A Conversation with Abenk Alter: On Breaking The Stereotype of Gender Roles

Posted by: Kania Anggiani

A Conversation with Abenk Alter:
On Breaking The Stereotype of Gender Roles

In this day and age, there have been major shifts in modern Indonesian family, how the roles of men and women are portrayed in the society. Long gone the days when men had to work 9-5 to support the family and women had to stay at home to do daily chores.

As a tribute to Kartini, and as a part of our #darlingconversations, we sat down with Abenk Alter, an artist who has broken the stereotype of gender roles. With his home as his playground for both work and leisure, he has all the time and flexibility he needs to achieve his dreams as well as being a stay-at-home father.

In the society you live in, are there many stigmas about gender roles?
I would say that I live in a modern society. But apart from their open-mindedness, most of my male friends still live in a conservative way, they work 9-to-5 and go home with everything prepared by their wives, which I think is totally fine and that’s what works for them.

But at the moment I have a different situation that’s pretty uncommon in the society: a husband working from home. I remember there’s this one time, someone commented on my wife’s blog saying, “Why would you want to be with Abenk, a man with an uncertain career path?” I wasn’t offended by it, but the question definitely struck me. It's undeniable that the reality today this kind of stereotypical thinking - that men have to have certain attributes (e.g. wearing a suit and tie working from 9-5) to be considered successful, still pretty much exists. But I'm totally comfortable with my situation right now without overthinking what people say.

How is your work flexibility affecting your domestic life?
I have to say our arrangement at the moment is ideal for my little family, it works for us. To be honest, my wife likes the flexibility of my work, because that way, it’s easier for us to manage our schedules around our daughter, Aura. When I’m at home, I get to spend more time with her. Regarding my work, whatever that I’m doing in achieving my artistic desires is visible because it’s being done at home.

Do you think your role at home is equal to your wife?
Looking from the big picture, no. I wouldn’t say I thoroughly comprehend the idea of feminism, but what people have been trying to achieve is the equality between men and women. In terms of financial, social or political rights, at some stage, I think it can be equal.

But in the truest sense of men and women, I don’t think it will ever be equal because it is the reality. The natural tendency that is given by God between men and women is not to be negotiable, it is how it is. In fact, I think our differences make the universe balanced. For instance, when I’m being at home with Aura while my wife is out at work, I can only do my best but I can never replace her essential role as a wife and a mother and vice versa.

It’s not wrong to have a dynamic and agile perspective; we don’t necessarily live our lives by sticking to the existing views or even the old ones. It’s okay to exchange roles in order to feel and experience the sense of tolerance and empathy.

"I think being courageous is one of the most important traits a person could acquire."

What is feminism to you?
From the aspect of social life, feminists are opening the doors to equal opportunities for women. In order for feminism to succeed, the men have to acknowledge the reality that they have to give the same chances to women, and at the same time, the women have to realize the fact that they have the same opportunities as men - they need to work their best for their own well-being.

What do you think is the future of feminism? For instance, are you concerned that there’s a huge chance that the roles of men in the professional world will be replaced by women?
I don’t really have a say in this because I’m not worried about it at all. What I’m concerned about is the society’s reaction since not everyone will be used to the shifts in the dynamic world that we live in. It’s easy to say that there might be conflicts.

For me personally, this shift becomes an opportunity for men to push their potentials to be a better person, a better father, a better partner. To see it from the positive side, it will cultivate a better civilization. Like in sports, there will be a healthy competition between men and women that will eventually advance the welfare of humankind.

"To be alive in this era means I have better opportunities and advantages to express myself in my field of work. I can be more of what I am because I’m not bound by the old paradigms."

What does it feel to be alive in this era?
To be alive in this era means I have better opportunities and advantages to express myself in my field of work. I can be more of what I am because I’m not bound by the old paradigms.

I’m just very content that I’m at this stage of my life because I have more flexibility to achieve my dreams although if that means that I have to start from zero. I think being courageous is one of the most important traits a person could acquire.

"Keep dreaming, dream as long as you can dream! If you have no dreams, what would life be?"

- R. A. Kartini

Text by Elisa Kuswari
Photographs by Asita Yulia
Creative Direction by Kania Anggiani

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