Feminism 101 with Hannah Al Rashid

Indonesia, the world’s 14th-largest country with 1.904.569 square kilometres. And in all these islands live an estimated population of over 263 million people with 50% of it being female. Although winning by the slight 1%, Indonesia is dominated by male leaders. In a patriarchal community, Indonesians are very familiar with the popular saying that still unfortunately runs, “A woman’s domain is around the house.” A simple word that roars: kodrat or inherent nature as “good wife and mother”, though less in positive way; woman’s role becomes as limited as subordinate to men within the family and the state/government. Eerie, yet true. Breaking down the barrier and speaking about gender equality is not a walk in the park. Though it is hard, but the 31-year-old Hannah Al Rashid consistently voices out her mind. Artistically, she expresses her talent in acting in front of the camera. Off the camera, Hannah becomes the voice that millennials and fellow feminists look up to. Letter F was very fortunate to have a tête-à-tête interview session with the Buffalo Boys actress.

Yes, Buffalo Boys, a film that got mentioned by our two previous muses: Yoshi and Ario.

“Did Bayu mention about Buffalo Boys?”

He indeed did, among his other 5 movies.

“5 movies?? That’s so many!”

Yes, we were as surprised as you were. How about your film projects, what do we expect from Hannah this year?

“I had a TV series project with Astro Malaysia and the aforementioned Buffalo Boys, it’s an international project.”

We heard about the movie from 3 different actors, and quite frankly we can’t wait to see it on the big screen. But for now, let’s talk about yourself. You once lived in the UK, right? So when you finally returned here, did you spot any contrast between here and there?

“I’m not sure ‘return’ is the right word because I’ve never lived here. I was born and raised in the UK, I’ve only been here twice. At first, to me, Indonesia is a foreign concept because I physically very rarely came here, but my house (in the UK) is very Indonesian. I was raised in an Indonesian feel by my father, who’s an Indonesian, eventhough my mother is French and I lived in the UK. So when I first came here in 2006 through a one-year abroad program, I spent 6 months in Jogja and the rest of 6 months in Malang, I was so prepared because I thought I knew Indonesia what with all the background taught by my father. And that’s when I first experienced a culture shock. I was exposed with Javanese culture, and it was 180 degrees different with Bugis culture that I’ve known. And after that, I read a lot about Javanese and Bugis cultures and philosophies, and they’re totally different. I was shocked because turns out what I’ve learned about Indonesia is very general, but at the same time I was very amazed of the fact that Indonesia has so many different cultures and they preserve their own culture that it made me -a person who thought she was very familiar with all things Indonesian- question myself.”

“Two years later, I moved to Jakarta. It got me thinking that there’s different places and ways of thinking but we’re all one. So when I first came back here again, I felt like I now comprehend a lot of things about Indonesia. I have my Bachelor of Arts in Indonesian and Development Studies, I took Indonesian language and literature. I also participated as Pencak Silat athlete, I was the representative to compete in European tournament and all – so I felt so Indonesian, right? But I was shocked for the second time because people only perceive me as just another bule. When I dealt with people from the immigration, they thought of me as another bule and to be honest I was heart broken. To feel that I was so Indonesian only to be treated like that, so my coming back here was bittersweet. I feel like this is my home, but at the same time people treat me like I’m just another bule.”

So when you finally moved here, what did you do first to go by? Did you immediately go into showbiz world?

“When I first moved here, I initially wanted to work for UNDP, especially since at the time there’s the aftermath from Poso conflict, what happened in Maluku, and the post-rehabilitation in Aceh. I was naïve back then to think that since I got a degree in a related background, I’m fluent in several languages, I thought, ‘I could nail the job’, turns out it wasn’t easy. I didn’t get the job I wanted. But prior to moving here, I got offers as a commercial model and music video model, so after 2-3 months in here, I decided to take the presented offers from the showbiz world. That’s when I started to develop a passion in acting. Started out in music video, and then MTV, and then a sitcom, and in 2012, I got an offer to play in Joko Anwar’s movie.”

Are you talking about Modus Anomali?

“Yes. Though not many people like and understand the movie, unfortunately. I admit, the film is very technical– they used various techniques to make you feel uncomfortable on purpose. For me, this film is a film for filmmakers. The film knows how to build certain feelings and ambiences. The camera work also made you, as an audience, as if you’re the leading role—that you’re part of the movie. That’s the whole point.”

The coolest way to get introduced as an actress, we might add.

“Joko is my biggest influence, working with him motivates me to dive in and explore more. He’s like a mentor. I feel like acting is very simple, to say the least, it’s how you as an actress change your perception and dig deeper and to bring them on screen. When a person has a lot of life experiences, they also got a library of emotions inside them. And to act is to grab that library to let out a specific emotion or feeling to the screen.”

In a way, it’s like a cathartic experience?

“Definitely. There’s a sense of cathartic and the thought of you being someone else, it’s very attractive to be able to be someone else especially when you’re playing as the bad guy. Because I think that every person has their good and bad side, and to be able to have the opportunity to explore the bad side is quite enticing. I mean, my curiosity towards bad stuff is expressed through the movies so I wouldn’t be curios, you know? Cause I’ve done it in films.”

From your Instagram feed, we noticed that you’re vocal about women’s rights. Could you share more about that?

“I’m always concerned about it, but with social media as platform, I get to really talk about these facts. And I grew up in a feminist family, my father is a feminist. Being the only daughter, he would support me more in terms of education. My father knows the value of educating your daughter. And I think because of that, I grew up as a feminist. When I was a kid, the boys won’t let us play football because we’re girls, so I lobbied the head master and asked him to let us girls play football once a week. And we were given the chance, for a 10-year-old me it felt glorious. My first experience towards harassment against women was in here. From gender-based harassment to gender-based violence, there’s a lot of cases and that’s why I feel like I have to speak up. I was approached by the UN and they have these sustainable development goals and I got to choose a topic so I chose gender equality. Because how can you not? You live in a country that has a lot of gender-based violence and an unequal opportunity due to your gender. They agreed and knowing that I can be very vocal, they said, ‘Do what you want’. And that’s how it all started really.”

Talking about gender equality, there’s always a common misconception in the society’s eyes. What do you first notice about that?

“I’m not sure why but discussing about gender in whatever context is considered taboo, apparently, and they always associate the topic with religions and cultures when they’re actually not. Also, somehow people think that whenever a person talks about gender equality, they think that the person is a LGBTQ pro, a feminist, doesn’t like men, that they’re lesbians. There’s just too many misconceptions going on. Indonesians become “conservative”, they become intolerant, and these affect the gender issue. Gender is actually a very broad topic. For example, child marriage. Why is it bad? It’s not as simple as, ‘well obviously it’s bad cause they’re still kids!’. In the greater context, for every girl that leaves school, the society misses the chance to have a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, meaning the quality of our own resources decreases because 50% of your population potentially you’re taking them out of school to get married. And when they get married, they’re having children at a very young age, where their reproductive organs aren’t even fully developed, so there will also be a nutrition issue. So again, your population becomes less optimum.”

“The mortality rate for infant is high, the mortality rate for mothers is also high. Domestic violence also rises because if girls are not educated, if they’re not economically active, then they become vulnerable. That’s only from the child marriage case, there’s a lot of negative impacts. A misconception derives from ‘to reduce the family’s economy burden’, but when you put your girls in school and in uni, she can help you, she makes her own money.”

The saddest fact about living in a patriarchal society.

“Yes, everything is very patriarchal. Instead of thinking of women’s potential, they only think about how to not take away the potentials from men. You shouldn’t let women do this and that because what’s left for men? I mean, women aren’t about emasculating a man. Why such thought? Why can’t we do it hand in hand as equal instead of one gender rules the other?”

All because the perception of ‘women belong in the kitchen’, sadly. Compares to other developed countries, how do you find the progress of women’s rights in our country?

“Progress is there, judging by the official statistics of the rate of people going to primary and junior high school. But the rate drops soon as they reach the senior high school, either to get married or to get a job. So for me, it’s still not enough. The easiest way to make things better is education.”

Perhaps there’s also the economy factor that plays the role?

“It’s possible, though unfortunately at the end of the day, they defend men because of the thought, ‘if women will end up being a housewife, why go all the way to universities’.”

True, there’s that misconception as well. When you talk about women’s rights, do you have a role model that you look up to?

“Ever since the Women’s March movement, I became really inspired by Linda Sarsour, one of the founders of Women’s March. She’s been arrested I don’t know for how many times for speaking about so many issues. And it’s so inspiring because during the Trump’s presidency climate that bans moslems and the efforts to prevent the peace talks between Israel and Palestine, there’s one moslem Palestinian woman from Brooklyn who had this big mouth and she speaks only the truth. And everytime she gave a speech, I got goosebumps. She was also included in TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2017, alongside Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez.”

Among all the Women’s March founder, why her?

“Because she’s the one with whom I can associate the most. She’s a moslem woman who lives in a non-moslem country whose current political climate towards moslems isn’t the most ideal one. I once experienced that because I grew up as a British moslem. She’s so freaking awesome, plus she’s so ghetto. She broke all the stereotypes people have about hijabi. That you can have have a big mouth and wear hijab, and that it pushes even more progress. She’s a badass hijabi. Sadly, the trend I see here is all about #ootd. It’s not a bad thing, but can you imagine if there’s hijabis like Linda Sarsour in Indonesia?”

Oh yes, the #ootd trend grew way longer amidst the millennials than people would’ve guessed. Speaking of which, if you could empower millennials, what would you say to them?

“I would say, wake the f**k up. Whenever I think about millennials, I think about Instagram, and things that follow suit like makeup tutorials and ootd. I mean, you guys have the platform to create progresses, to be politically active, to use the digital platform with such substance instead of sharing the color of lip shade you’re wearing today. Everyone has different passions and if yours happen to be makeup, that’s great, but you also need to educate yourself about issues that are happening around you. I feel like the ’98 momentum with all the student activists voicing out their concerns has gone, today’s millennials are not using digital era to educate themselves. We’re just talking about infotainment-based stuffs, when there’s so many things going on in this world. Indonesia has the highest usage of social media in the world, but people are not talking about important things. Instead of using it as a platform for narcissism, why not be curious about reading news articles to wake up? Your sense of curiosity, bring it back. Use your mobile to know that hardships actually exist.”

Photographer: Vicky Melly
MUA: Nadia Renata
Stylist: Hilarius Matthew
Digital Imaging: Dela Naufalia
Wardrobe: available at The F Thing

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