Indonesian rapper Yacko knows exactly how tough it is to be a woman in Indonesia. Women are routinely harassed on the streets of Jakarta. They're judged by what they wear, publicly shamed if they're not considered "good girls," and often expected to conform to conservative, subservient gender roles.
But the last place Yacko expected to see this kind of shit rear its head was at her own show.
"I was crowdsurfing at my gig and someone grabbed my boobs," she told VICE. "No one grabs a male performer's butt when he's crowdsurfing. Aren't we supposed to be treated equally?"
That incident, and others like it, was the inspiration for her latest single "Hands Off"—an anthem for fighting back against street harassment. VICE spoke to Yacko about the importance of writing hip-hop with a social message and the inspiring women who appeared alongside her in the video for "Hands Off."
VICE: What was the motivation for writing 'Hands Off'?
Yacko: Street harassment and sexual harassment cases have been rising all across Indonesia. And because it's so common, people see street harassment as a normal thing here, which it isn't. Street harassment is disgusting. Every day women are getting harassed on the streets regardless of what they wear. I, myself, have been harassed on multiple occasions.
Yeah, you told me that someone groped you at your own concert before, right?
Yes. That incident at my gig was a trigger for this song. But there was also the case of another female performer, Janet, who was harassed at a gig in Semarang. The video of that incident went viral and I remember watching that and thinking how different things were for female performers. We want to have fun, to be treated in the same manner as men when we're crowdsurfing.
The thing that bothered me was that the incident took place in Jakarta and I noticed a lot of those in the crowd were teenagers. I thought to myself 'wow, is it really happening? Is the younger generation losing their moral values?' It's like they never got a proper education.
How big of a problem is sexual harassment in Indonesia?
It's really bad because people take sexual harassment very lightly here. People think that catcalling is a joke. When they whistle, and say things like 'you're beautiful,' they expect us to take it as a compliment. It's not a compliment. It's disgusting. What is really, really bad is that people think it's normal. So, when we confront a person, they say they are making a joke. Which is part of rape culture.
Also, there's a lot of victim blaming. When someone is harassed, instead of blaming the perpetrator, fingers are automatically pointed towards the victim, usually blaming her for dressing provocatively. For example, recently there was a case of a woman who was being harassed by her boss in Lombok. Instead of empathizing with her, people were accusing her of being too attractive.
Yeah, you mention this in 'Hands Off,' rapping about how what a woman is wearing shouldn't be seen as an invitation for sexual advances. Do you think people here often judge women on how they're dressed? That victims of sexual harassment are blamed because of what they had on at the time?
Women get blamed for a lot of things. It's not only about how one is dressed. Sometimes we are accused because of the professions we are in. As a rapper, I often have to perform at night. When I come home late at night, people start talking. They start talking about the clothes I wear for my gigs, they say things like, 'where is she going? 'Why is she dressed like that?' They think of me as a bad girl without even knowing my whole story.
It happens to all women, usually women who work in male-dominated fields. When I was still married, some people would ask me if my husband was OK with me performing. I used to feel like, why I do need his approval? I am doing my own thing.
What's the message you're trying to get across in 'Hands Off'?
The basic message is that we are not going to tolerate any kind of sexual harassment or street harassment anymore. I want to encourage women to fight back. Fighting back can be as simple as saying 'get your hands off me.'
I also want to encourage people who witness street harassment to speak up and help the victims. Sometimes what makes harassment worse is that people don't do anything about it. Someone is getting harassed and the bystanders are just watching. I want people to be brave, to stand up for a victim of harassment and protect each other. Basically, I want to raise awareness about street harassment and say catcalling is not normal.
Hopefully, this song can create awareness of the issue. But I also understand that this issue can't be just solved by awareness alone. What I'd like to do is have deep discussions on the topic so that it is not just me sharing my opinion, but opening up a dialogue. To talk about what's actually happening and what the solutions could be. One of the solutions is to start with families. Parents need to talk about issues of gender equality and teach their children to respect people no matter what their gender is.
The song is in English. Don't you think that limits its reach a bit? A lot of Indonesians understand English, but Bahasa Indonesia is still the national tongue.
I understand that majority of people speak Bahasa. That's why we used a lot of body language—gestures—that can be easily understood by viewers. There's also a plan to remake the song in Bahasa.
I am also working to distribute the beats to anyone who wants to create their own version. It doesn't matter if it is going to be in Indonesian, in English, or not even hip-hop at all. The more the people speak about it, the wider will the message will reach. Our plan is to record an album once there are more songs out there based on my original track. We'll then sell the CDs to anyone who wants to support this movement. At the end, the profits could go to the Women Crisis Centre.
So, we're not just raising this issue but we are actually giving back. The whole thing about this movement is saying you can't do it alone, that we have to do it together. So, anyone who wants to remake this song can email me.
Could you talk a bit about the women in your music video? How did you bring them all together?
I started with my circle of friends. One of the first people I contacted after finishing the song was Kartika Jahja, of Mari Jeung Rebut Kembali. She's the one who supported me with more ideas. It was really important for me to show women from different backgrounds. The message of the song is that sexual harassment can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It doesn't matter what you wear or what you do. So the women featured in my video range from chefs to musicians, activists to rape survivors, editors to choreographers.
So do you feel safe walking out on the streets alone at night here?
I'm stubborn. If anything happens to me, I'll always fight back. But recently, I was warned by my mother to not ride my bike at night because of the spike in crime. My mom said to me, 'if you need to go home at night, don't use your bike.'
You're are also a university lecturer, right? How do you balance your two professions?
I am a Libra, so I think the balancing act comes naturally to me. I am also a single parent of an 8-year-old girl, so I have to divide my time between my responsibilities as a mother, a lecturer, and a musician.
My mother is very supportive, so she's always there when I need her. What's most important is commitment. You choose to be a lecturer. You choose to be a musician. You choose to have a kid. So you have to be committed toward fulfilling those roles. When I come home from work, I just focus on my daughter. I help her with her homework. Even when I am on campus, I call her to check what she's up to. Sometimes when I am working on a music project, I have to go to recording straight from the college, so I make sure I set aside enough time for her on another day. If I just focus on campus life and not work on my music, I feel like something is missing. I just have to manage my time wisely.
What are you working on next?
I've been invited to perform in Berlin in December. It's a collaboration between different musicians. The dates haven't been set yet. I am also planning to release another song about women's empowerment, which will be hopefully out by next month. Meanwhile, we'll continue working on this project.