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by Jennie S. Bev

During the past three weeks that I have been in Jakarta, I have been experiencing “gender shock”. In this city that never sleeps, I feel old, disrespected and disposable as a childless woman in my early 40s. In addition to my “Caucasian” body frame of 172.5 centimeters in height or 181.5 cm in heels, it is hard for me to “blend in” among Indonesians whose average height is 150- to around 160 cm. 

In the US, I felt so alive. Yes, “life begins at 40” and 40-something women in my home state of California are no less physically or intellectually attractive when compared to their 20 to 30-year-old sisters. Also, though your experiences do matter, age is not a hindrance when applying for a job as the law protects you.

Drop-dead gorgeous women in their 40s in Hollywood include actresses Lucy Liu, Jennifer Aniston, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry and Salma Hayek. Drop-dead intelligent women over 40 include top-notch authors and intellectuals Amy Chua, Lisa See, Naomi Wolf, Arianna Huffington, Naomi Klein and the late Iris Chang.

Many women in the US have just started having babies in their 40s, thanks to technology that has reduced risks, and a longer lifespan, which have made the excuse, “If I have a baby when I’m 40, I’ll be dead when he or she goes to high school” obsolete.

Actress and wife of John Travolta, Kelly Preston, for instance had her last baby when she was 47 years old. Many Indonesian women of the same age consider themselves “grandmotherly”. Both Berry and Hayek also had their first child in their 40s. After all, being gorgeous inside and out is a choice.

As a childless woman in my early 40s, cynical comments were expressed as soon as I introduced myself to a new acquaintance. They usually asked, “How many kids do you have?” My answer was, “No, I don’t have kids.” “Why?”

Such rude and insensitive remarks are astonishing. During my 15 years of residing in the US, not even a very close friend of mine had asked why my husband and I did not have kids. And most Americans know that it is probably a choice.

“Having no kids is a choice?” said my surprised Indonesian acquaintance. 

It is since Obgyn technology is so advanced that “infertile” men or women have several options. Depending on the fertility issues experienced by every individual, options available include using own sperm, own egg and own uterus or using donor sperm, donor egg and donor uterus. The manner of conception can be natural, through insemination, or through IVF.

Thus, if your sperm is no good but your wife’s egg and uterus are good, then there is alternative way to conceive. If your sperm is good and your lady’s egg is good, but her uterus is not, then you can “rent” a uterus through a surrogate. 

If both of you have superb sperm, egg and uterus but have been experiencing difficulties due to blocked fallopian tubes, which can be because of endometriosis or other issues, you can conceive outside the uterus, on the petri dish — the IVF way. With so many permutations, it is almost impossible to not have kids despite any fertility issues.

However, the “common” response expressed to a childless woman is that she is the cause of the childlessness, which I had often experienced. Some told me to drink such-and-such jamu (herbal medicine) or to receive a special urut (massage) on the abdomen. 

Jamu and urut can have adverse effects depending on the issues. For instance, those with endometriosis or polycystic must take good care of their abdomen, as any pressure on cysts may create complications. Those with hormonal issues must know exactly what she is taking orally.

In Indonesia, sexist jokes about women and sexual acts are often expressed by men who have a distinct position in society. It is a form of verbal oppression and gives patriarchy a bad name. In the US, expressing such jokes may result in job loss or a sexual harassment lawsuit, if it occurs in a corporate environment.

Pornography and prostitution are extreme forms of misogyny, for they involve the darker side of a human’s psyche, a stronger form of disrespect with a hint of violence.

“A man has biological needs,” a friend once told me when I confronted him that he should put an end to using the services of “bad girls”, the term he uses. He did not realize that he was exercising the “dirty part” of patriarchy, misogyny it is, for he did not care whether the prostitutes were victims of trafficking or drugged to perform.

Despite all of this, I am blessed for choosing to be a gorgeous woman inside and out.[]

The Jakarta Post, February 3, 2013

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