Dear Ridwan Kamil: Remove Yourself From Your Wife’s Narrative (Unabridged)

Hi everyone! Today is a pretty short post. My open letter to Pak Ridwan Kamil was recently published in the Magdalene (read it here).

A few edits were made that I don’t entirely agree with, and the English grammar also suffered a bit. So here’s the original version, which is admittedly a bit harder to read.

In response to this caption (full English translation below).

Hi, Pak Ridwan. I’m writing this letter to you because I read your caption on an Instagram post you made recently, about how proud you are of your wife. I found the sentiment very sweet.

You might be confused as to why people commented rude things on your post, or why they took issue with parts of your caption. I saw the defense you provided in your following posts.

You say that your marriage is founded in a belief and love in Islam, which is something I can recognize and appreciate — after all, my own marriage is founded in a belief and love in Catholicism. In Catholicism, wives are also expected to submit to their husbands, who act as the head of the households. Don’t believe me? Read Ephesians 5:22:

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”

It’s pretty clear that as a Catholic wife, I have to submit to my husband. I have to respect his place as the head of the family. I’m sure you’d agree with everything I’m saying so far.

But — here’s the thing. If you read on a little bit more, you’ll get to Ephesians 5:25, which says:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

So, in Catholicism, wives do have to submit to their husbands. But here’s the thing most people forget — husbands have to love and submit to — and even sacrifice themselves for — their wives too. It has to work both ways.

But that’s not why I’m writing this letter.

You said in your Instagram caption that you “care very much about the potential for women to move forward” (sangat peduli dengan potensi perempuan untuk berkemajuan). This is the first statement you make — that you’ve given your wife permission to be as great as she possibly can be because you care about women.

Look, Pak Ridwan. I mean this very respectfully, but to tell you the truth, when I read your comment, I don’t feel like you really care about me. I don’t feel like you care about women at all. I think that you care about yourself.

Here’s why. Look at all the statements you make in your caption:

“I give my wife permission and support to study.”

(Saya mengizinkan dan mendukung istri saya untuk studi S2 magister).

I’ve even given her permission to become the head of more than six organizations.”

(Saya pun mengizinkan istri saya menjadi ketua lebih dari 6 organisasi).

I often invite her to watch football/practice extreme sports with me, activities that some might believe are reserved for men.”

(Saya sering ajak si cinta nonton bola, sesuatu yang mungkin…dianggap sebagai dunia lelaki).

And here’s the clincher:

“If I demand that my wife focuses on raising our family,

(Jika saya menuntut istri saya untuk fokus mengurus keluarga).

“and order her to diligently get spa treatments

(dan menyuruh istri saya untuk rajin ke salon luluran)

“and desire that she take care of her body and face so that she’s always lovely and clean,

“Meminta ia merawat tubuh dan wajahnya agar selalu kinclong dan bersih)

“that’s because that’s part of the nature of her status,

(Itu karena sudah bagian dari kodrat statusnya)

so that I always fall more in love with her each day.”

(Agar saya selalu jatuh cinta setiap hari kepadanya).

I can respect the foundations of your marriage, and I congratulate you for being married for 21 years. You’re clearly doing something right. But at the same time, I find it very disingenuous that you’d say that you care about women.

Pak, please look at your caption. When I read it, all I hear about is you, you, you, and you. What i hear is that you think your wife should be grateful, because you have given her so many opportunities to succeed. She should be thanking you, because you are a kind husband who supports her dreams.

What about her? If you really believe in the potential of women, why didn’t you talk more about your wife? Why did you talk about yourself (a man) and everything you’ve done for her?

Being a feminist doesn’t mean I hate all men or think that women deserve to be better than men. I just want to be respected. I want my achievements to be recognized, not credited to my husband or father or to another man. A woman is not “less” than a man simply because she is a woman. Like you said, Pak, “hidup harus tetap seimbang”. Balanced — and to be balanced, both sides have to be equal. Every person has their own unique skills. They also have their own weaknesses — but being a woman is not one of them.

Pak, I appreciate that you say you care about women. But if you want to really prove it, why not try talking less about your contributions and more about her success? Caring about women means giving them the freedom to learn about who they are and what they want. It means valuing them — not just as women, but as individuals. What we’ve been fighting for all this time is recognition and respect based on our own successes and achievements. We are wives, sisters, daughters, and mothers, but we are also humans who deserve to be valued based on our own merit.

I wish you had talked about your wife more in your caption: about her strengths and accomplishments. She’s amazing not because you “allow” her to be or because you “support” her. She’d be amazing with or without you. You aren’t the reason she accomplishes wonderful things. She does that all by herself.

Think of it this way: women (and everyone) are like stars. Stars produce their own light. Your wife is a star, and produces light. You say that you “allow” her to do this and that, which is why she is shining so brightly now. But that’s not true. She shines brightly because that’s her nature as a star. If her light isn’t visible, then it’s because something — or someone — is blocking it.

Your entire caption says, “My wife shines because I let her,” and “My wife shines so brightly because of me.” And your last statements say, “I control how bright she shines, and have the right to demand that she shine even brighter to fulfill her responsibility to me, her husband.”

Do you see how selfish and arrogant that sounds? It’s cruel to try and block the light of a star, or to force it to bend to your will. And it’s ridiculous to say that a star needs to ask for permission to be great or beautiful or bright.

As women, all we want is to shine freely. And sometimes, Pak, being a feminist or caring about women simply involves stepping aside and giving them the spotlight for a change. Want to learn how to really help women? Remove yourself from the narrative for a second, and think about how you can help women shine freely. Let them stand on their own two feet.

My warmest regards,

Translated caption: I care very much about the potential of women to move forward. That’s why, as a husband, I’ve given my permission and support to my wife @ataliapr to study her master’s degree (and she’s best graduate!!). She’s even going to get a PhD.

Though she has responsibilities as a mother to raise our children, I’ve also given my wife permission to be the chairman of over 6 organizations, both governmental and non-profit. I often invite her to watch football, practice climbing with me, and even go rafting — things that some might believe belong in the world of men. That’s because I respect modern women very, very much.

BUT there still must be balance. A wife must exist as support, and stand beside her husband, the head of the family, because that’s what a proper Islamic marriage requires of her.

If I demand that my wife focus on taking care of our family, and order her to diligently go to the salon, and desire that she take care of her face and body so that she’s always clean and lovely, that’s because that’s part of the nature of her status [as a wife], so that I will fall more in love with her each day. Not because I’m sexist (the definition of which is still debatable, anyways). Thank you.”