Are Western women easy? The answer depends on who you ask. I am a single white female (SWF) travelling in Indonesia, a country that has conservative values regarding women, so my Western perspective is biased. This musing may provoke a bit of controversy but isn’t that the best kind of reading? It’s certainly the best kind of writing.
When I moved to Indonesia I was told several times not to act so friendly with men, and by friendly they meant smiling or asking “how are you”. Refraining from such greetings was out of character for me and so naturally, I found that difficult. But it is for good reason that I am learning how to turn off that part of myself when necessary: to avoid unwanted–or simply irritating–attention from men.
The other day a young Indonesian man approached me on the porch of my beachfront cottage and asked to use my lighter. I smiled and handed it to him. He lit his cigarette and then promptly sat himself down and asked if I was alone. I replied yes. “Wow, is that safe for you, being by yourself?” He asked as his eyes trolled my bikini-clad body. Ummmm, usually, perhaps not when my present company asks such a question like that. He then told me how much he liked to smoke pot because it made sex better. Ummmm, a random and suggestive statement for a total stranger, no? I told him I didn’t know and turned my attention back to my book. Hint, hint.
He wished to play rock, paper, scissors so I indulged him for a few minutes because I’m still too nice to properly assert myself when necessary. Then, he asked me what he would get from me if he won. I cocked an eyebrow. “You may use my lighter,” I said, though a tempest of violent words spun inside my head. Was this guy suggesting a reward should his rock smash my scissors? My scissors are pretty sharp and I have no doubt his rock ain’t so big.
“And what do you want if you win?” He asked.
‘To drop-kick your skinny, presumptuous ass off my peaceful porch.’ “To read my book,” I replied.
“Oh I want a hug from you if I win,” he said, wearing a big smile. Ohhhh, is that all?
Now, I’ve had similar conversations in the past and they usually end up in such places so finally, I told him that I had a boyfriend who wouldn’t like me hugging random men. Whilst such men may not respect a woman, they will usually respect the man attached to said woman. I dislike playing the boyfriend card but sometimes, after finally having enough of those pesky mosquitoes, I just slap on some damn repellant.
During my second month of residence in Surabaya I was out for coffee with a local acquaintance who actually said, “you Western girls are easy aren’t you? You have sex with different men all the time, right?” I didn’t smack him because his question was honest. But I wanted to smack him because I suspected that his question was not a general one but that he was feeling out a situation a little closer to home. Whatever the case, I set him as straight as I could.
“I can only speak for myself,” I said, “and my sex life is private. Generally though, I think sex is valued differently in the West than it is in the East, and that has a lot to do with how a culture views its women.” That’s the diplomatic answer, Prick.
In Asia, or at least the Asia I’ve become acquainted with over a few years, a belief exists that Western women will have sex with nearly any man. This belief, I think, is based upon Hollywood films and the social and political emancipation of women that affords them the freedom (or the illusion of it), amongst many freedoms, to dress as they wish. The belief may also be rooted in the contrasting religious and cultural ethics between Eastern and Western worlds. In Indonesia, Islam, the dominant religion, forbids pre-marital sex. According to some of my Muslim friends, the Koran (the book of Islam) also asserts that women must practice modesty in appearance by covering their heads, shoulders, and legs. This is orthodox Islam though, and there are varying degrees of how it is practiced, as is the case in any religion. I’ve met several Muslim women who wear makeup, smoke, drink alcohol, show cleavage, and use Tinder to find sexual partners. Perhaps flexible–and I don’t mean bendy–Muslims are as common as flexible Catholics, or Jews, or Buddhists, or even bad drivers.
I once questioned a male acquaintance–a Muslim guy–about the rules in Islam that govern how women should dress. He replied matter-of-factly, “men are horny when they see a woman’s skin and they want to have sex with her so women have to cover themselves so men won’t get horny and want to have sex with her.” Ahhhh, okay, when you put it that way…
I spy with my SWF eye three big fat problems in his statement, besides the obvious semantic ones. First, he seemed to be suggesting that preventing an overproduction of testosterone and subsequent male misconduct is a woman’s responsibility. Second, he seemed to be suggesting that merely covering arms and legs and hair will prevent men from having illicit thoughts. Third, was this a man speaking? Was he actually suggesting that men don’t want to have sex with a traditionally dressed Muslim woman? Or for that matter, a Canadian woman dressed for a winter? I’m certain this is a logical fallacy, I just can’t remember which one.
Do shoulders, legs, and hair spark a man’s mojo or just their imagination (and then, consequently, their mojo)? And although that may be the fault of women for being so damn appealing, is it also their responsibility to manage? According to India’s Minister of Tourism it is. He suggested that women should not wear skirts if they don’t want to attract unwanted male attention (see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/29/india-female-tourists-skir…).
An aside: I wonder if concealing what is off-limits just incites the imagination that much more. I vividly remember staring for hours at beautifully wrapped presents under the Christmas tree, dying to find out what was inside. And I’m not even a man.
Recently, I was having a lively conversation with an Indonesian man named Mas. Mas is one of the few Indonesian men who didn’t inquire about my marital status or make comments about my travelling alone. A refreshing change. But then we somehow arrived at the topic of the difference between Indonesians and foreigners in regards to sex and attraction. He told a story of his friend, a fellow Muslim man I will call Pak. Pak works as a driver and often transports foreigners long distances. One day he had two local passengers in the backseat whilst a young foreign woman was seated up front next to him. They were getting along well, having a pleasant conversation so when Pak dropped off the local passengers and only the foreign woman remained, he told her he wanted to kiss her. Mas explained, “she said no but she was so nice to him that he kissed her anyways and she got really mad.”
“But she said no,” I interjected.
He laughed lightheartedly, “but he was horny, and it was only a kiss.”
Nostrils flared, horns appeared, steam shot out my ears. “But she said no,” I restated (I might have hissed), “that’s sexual assault.” As if biological impulses in response to niceness justify violating–or simply ignoring–a person. If you hold out your hand for someone to shake and he doesn’t accept, do you grab his hand and shake it anyways?
I’m not arguing that Western women aren’t “easy”, particularly because on the surface and within the constraints of a such a conservative culture it must appear that way. In contrast, we ARE easy if we engage in pre-marital or casual sex, but only against the backdrop of certain religions and cultures. But the term “easy” coats my skin like a slimy, icky paste. Not only is it a relative term (for some people, putting IKEA furniture together is easy), it is a disparaging and objectifying way to describe someone because it literally means “achieved without great effort”.
I’m also not arguing that I understand the intricacies of a culture or religion with which I am largely unfamiliar. My opinions are based solely on my individual experiences. Religion and culture are as inseparable as the roots of a banyan tree are from its trunk, so how a religion is interpreted in one country, or community, may be vastly different from how it is practiced in another part of the world. Indonesia is a great example of this. Whilst Islam is predominant nationwide it is not the Islam of Saudi Arabia (for example), though culturally speaking, Indonesia seems more conservative than most other parts of South East Asia with respect to sex.
Part of the beauty of Western feminism is in the freedom we have to present ourselves as sexual creatures, without backlash or accusations for having invited violation or disrespect, although this still happens all the time. I get really tired of being perceived as a sex object just because I’m a woman. This happens to women all over the world, not just in Asia. At the same time, I choose to wear a bikini when I’m at the beach so, having some understanding of the (simple) workings of the male brain, I am aware of the consequences of my choice when in a place with conservative values. I’m not inviting such attention but I’m astute enough to know that men wouldn’t approach a snowsuit the same way.
And that is yet another beautiful but contentious part of being a woman: the individual female experience in understanding the power her sexuality has in her relationships and interactions with others. I can bring it out or put it away as I see fit in a particular situation, not to use manipulatively or to engage a double standard, but to wholeheartedly enjoy the female experience (yes, I have flashed a smile and put on a bit of flirt to get out of a traffic ticket). I wonder though if I would view it as such a privilege if women hadn’t had to fight for such expression in the first place.
If my pride and sense of privilege in my sex and sexuality make me appear “easy”, in any part of the world, then I will slap a scarlet A+ on my humble bosom.