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December 22, 2016

Farewell, 2016! A Very Hard Year It Has Been

Let's say goodbye to the annus horribilis that is 2016 and get ready to fight in 2017.

by Mario Rustan, Columnist

There was an amusing meme going around recently: “Me at the Beginning of 2016” vs “Me at the End of 2016.” It usually compares a smiling actress and her battle-worn character (i.e. Winona Ryder in Stranger Things or Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road). The whole world practically agrees that 2016 is a horrible year.
The year started well for feminists, when progressive Tsai Ing-wen became the first female president of Taiwan and the first one in Asia without any connection to a previous leader. While she is not an outspoken feminist (compared to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau), she supports same-sex marriage.
But for us in Indonesia the year didn’t start off as smoothly. Before the end of January, the Sexuality Group and Resource Center University of Indonesia (SGRC UI) came under attack for allegedly “promoting homosexuality”, leading to a nationwide meltdown that LGBT people are ruining the nation’s morality. Condemnations against SGRC UI and LGBT people did not only come from Islamists, but also from Christian and secular conservatives.
The warning sign got louder when Donald Trump became the leading candidate for the Republican Party. But even back then it seemed that the election would be a giveaway for the Democrats, and Trump was expected to keep hurting himself on his way to the election. Meanwhile, the Democratic primaries were not easy for Hillary Clinton, and some feminists in the United States and the world appeared to lean towards socialist Bernie Sanders instead.
This year we also learned that misogyny and sexism are not views held exclusively by conservatives, when some  American feminists, such as Leta Hong Fincher, reported that they received misogynistic messages not just from Trump supporters, but also from Sanders supporter, the supposed progressives. In any case, Clinton marched on and was poised to become America’s first female president.
Back to Indonesia, a horrific rape and murder in Bengkulu in the middle of the year prompted feminist and women’s groups to raise public awareness over the case, which at first was buried under regional news. When the story became a national headline, the reactions were a mixed bag. Pundits blamed pornography and alcohol and called for their bans. News channels and websites raced to find more gruesome rape cases, and online commenters blamed the survivors while advocating death penalty. Detained suspects were beaten in custody not out of rage but for entertainment.
This year, too, the Indonesian Military continued its obsession with female sexuality and the ghost of communist past, refusing to end its virginity test for new recruits and shutting down discussions on Marxism and the 1965 state-sponsored massacres.
Things went downhill when Britons voted to leave the European Union in a referendum in June. At first the referendum seemed to be a dispute over technical and legal issues with little relevance outside Europe (think 2000s’ referenda on European Union’s constitutions), though, already, there were hints like this racist cartoon that it went beyond those issues.
The world tried to make sense of the upset. While sober analyses portrayed a London detached from the rest of the UK, where northern towns are struggling with unemployment and Muslim migrants, it became clearer that racism and xenophobia motivated the pro-Brexit voters. Many believed that by leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom would be free to expel migrants from Eastern Europe and refuse Syrian refugees.   
By the time Trump secured the Republican nomination, the pessimistic mood had deepened. People cheered as he repeatedly attacked women, Muslims, Hispanics, and every other minorities. His supporters did not hesitate to chant racist, homophobic, and misogynist slogans, and they threatened and attacked protesters and journalists.

The American pop culture, however, showed a different world. There were so many battle hymns to choose for Democratic voters, from Beyoncé’s “Formation” to the reprises of Hamilton. TV series and movies feature more diverse casts, and most of Hollywood stood with Hillary.
In November, we were nervous and could only put our trust on the rationality and good faith of American citizens. In the end, more of them voted for Clinton, but Trump’s voters were spread better across the nation. It didn’t help that many State laws had been modified years before to prevent African-Americans and naturalized Americans from voting.
Over the last month, our dystopian reality unfolded fast, including in Indonesia. We have seen that the trial against Ahok is harmful and unnecessary. We have seen that the main driver of colossal demonstrations against him is racism and bigotry, not a sense of justice or community spirit. Trolls in Indonesia who attack feminists, liberals, and Chinese-Indonesians operate just like in the US or other countries, mixing threats, lies, logical fallacies, and racist and sexist insults.
Our new enemy has a name: Traditionalism. In every country, men from the racial and religious majority fear that they will be outnumbered by the minorities, and losing out their privileges to women. They worry their children will be brainwashed by gays and liberals. So, they support reactionaries like Trump and the FPI. Traditionalist women believe they must stand together with their men, and of course share the belief that their majority status must be defended. Some gays even join the traditionalists, sharing their racism and probably misogyny.
The last time the world gone mad like this was in 1930s, during a severe global economic crisis. Mid-2010s is a time of economic recovery. Perhaps stability and prosperity are responsible for the neck-to-neck race between the traditionalists and the intersectional feminists over the last three years.
If The Force Awakens sings the triumph of women against the Men Rights’ Activists, then Rogue One is a warning alarm that the fight against traditionalism has just begun and we are on the defensive. We are no longer spectators; we have our own fights too in Indonesia. We are only months or years away before deciding what will become of our hometowns, of our nation.
So go and have your holiday in peace, but don’t forget to come back with your battle flag raised, because, come 2017, we must all be ready to fight.  
See how Mario compares gamersgate to the rise of Trumpism and follow @mariorustan on Twitter. 

Mario Rustan writes opinion pieces for The Jakarta Post and is working on some other online projects and was featured in Guardian Football and SBS Radio. His dream job is still teaching High School History by day and writing for feminism by night.