Author: Victoria Talullah
“Although a Balinese girl can work and have fun before marriage, all her freedom ends after marriage” - let's find out how women really live on the island paradise.
Being a woman in Indonesia is not easy. Especially in Muslim Java. In Bali, things are even more complicated.
The set of local laws, rules and traditions puts women at such a disadvantage that - in a funny way - it turns out to be privileged.
When a Balinese woman gets married, she moves into a new family. The scheme is the same as that of the Slavs: a special ceremony “discharges” her from the protection of the household spirits and ancestors of her parents. Another ceremony introduces her to her new family.
However, if for some reason she decides to get a divorce, which, in general, is not prohibited, then she will not be able to return home anyway. For that family, she seemed to have disappeared, “annihilated” - the parental spirits will not accept her back, it is believed that she will bring great misfortune to the family.
A divorced woman in Bali is less than anyone: she is defenseless against evil, has no ancestors or spirits to protect her.
She loses the right to participate in ceremonies (and for a normal Balinese this is the worst thing imaginable).
If a divorced woman's family or ex-husband's family supports her financially, they will do so as they would do for a stranger. For example, for a foreigner. Which, poor fellow, is just as deprived of the protection of the “invisible world.”
Why do we need financial support? Because a Balinese woman cannot have any property. Of course, there are schemes for the transfer of values; in the upper castes, gigantic fortunes change hands through marriages.
But officially, when changing families, a woman cannot take even a spoon from her parents’ house. And in the event of a divorce, she is officially obliged to leave everything to her husband, down to her underwear.
If the husband turns out to be a good person, in essence, he will give her money. And if not, just hope that Mom and Dad still love you. Well, or spin as best you can.
One of my friends divorced his wife last year when she caught him with his mistress. Although she was the initiator of the divorce, he, as an honest person, bought her a house and sold her a car to help with money for the first time. He was very worried - he planned to expand his business with this money. But he did it all anyway. Or he might not have done it. And no one would say a word to him.
The point is also that a good Balinese girl should not work after marriage. Before marriage, Balinese women have great freedom - perhaps the greatest of all Indonesian peoples.
They are allowed almost everything, they don’t even have to marry virgins - here they treat extramarital relationships leniently.
Education is encouraged, and if the family can afford it, then higher education. Most young people work, or at least earn extra money after studying. By the way, people start working part-time at the age of fourteen. After graduating from university, it is not customary here to hang on to your parents’ necks - they already paid a lot for their studies. A significant portion of third-year students already pay for university on their own and repay their debts to their parents.
Many girls even smoke, dress strangely, and do some creative projects - in general, everything is like ours. And, unlike Javanese women, no one is forcing them to get married. Go through suitors even until you are old, there are still far more men here than women, and loving parents are in no hurry to say goodbye to their daughter almost forever.
But if you’re already married, you’ll have to quit your job, otherwise those around you won’t understand. The only exception is family business. Those who are richer can start their own business, which automatically becomes a family business. Those who are poorer begin to work for free for a new family.
The main responsibilities of a Balinese woman after marriage are children, the kitchen, and the bedroom. Unlike some other countries, these occupations are considered quite labor-intensive, so nothing else is required of the woman.
Using the example of several families with whom I regularly communicate, I can note that no one expects any particular strain in these areas.
One day I was visiting when the hostess seemed to be cleaning, and I offered to help clean the kitchen. The answer I received was such astonished looks from both spouses that I almost fell through the ground. How do I know what it’s like to prepare a reception and refreshments for a hundred or two people at least once every two months?
After thinking about it, I concluded that if I had to do something like this, I wouldn’t worry about keeping the outside of the kettle clean either. Although I’m lying, of course, I would be worried.
My “inner critic” would close his eyes and moan in my mom’s voice, “What a shame what people will say!” But the Balinese have the lucky ability to not worry about things that don't matter.
Most of the Balinese women that I have met (except for representatives of the lower castes, that is, very poor girls) lead the most idle lifestyle after the birth of a child. In the tradition of the Upper East Side. They sleep for a long time, go to salons, and God knows what else they do without straining themselves.
The main home ceremonies are performed by men. Men are working. They also solve everyday problems. External cleaning, that is, everything except cleaning the rooms, is done by men. A woman’s only daily duty is to feed the whole family, no matter how many people there are, and sometimes there are up to thirty people.
And even raising children, in general, is not part of her responsibilities - from the very birth of the baby, her husband babysits him. From the moment a child turns two or three years old, he spends all his free time with him. At first, I remember, I was touched and surprised a hundred times a day.
Yes, not all countries have such traditions; sometimes in other cultures, there are “nominal” dads. Here every second man carries a child with him.
At least every ten minutes you can meet a dad on a motorbike, in front of whom stands a child from two to ten years old, clutching a special attachment.
But the fact is that local laws and traditions do not give mothers rights to children. She does not have the right to make a single decision without the permission of the child’s father, is not responsible, is not a guardian or guarantor, and, in fact, according to the law, there is practically no one for this child at all. (As long as the father is alive. But if not, these rights pass to his closest relatives, that is, essentially nothing changes.)
Rights to a child can be obtained in court, but to do this it is necessary to prove that the father and all his relatives are insolvent or renounce their rights.
The same friend of mine who divorced his wife on her initiative signed a special document stating that he does not object to his mother meeting her own children. Or I might not sign. And no one would, of course, say a word to him.