What We Talk When We Talk About Rewriting Rules

I accidentally stumbled upon an Instagram post about TedxMlatiWomen some time ago (there is good in mindlessly scrolling my Instagram feed after all, although this is definitely not recommended on a daily basis!) with the theme “Rewrite the Rules”. The first ever Tedx event to be held in Yogyakarta. I wanted to be part of it.

I immediately signed up and after waiting for a few days, I finally got my ticket. I went alone, knowing that if I waited/asked for friends to come, I would end up not going. I was a little nervous going alone, but this opportunity doesn’t come twice so I just went with it.

The atmosphere was great, a lot women and men came. People queued up properly, there was no pushing, everyone was polite. I saw a few women who were there by themselves and I felt less alone. I emptied my schedule for the day, knowing that it was going to be a long evening. It started at 15.00 and finished around 21.00. The event was split into two parts, with dinner in between, provided by the team.

I could tell you about all the talks but I won’t. There will be videos posted about them soon, like all the other TED talks. However, I will share with you two of my favourites.

The event started with a bang. Or at least I thought so. Ellen Kristi, a homeschooling activist, talked about embracing your life’s calling. She told us about her decision to homeschool her children. It was a tough decision, since homeschooling isn’t the “norm”, but she was adamant. Kristi explained several reasons, including how school often doesn’t give the freedom children need, instead it restricts children to focus on things like grades. She sees homeschooling as a way to criticise the sacralisation of school.

As an educator, I really found her talk inspiring. It was also like a slap in the face. The education system in Indonesia is a lot of bureaucracy, and whether we like it or not, teachers often contribute to that. It is certainly a reminder for me and also for all educators in Indonesia to see children beyond their grades. It is our responsibility to encourage them to find their passion and strive for it. More importantly, we must be open minded and not so judgemental when the same kids fail our course. Education must be a place where children can have freedom of expression and curiosity. I thank Kristi for this strong reminder.

She went on talking about her other decisions in life, including marriage. While she chose to get married, her reason to do so was not something forced. She sees her husband as a life partner who supports her to follow her calling, even when that requires some “extreme maneuvers” as she puts it. Kristi explained that life callings can be in many different forms, it is up to us to listen, welcome and follow them.

The ending of the event was a performance and talk by Rianto. He danced so eloquently and I was fixated on every movement he made. He first appeared in a woman’s attire with full make up, konde and a mask. After the first dance, he stood up proudly, taking the mask off and started talking. It was so moving, I could hear some sniffles inside the room. He told us of his childhood as a kid who loved to dance. How his friends called him banci (queer) and bullied him. He followed his passion, he didn’t stop dancing.

Now he resides in Tokyo and has a dance academy there. He is the inspiration for the movie Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku. As he stood on the podium, he took off his mask, konde, then his dress. At last he took off the upper garment, leaving him with a pair of trousers. He took another mask, this time a male character. With assurance in his voice, he said that all bodies have both masculinity and femininity. To him, it was unfair if he only lets the masculinity dominates his body. Through dancing, he was able to have an equilibrium between the two forces.

What exactly is rewriting the rules? Does it have to be a tremendous act? Does it have to make a difference to the whole world? The whole nation? The whole city? For me, rewriting the rules can be the smallest act of change, like accepting those who might be shunned by the community. Or, like Kristi, choosing to be single, no matter what her family says, until she found someone she truly believes and be comfortable in sharing her life callings with. It can also be being persistence in our passion, despite what others say about us, just like Rianto. Of course, it can also mean doing something big that creates a humongous ripple effects for others.

Rewriting the rules is a challenge for Indonesian women and also for the minorities in Indonesia who have so little voice. Listening to these talks, gave me hope. Hope, that maybe our small acts of rewriting rules can affect one or two people around us. Hope, that however hard things may be when we go against the norms, there is still a chance to be heard. Whatever it is our acts, we must do it with all the passion we have. We have to do it according to the calling we are supposed to follow.

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