My mother is a widow. If a few years ago, she didn’t decide to end her marriage and become a widow, I most likely wouldn’t have the courage to write like this now. The situation will be different.
As far as I can remember, it took a very long time for my mother to mentally prepare herself to dare to be a widow. Besides being afraid of not being able to support us, her two daughters, she is also very worried about how people will think of her if she becomes a ‘widow.’ Also how will people view her two daughters who will be raised by a widow.
However, my sister and I, who were already teenagers at that time, could see the unhappiness experienced by my mother. Her happiness not only vanishes materially but also immaterially (mind). We’ve been miserable enough. Compared to what we experienced, the views of those around us are trivial things that (we believe) will be overlooked.
We also begged her to file for divorce from her husband: our father. We continue to support her. We pray for her. We were honest with her that we weren’t happy with the marriage she was trying to keep. We convinced her to open up to her family, asking for help to solve the problems she was facing.
Three years later, my mother did. She then officially became a widow.
It is not easy to bear the status of a widow in a country where people still think that a couple is better than living alone. The assumption is that the highest purpose of a woman’s life is marriage. Or the assumption that a good woman is a woman who is loyal to her family, can take care of her children, husband and maintain the integrity of the household no matter what bad conditions she experiences.
In Indonesia, literally the word “widow” is interpreted negatively. The social perspective positions widows as unsold women, women who can be seduced as they please, or flirtatious women who can damage other people’s households.
Rarely do people want to ask: why did she decide to divorce her partner? Though a thousand problems can happen in her marriage. Quite often I hear of cases, at least in my social circle, where a wife sues her husband for divorce because of an affair, sexual violence, does not want to share work at home, or a husband who rarely comes home, busy with his activities outside the home.
This assumption is different with men. If a man cheats, being rude and irresponsible, he will be considered as a matter of course, responded with a simple sentence, “Ah… it’s just man being a man.”
Admit it, until now, men’s bad behavior is still explained, while women have to bear all the social demands that are so burdensome.
Justito Adiprasetio, Lecturer of the Faculty of Communication Sciences at Padjadjaran University, in an interview with tirto.id (23/01/2017), said that the difference in the value of the words “widower” and “widow” comes from the material background of the word. According to him, the shift in the meaning of the word “widow” is a symptom of a strong patriarchal system in Indonesian society. This is because, in a patriarchal culture, there is an assumption that when married, women tend to depend on men, so after divorce, widows have no bargaining value other than their bodies and sexuality. Unlike the widower who is considered to have another bargaining value in the form of the ability to work.
Honestly, going back to the dark past, my sister and I don’t really understand how scary it is to be a widow for a woman like my mother. How in the early days of the terror-filled divorce, many times she had the desire to give up. She surrendered to God while hesitantly continued to struggle to support her two daughters, which she always referred to as her ‘most valuable possession’.
And if I look at my mother’s life now, I can smile and feel very proud of her persistence in living her choice with full responsibility. I am grateful because she believes in her ability to find a way to reach her happiness, her independence, and her rights to be an empowered human being. My mother is a real example of a widowed woman who has the power to break down and break all the bad stigma attached to her status.
Now, just watch, my mother is still (and probably will still be) a widow. An independent and happy woman!