Friday, October 5, 2018

"LAYU SEBELUM BERKEMBANG": THE PREMATURE DEATH OF THE " #ME TOO MOVEMENT" IN INDONESIA



By Lily Hikam*)

Indonesian netizens have been all abuzz with the newest trending topic hitting the twittosphere. And it’s not the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the island of Sulawesi, it’s something far more sinister yet unimportant at the same time. It’s the current news/hoax of human rights and anti-Jokowi activist, Mrs. Ratna Sarumpaet (RS), lying about being physically assaulted.

From my understanding the facts are that this hoax was then perpetuated and given life by current Deputy Speaker of the House and Vladimir Putin’s number one fan, Mr. Fadli Zon. After it was proven a lie and that RS lied about the cause of her swollen face (it was actually due to facial surgery, as some reports have suggested), Mr. Deputy Speaker, along with everyone else in the opposition, got righteously indignant about being lied to, demanded an apology from Mrs. RS and are now engaged in a long, convoluted mental and word gymnastics to justify why they fell for her lie in the first place.

As a full disclaimer, I’m an outside observer and the farthest thing from a political analyst. What I am, though, is a human being with a functional left and right brain hemispheres, and as such I’m trying to think of why the whole mess happened in the first place.

One thing to examine is RS’s motive in creating such a lie. Was she ashamed of the swelling that is a side effect of liposuction? Or was she ashamed of getting facial surgery in the first place? To be clear, I’m not taking issue in her getting an elective cosmetic surgery. It is her right as a human being with complete autonomy of her body to do so at her and her physician’s discretion. What I take issue with is the fact that she lied about it and letting the lie perpetuate with no intention of ever telling the truth for unknown reasons. This incident utterly decimates her credibility. As a public figure and an activist, credibility is one of the most important qualities needed for such a career.

While her compatriots at the Prabowo-Sandiaga (PS) camp are busy coming to her defense with one outlandish defense after the other (from “feelings before facts” to “I’m a doctor and I still got duped”), the damage to her and PS camp’s credibility has been done. RS herself offers this as an explanation: “That was just a delusion inspired by Satan”. With all due respect, Ma’am, but I don’t think even Satan wants anything to do with this catastrophe.

Her false allegation of an assault has more repercussions than one could imagine, particularly to her fellow women. As a student who's currently been living in the US, it has brought to mind the struggle of women's right exemplified by the "#Me Too Movement" recently. As you may or may not know, the #MeToo movement is a grass roots movement in the US established by survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault intended to empower survivors to come forward and to raise awareness on the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse.

As is often the case victims of sexual assault and violence, the majority of which are women, are reluctant to come forward and report the crime due to various reasons. These reasons can range from fear of retaliation from the perpetrator, being led to believe that the assault was the victim’s fault, to the fear that even if the crime is reported nobody would believe that it even occur. The last point I mentioned is the number one reason why victims don’t report the crime: because they fear that nobody would believe them. I should also mention that nobody would ever make such a serious allegation unless this traumatic event happened to them.

Currently, the two-party system that controls the United States government is locked in a battle for the Supreme Court of the United States. With the retirement of associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate justice who is a key swing vote in many landmark cases, Republicans are seizing this chance to put a conservative Judge on the Supreme Court and secure a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Additionally, since Supreme Court appointments are for life, the appointment of one justice is sufficient to have a lasting impact on the United States’ way of life for generations to come. While Democrats opposed the judge nominated by President Trump, up until two weeks ago everyone thought that the nominee would be in the Supreme Court by the end of September, securing the conservative majority longed for by the Republicans.

However, things took a turn when a woman accused the judge of sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school. Suddenly the envisioned conservative majority is in jeopardy. The Senate Judiciary committee called for a testimony from the accuser, as well as the judge, to determine whether the allegations are credible. During her testimony in front of the senate Judiciary committee, the accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, detailed the assault that occurred 35 years ago with clarity and called for an FBI investigation on the matter. She also expressed her willingness to cooperate to any investigations that will potentially took place later. However, the accused, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, never called for an investigation and was disrespectful to the Democratic committee members. After the testimony, there was unanimous agreement that Dr. Blasey Ford was a “credible” witness and is now an icon of the #MeToo movement, and that Judge Kavanaugh acted in a partisan and partial manner, and there is now doubt on whether he is fit to be a justice serving in the highest court of the land.

The point of this backstory is that the one of the reasons the #MeToo movement in the US works is due to the credibility of the people involved in it. Consequently, the credibility of the women accusers as well as the accusations are of critical importance for the success of the movement. I have stated before that this incident destroys RS’s credibility. What I have not stated is that not only her credibility has been destroyed here, but the credibility of other women who are actual victims of assault, be it sexual violence based or not, have also been destroyed. Our (still) patriarchal society does not have the best track record in advocating for victims of assaults. Imagine now what would happen if another woman come forward with an assault allegation? All people would do is point at RS’s story and say, “She’s probably lying too”.

RS may not have foreseen this, but the harsh reality is women have always been held to a higher standard compared to men. It’s not enough for a woman to say that an assault has happened, a woman must also be able to proof it happened, why it happened and that the assault is not a result of whatever she did (not her fault). To the best of my knowledge, the #MeToo movement hasn’t started in Indonesia.

But in my opinion, RS has killed it before it even started. RS’s actions just lend credence to the false yet internalized belief that assault victims sometimes lie about what happened to them. Because of her actions, it is now even harder for female assault victims to seek justice. I have a theory on why this lie was started and perpetuated, but I won’t share it in this piece.

If this is just part of a political game, then it is truly a Machiavellian scheme that even Machiavelli would object. If it’s part of an elaborate attention-seeking scheme, then congratulations you have successfully diverged the netizens and the nation’s attentions away from our brothers and sisters who are suffering in Donggala and Palu. RS may have issued an apology to Prabowo and blamed Satan for the fallout of her lies, but the damage has been done. She might not envision the fallout of her lies, but as a known human rights activists, her actions are an anathema of who she is supposed to be.

*) PhD candidate
Zaragoza Lab
UCI Cardiogenomics Clinical and Research Program
Department of Biological Chemistry
The University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine
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