Networking Links Feminism and Pop Culture
Pop culture nowadays is heavily influenced by the mass media and has the ability to influence someone’s attitude toward certain topics, including feminism.
Through pop culture, feminist issues are made more relatable and accessible, perhaps even mainstream.
The common link between feminism and pop culture was the golden thread for a 10-day networking trip to Berlin, which saw 15 cultural practitioners, artists and activists from Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand recently travel to the German capital.
Organized by Goethe-Institut Indonesien in cooperation with Missy Magazine— a bimonthly German language publication about feminism, pop culture, politics and style, the participants had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with their German counterparts, discuss strategies to connect feminist viewpoints with popular culture and visit a number of cultural events related to the issue.
“We decided on the topic of feminism and pop culture because we’re very interested in making a connection with communities that are working on the intersection of cultural practice and feminist agendas, and also to elevate underrepresented voices,” said Anna Maria Strauss, head of cultural programs at Goethe-Institut Indonesien.
“It’s also an interesting practice for ourselves to connect to these scenes in Berlin and see where there are mutual points of interest that we can build upon in the future.”
The tour was also a networking event for the region itself as most of the participants didn’t know each other before, and there is not yet that much exchange between the scenes in the region.
“That’s why we decided to invite people with different backgrounds. We deliberately said pop culture, which is quite broad instead of, for instance, musicians with a feminist agenda,” Strauss said.
The program consisted of discussions, talks, encounters as well as visits to various institutes, exhibitions and cultural events, including the festival Pop-Kultur, which celebrated its fourth edition this year.
From Indonesia, three participants — Hera Diani, cofounder and managing editor of feminist web magazine Magdalene; Indraswari Pangestu, writer, digital strategist and cofounder of literacy advocacy initiative Narasastra; and Kartika Jahja, singer, songwriter and activist on the issue of gender and sexuality – joined the trip.
“I work in pop culture and gender equality activism, but a lot of capacity building and networking is NGO-based and rarely on the cultural side of things — certainly not pop culture — so this was a rare opportunity for me,” Tika said.
They all agreed it had been a fulfilling journey, during which they learned a lot and gave them insights and inspiration they can build on after their return to Indonesia. “It’s amazing to see how embedded feminism is in German culture and the arts scene,” Hera said but acknowledged that even in Germany feminists also still face challenges. “Even here, antifeminism still exists, and there are actually people who’d say things like, you already elected Angela Merkel as your chancellor, what else could you possibly want?”
Hera’s highlight of the trip was the visit to feminist archive FFBIZ, a feminist documentation and information center whose collection focuses on the second wave of the international women’s liberation movement, and — because of her own background as a journalist and editor — the exchange with Missy Magazine, which gave her a lot of new ideas.
“There are so many different approaches here when it comes to promoting feminism, sexual diversity and gender equality,” Tika explained.
“In Indonesia, we have an emerging vibrant feminist scene but it doesn’t have much variety in it yet. Because feminism is so embedded in arts and culture here, I hardly found anyone who cringed when I told them I’m here for a feminism networking tour. Everyone was very supportive about it, whereas in Indonesia it’s still the other way around.”
In the Indonesian arts scene, Tika said she often faced suspicion or raised eyebrows when people found out that she had a feminist agenda. “It gives me hope that going about it through a pop culture approach is something that definitely yields results.”
For Indras, the trip was fruitful on both a professional and personal level.
“In Indonesia, we can’t always speak openly about LGBT issues,” she said, referring to people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. “I felt very accepted here. The talks have been helpful and insightful for me, especially on how to introduce this issue in a polite way without forcing your own view on others.”
Tika concurred that the current political climate in Indonesia is quite concerning — but she also believes that issues like bigotry and homophobia are the result of different political agendas.
“Innately, Indonesian people aren’t hateful, which makes it even more important to speak up and to be that voice that lets other people know ‘I’m not the only one thinking and feeling the same way’,” she said. “If one person speaks up, hopefully others will follow.”
Strauss said the purpose of the trip was not only to connect the participants to the feminist and pop culture scene in Berlin, but also to the other way around.
“On the very first day of this trip, we were at a panel on the Pop Kultur festival, and someone asked whether these girls were the first generation of feminists from Southeast Asia,” she recalled. “Of course, it’s totally fine to ask this question, but it’s also very programmatic, because when it comes to feminism in Southeast Asia, people in Germany know next to nothing.”
This article was first published in The Jakarta Post on September 26, 2018.