Mon, 25 Dec 2000

Young city women: Living in two worlds

By Joyce Djaelani Gordon

JAKARTA (JP): Let's just face it... Many of our young people living in big cities are living in two worlds. One foot is outside the door raring to go and venture out into the future of great possibilities, while the other foot is still stuck inside the house of yesterday, which is filled with customary expectations. Transition is a happening, and happening at a very fast rate. The instant mind, the instant now, and the instant Internet connection that the our young have access to, thanks to great developments in technology, does make this new generation of the young more informed, and ready to go.

Big cities in Indonesia each have two faces for this emerging new generation of young people. One can easily see the modern lifestyle that these young people engage in, from clothing to accessories, and daily life routine. Yet in the background, one can also easily see the traditional values have not changed all that much. This often is highly confusing, especially for young developing minds. Which one do you or should you follow? Do you follow the traditional values set within your home, or do you break yourself away from these values altogether and adopt modern values? When and where do you set limits? What is proper, and what is improper? Can you or can't you? That is what living in two worlds is all about.

The young women of today especially feel this transition, and sometimes they feel stuck between these two worlds. They feel this transition more acutely than many of their male counterparts. They, undoubtedly, have greater opportunities than ever before to pursue higher education and careers on their own, especially in big cities. Most of them would not even bat an eye, when asked whether they would like to continue their studies at the universities. They would. Less and less women are saying, "No thanks, I think I'll just be a housewife", if they can afford an education, and their families do not have any objections.

As the result of higher education, our young women are smarter and more informed than ever before, and they have more freedom. Yet, they also realize that real freedom is still illusionary, especially when it means having to break family traditions and family values. At one end, they ideally think they should be free..., but on the other hand their parents, and they themselves, are still oscillating between old and new values.

She sees clearly, the traditional values that limit her movements. Limits, that are not there for the male counterparts. Having the opportunity now to sit alongside their male counterparts, women in cities are also beginning to realize that they are as smart, and often, smarter than their male counterparts. And this clearly tells her that she can survive outside the kitchen, and be a breadwinner, a success. "Here I am, the breadwinner in the family, and yet my mother still yells at me. I have to be home by midnight, just like Cinderella. She never bothers with my brother who comes later than I," says Gina 25, a young, intelligent, and attractive executive.

Imagine this... A young Jakartan lady, in her early 20s, wanted to go on a vacation to Bali with her boyfriend. She wanted to give herself a gift for having completed her studies with flying colors. However, when she told her parents, they immediately went into a fit. It was okay for her to be independent, to work during and throughout her studies and pursue her career, but yet, this request was simply too much to ask from the parents. Of course you can imagine, as well as I can, and understand why her parents rejected her request for permission to go to Bali with her boyfriend. When she came to me, her question was whether she should break tradition, or whether she should respect tradition, while also telling me that she knows the boundaries that she is not to cross. So, this is the East..., and you cannot forget Eastern customs and values. I asked her, is it worth breaking? She was unable to answer.

On the other hand, many of our young urban women are also asking for independence, even though they are not physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually ready to be independent. An example is a young woman of 20, who says she wants to have her own life and live on her own. Yet, she is still almost totally dependent upon her parents, and living off them. She has no personal money to support herself, yet she is asking her parents to leave her alone and let her make her own choices. She lives basically on a credit card, paid on time by her wealthy parents. Another young woman, living in two worlds. She wants to be progressive, but she forgets that her one of her feet is still inside, indoors, of the house of her past. She fully believes that parents must, and should, support their children until they are married. To me, she is a real Sleeping Beauty. Not anywhere near awake yet. This is just another reflection of the transition, and what living between the two worlds can represent. Neither here nor there. And, basically, these two young women just want to have the best of both worlds. Meaning, pretty much, that they want to get away with whatever they themselves want. They want freedom, and they also still want to be protected and supported.


Many women are highly intelligent, so they can easily fill respectable positions with no problems, and often outshine their male counterparts, who sometimes lack the ability to attend to details. However, they want to be successful at work - and still be desirable to men. Many young women begin questioning, "If I'm too successful, then men would be too afraid of me to ask me out, or want to marry me!". Or, "Actually I want to be a doctor, but I'm afraid that female doctors would have difficulties in finding husbands..." Sharings like this is often uttered in private conversations, and in counseling sessions. Both statements are myths, of course, but real fears in the heads of these otherwise bright and intelligent women.

Young women of today may want to appear modern, but in day to day life, they are often held back by traditional values. This is the reality of the truth. Modern vs Traditional - is not something that is mutually exclusive. Both worlds coexist and overlap. Call it double standards if you wish, but think about how often you hear this following sentence uttered to our young women..., "Yes, sure you can honey... but..." And honestly, this can be extremely frustrating for a woman.

A women who is challenged enough to fight the nearly impossible..., may push and shove her way up. However, she would often find that her pathway is not totally free of obstacles. Whenever a woman is considered for an important position, or an important training, many would still exclaim, "But, she's a woman! What if she gets married soon? Has a baby? What if her husband were to be moved out of town....?" Being smart she may find herself heart broken, as her understanding opens up to the reality around her, and finding that she cannot find the way toward true freedom. For this, she suffers inside.

Kahlil Gibran, the famous poet wrote, "Modern civilization has made woman a little wiser, but it has increased her suffering because of man's covetousness. The woman of yesterday was a happy wife, but the woman of today is a miserable mistress. In the past she walked blindly in the light, but now she walks open eyed in the dark."

Yesterday's traditional young women are just happy with their lot. While she knows the limitations set upon women, she is happy enough to accept these limitations as is. Meanwhile, the modern women of today, being smart and intelligent, can feel the injustice.

Yet as Gibran continued to say, "She was beautiful in her ignorance, virtuous in her simplicity, and strong in her weakness. Today she has become ugly in her ingenuity, superficial and heartless in her knowledge. Will the day ever come when beauty and knowledge, ingenuity, virtue and weakness of the body, and strength of the spirit will be united in a woman?"


Some of today's city women, especially women who find their selves in male dominated industries, can develop to be ugly, manipulative, heartless and ruthless. This is often because of the fight she has had to withstand on her way up. She often would have to work twice as hard, with twice the determination and creativity a man would need to exert - just to proof that she is able. Yet, often this kind of women would lose themselves in the process, and turn to be superficial in their relations, and heartless in their affairs. The battle uphill is never an easy one, and often a woman may have killed her heart and feelings in order to survive this battle. As Gibran continued, understandingly, to say, "If a woman elevates herself in one respect and is retarded in another, it is because the rough trail that leads to the mountain peak is not free of ambushes of thieves and lairs of wolves."

"This strange generation exists between sleeping and waking. It holds in its hands the soil of the past and the seeds of the future. However, we find in every city, a woman who symbolizes the future," Kahlil wrote. And much what we see now in this new generation, is the same as it was when Kahlil wrote these words. And today it is true, more women are awakened with a new consciousness. However, not all of our young women will be truly awakened. Some may continue to sleep walk. Countless others will continue to be in deep sleep, waiting for a young prince to come and give her a ready-made identity.

I am sure there are many young women in our cities who symbolize the future. Perhaps you will recognize her from amongst the crowd. She is real, true, and she is smart. What is more, she is pure, has an air of innocence and radiates compassion and love. These women are the ones, who in their older years will continue to have heart, and stand with enough knowledge and wisdom to hold their ground. They will stand with determination, without setting aside their emotions and femininity. Virtuous, innocent, creative, brave, and simple at heart. These women will have strong and personal identities, identities that set them apart from the rest.

It would be up to us, the older women, to guide our young women of today, so that she would not be lost within the labyrinth of two worlds in confusion. Show her the way toward the future, without sacrificing her heart of true femininity that holds the fabric of mankind together.

The writer is a psychologist.