praised for having improved its services, particularly with regard to women commuters. It has introduced female-only train wagons, nursery rooms at train stations and priority seats for pregnant women. And the on-train entertainment is definitely a pleasant addition for commuters in the Greater Jakarta.

However, while the trivial information and motivational quotes definitely refresh our minds, the sexist remarks and casual body-shaming from the comedy segment showcases what has been described in a Huffington Post article as the "frighteningly blase attitude we have in dismantling women's bodies."

KAI should be more mindful in selecting the content for its newly launched on-train entertainment, an otherwise interestingly fresh and new outlet to educate the public about various topics, if it really wants to provide a safe and comfortable environment for women commuters.

Amron Hamdi is a communication and media specialist living and working in Jakarta. 

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