Of course you have the right to wear whatever you want, but people
in Indonesia tend to judge you by your clothes. Skimpy clothes generally
indicate a prostitute, a dangdut dancer, or any "easy" woman.
So you can make life a lot easier for yourself by covering up a
bit. (No-one's suggesting you go cover yourself from neck to ankle).
a bra is highly recommended.
Sleeveless tops are fine (off campus), as long as they're not
too revealing. Avoid displaying cleavage or midriff.
Shorts are OK, as long as they're not too short or too tight.
The same goes for skirts.
If in doubt, look around at what Indonesian women your age are
wearing. They live here, so they know the "rules".
Sex in Indonesian Society
The "double standard" is alive and well in Indonesia. Men are expected
to be sexually experienced before marriage, and are not really expected
to be faithful after they're married. Its "in their natures" to
play around. On the other hand, women are expected to be virtuous.
In Indonesia, "nice girls don't", at least not until they're safely
married. To be fair to Indonesian men, I have met some who are "saving
themselves for marriage."
The other aspect of this double standard is that sex outside marriage
does occur. Lots of couples get married because the woman is pregnant,
but people prefer to pretend it doesn't happen. People tend to go
away to engage in "illicit" sexual activity. In Yogya, popular places
for a "dirty weekend" are Parangtritis and Kaliurang.
Western women are often seen in very stereotypical ways. Is this
the influence of "sexy" Western movies? They are perceived of as
being sexually free, and ready to jump into bed with someone at
the drop of a hat. If you say "no" to an Indonesian man, you'll
often be accused of being racist.
Here is a list of types of behaviour commonly experienced by Western
(and Indonesian) women, all of which could be perceived as sexual
In the street:
staring at your breasts or your crotch.
calling out to you in the street. Remarks made can be
fairly innocuous: Kok sendirian? (men get this one
sexually loaded: Nggak pakai BH, ya?
downright rude: F*** you (again, the influence of
grabbing your breast as you walk down the street
stealthily feeling you up on the bus, or rubbing up against
In private/With acquaintances:
Double entendre. Indonesians are masters at putting sexual innuendo
into the most innocuous conversations/situations. For example,
Robyn kalau sudah di atas tidak mau turun. It sounds as
though we're talking about my preference for a particular sexual
position. Actually, it was said by a man when I was beating him
at ping-pong. If you're joking around with friends, you may find
this sort of conversation entertaining. If such sexual innuendoes
are made by someone you don't know very well, you might feel threatened.
Various types of sleazy conversations. These may be tentative
- inquiring about "free sex" in the West is a favourite.
Some men favour a slightly more direct approach - expressing a
desire to "try" a Western woman.
Invitations to stay somewhere overnight, eg Parangtritis or
Kaliurang. Even if you have known the man for months, even if
you and he are "best buddies", expect sexual overtures if you
accept an invitation of this sort. If you decide to go, be prepared.
I've listed these responses in order of severity.
Ignore it. This is probably the best response to stares and
calling out in the street.
Act dumb. Pretending not to understand the sexual innuendoes or sleazy
remarks can defuse the situation.
Make a witty retort. The problem with this approach is that
you usually think of the witty remark an hour or so after the
Make your harasser feel embarrassed. Sometimes a simple Orang
Jawa sopan-sopan, ya? in response to a rude or sexist remark
will stop him in his tracks.
Be firm and calm. This is the best response to sleazy conversations.
This is no time for false politeness, but neither is it very useful
to fly into a rage and tell the man to f*** off. Tell the person
politely that you don't like the turn the conversation is taking,
and you don't wish to discuss it any more.
Get angry. Being shouting out-of-control angry is not recommended,
because it means the other person has "won." But it's also pretty
human to get pissed off with unacceptable behaviour. It might
help relieve your pent-up emotions to yell Bangsat after
the man who's just grabbed your breast in the street. But remember,
it's also going to attract the attention of other people in the
street, who'll stare, and wonder what this crazy londo
is up to. Anger is probably better expressed quietly, with sarcasm
or pointed remarks.
Physical violence. Please try to avoid this one, as it could
be more trouble than its worth. Although an Indonesian woman friend
of mine always carried a safety pin with her when travelling on
night buses. If a man's hand found its way somewhere it shouldn't
have been, a quick stab with the working end of the safety pin
made him remove it pretty quickly. And, she added with some satisfaction,
men dealt with this way were usually too embarrassed to scream.
Talk to continuing students about their experiences, and the responses
they've found helpful.
The Good News
It's not a jungle out there. Violent sexual assault in Indonesia
is much less common than it is in Western countries, and there are
studies to prove it. We're just taking the position that "forewarned
is forearmed". All or none of the things I've mentioned above may
happen to you. Its best to be prepared, but not paranoid.