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Nahdarin - Learning and Diversity

My Mother’s Daughter is a collection of stories reflecting on the traditions of femininity and what it means to identify as a mother, daughter, sister and most of all, a woman, in Australia. In this series, we speak to women of various ages, cultures and backgrounds to glimpse into who and what has shaped them as the strong and inspiring people they are today, as well as the legacy they build for their children and community.

Nahdarin, Darin to her friends, is a 20-year-old Law and Music Engineering student at Monash University in Melbourne. Born in Indonesia and raised in Perth, her experience of femininity has proven to be sometimes culturally conflicting.

In this phone interview, she discusses how her childhood has shaped her ideas on how to be a strong and confident woman, and the pressure to be an expert in order to have a voice.

[Transcript]

So my ideas of femininity and female identity, I think it kind of changes with every person, like I don’t really believe there is a very kind of, universal idea of what it means to be female. Like for me, personally it means kind of, being hard working and being the best kind of person, family member, daughter, sister, whatever. Where as for some other people it’s to like, provide kind of a thing. But it’s–I’ve always believed it is different for everyone.

How it apply to me, like I think it’s–like if I give an example of my family, like for my mum at the moment is just to kind of provide for me, because that’s her idea of womanhood, to be a good mother and stuff, whereas for me personally I think, it kind of changes the way I act around people. Like, of course it’s like for me femininity is being hard working and being kind being honest and stuff like that, but yeah I don’t know if that makes sense, but.

So I think being a young woman in Australia right now, it kind of means experimenting, I guess. I think we’re at a really cool moment of this kind of like ‘new wave’ of feminism where, like, different kinds of femininity are being explored and expressed and stuff, where being a woman at the moment in Australia, even though it still has sexism and stuff like that, but I think it is kind of being a bit more free to express yourself. Like, I’ve realised these past few years that the way that people even see makeup, which is you know seen as a feminine thing, it’s kind of change a little bit, like people are more accepting of it as an art rather than just this thing that women do. And I think it’s just kind of experimenting with who you are and how you see yourself as feminine.

It’s so good to see everyone be able to do things that were previously thought of as feminine. Like a lot more people–I see a lot more male dancers, I see a lot more male makeup artists, I see a lot more male fashion designers, especially in the music industry. You know, cause I study music, people are expressing themselves the way  that they just feel like, they don’t care at all. And so, we’ve got guys wearing makeup, we’ve got guys doing ballet and stuff like that, it’s really, really cool and really, really interesting to see, the differences between the different kind of workplaces.

When it comes to my family, we do from a very–because I’m from Indonesia, there is a bit more of a stereotype that comes with women. Like, obviously it is a bit more traditional and conservative, so there is that expectation that women should be more gentle, more submissive kind of a thing. So I guess, like, there are different people in my family that have taught me different things. Like, some of my sisters-in-law, for example, like they’re really into–one of them is really, really into fashion and into makeup and stuff, so I’ve kind of learnt how to–and you… she’s very proud that she’s a woman and stuff–so I kind of see her, the way that she dresses has impacted me in the way that I dress as well, and kind of how I think dressing femininely for me, is. Whereas my other sister-in-law, she’s a lot into sports and a lot more into, like, bodybuilding and stuff like that. So, that’s also kind of a part of my femininity. Whereas my mum, she’s so hard-working and stuff, so she’s taught me that part of my femininity. So it’s kind of like, because my family is so dynamic and so different, and also growing up in a different country and then coming somewhere else as well, those two differing kind of like ideas of womanhood, they shaped the way that I view womanhood to be gentle but not submissive, and also hard-working and also taking care of your body and stuff. Yeah, so I think that’s how the female figures in my family at least, [cut out my voice] have really shaped me to be the young women that I am now, I guess.

So, like I think the most vivid example that I can think of is kind of my first week of primary school. Because in Indonesia, we are taught–like women are taught to be gentle, and to do work that is, you know, not hard labour and just kind of like, office work so you don’t destroy your body in that sense, if that makes. The first week of primary school, one of my classmates, his mum works in construction and she came to pick him, I was like around 8 at this time, she came to pick him up in her work boots and her high vis, stuff like that, and I just thought that was so weird, like that was the moment where I realised, “Oh, like people are–there’s different expectations here, where women are just, you know they can do work that they want, they it won’t really draw much attention as it would in Indonesia. Because in Indonesia, like doing labour work is not a very, it’s not very socially acceptable when it comes to women, because we’re kind of expected to do office work and stuff. But like, when I saw her with her work boots and she was all dirty and sweaty, and she had tattoos as well, which was so weird to me, because only men get tattoos over there, and I just saw her, she was like really–a bit more masculine I guess if you can call it that. She was very, I could tell that she was very strong when it comes to physically, and the way that she talked was a bit more what people in Indonesia would call ‘rough’ as well. And that was probably the moment, or like the memory that was the most vivid that I just remember being so weirded out. But, yeah, I think like I accept it more now, but when I was a kid that was just so weird to me.

Yeah, so when it comes to pressures, it is–I feel like it’s a lot less physical now, because in the past I feel like there was this notion of, “Yeah, you should look like this, you should like that.” I think people now re getting a little bit more lax about it, or at least I am so I’m projecting it onto the world, but I think physically I don’t really feel any pressure to look a certain way, but when it comes to what I’m studying and how hard I’m working in what I’m doing, I do feel that kind of pressure to just not make mistakes, if that makes sense. Like, in the music industry it’s really hard for women to get taken seriously, because a lot of us are singers and so, we don’t have I guess a lot of the technical knowledge that a lot of other musicians, especially in the jazz scene, do. I’ve experienced a lot of sexism in the music industry when I was in Perth, when I was gigging a lot, when I was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, from the men saying, “Oh, you don’t–it’s alright, we’ll do it for you, you don’t understand whereas I do actually understand and stuff. And then, I do make a mistake, and they’re just like, “you don’t understand, so I’ll do it for you.” But, I think, especially in the music industry, that kind of expectation to just know everything, where it’s a bit more acceptable for the men to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. And I think it’s the same with the law side of things as well, because I’m studying law. They’re like, such different industries but I do kind of see that expectation in the law side of things, to just not be able to form an opinion that is logical and unbiased, because that’s what you have to do in law. I feel like, especially from my male peers, like my students, my fellow students and stuff, they do expect me to be really emotional about it and really left wing about stuffy, when in reality, at least in my opinion I’m just kind of seeing things through logic rather than through, which is so baffling to them. But I think, yeah I think in general when it comes to pressures, it’s about knowing, and not making mistakes, and just kind of being perfect when it comes to intellectuals and stuff like that.

Copyright © 2019 Nahdarin

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.


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