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Why Don't We Blame Men for Their Extramarital Affairs?

A viral video in Indonesia raises important questions about our society's reluctance to address the role of men in cheating scandals.

by Katyusha Methanisa
24 November 2017, 11:00am

Illustration by Dini Lestari 

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia

The video had all the makings of a viral hit. A young girl confronted her father's (alleged) mistress as she waited in a frozen yogurt line at a Jakarta mall, shouting "I hate you! Why did you take my father away from me?" in an outburst that felt cringy in a "this is clearly a personal matter" kind of way.

But the video, and its fallout, also highlight an unfortunate reality about life in Indonesia. Infidelity is shockingly common, especially amongst powerful men who have the money to support long-term affairs.

Certain apartment buildings in the capital have the reputation of being "mistress apartments"—the kinds of low-rent spots where on some nights you can still find a luxury Italian sports car parked outside. And nationwide, infidelity is the fourth-highest cause of divorce amongst married couples, according to data compiled by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

But while infidelity is common, and it's definitely an act that involves at least TWO PEOPLE, the woman, typically the mistress, is the one who has to shoulder all the blame. Don't believe me? Let's take this viral video as a case study of sorts.

I guess it's pretty important to understand all the characters in this very depressing viral play about marital infidelity before we focus on the fallout and what it all means.

Faisal Harris, the father, is a businessman and the former vice president of the Ferrari Owners Club Indonesia—which means he's totally rich and pretty well-connected. His wife, Sarita Abdul Mukti, is a businesswoman and a very public figure. Even their daughter Shafa Aliya has achieved a level of Insta-fame on social media. Sarita and her four daughters were all living in Australia when news of Faisal's alleged cheating hit the press earlier this year.

The "other woman" here is Jennifer Dunn, a sinetron actress more commonly known as Jeje Dunn who was arrested for drug possession back in 2005. She was also reportedly involved in an affair with her own lawyer and implicated in a second legal case, this one involving a money laundering scheme.

So you can already see how the press is going to spin this whole thing. Jeje Dunn, a woman with a scandalous history, is painted as the villain while Faisal, the man, avoids the scrutiny and the social media hate. Type Faisal Harris into Google and you'll find photos of Jeje Dunn. His name has been largely kept out of the press, or at least it was until another video of him screaming at his daughter Shafa and hitting her showed up online Monday morning.

It's easy to see why the internet focused all the blame on Jeje Dunn. It's in our language. We have a word for women like Jeje Dunn: "pelakor." It's a portmanteau of "perebut laki orang," a term that roughly translates as a woman who snatches away someone else's man. It's a term that basically puts the man in a passive position. He's just out there, minding his own business, before this sneaky woman comes along and steals him away.

Now, obviously, I'm just an observer here, but I'm 99.9 percent sure that's not what happened. Jakarta isn't full of women going around snatching men from their marital beds. No woman is out there luring men into hotel rooms or setting traps to ensnare them in extramarital affairs. Relationships require the equal involvement of two parties. So shouldn't both of them shoulder the blame equally?

Not in a country that uses words like "pelakor." The phrase is more common than neutral terms like "WIL," ("wanita idaman lain," or "a woman who is wanted by someone else")—but even that is just another phrase that focuses on the woman instead of the man.

So what do we call a married man who cheats on his wife? Nothing. There literally isn't a word in Bahasa Indonesia. We have a term for men who sleep around (hidung belang), a term men who can't commit (buaya darat), but none for married men involved in extramarital affairs. That's sort of messed up, right? (Although, to be fair, we don't have a term for philandering wives either)

So, of course, when an affair hits the headlines, all the hate is thrown the woman's way. She's a homewrecker, a sneaky bitch who's looking to steal another woman's man away for herself. Our society just can't let a man be responsible for his own actions.

Think back to one of the most-famous affairs of the early 2000s, the relationship between Ahmad Dhani and Mulan Jameela. Mulan rose to fame when she started to sing alongside Ahmad Dani's then-wife Maia Estianty as the musical duo Ratu. The pop act lasted two years before it fell apart, along with Dhani's marriage. It was later revealed that Dhani and Mulan were having an affair.

For Mulan, a woman who eventually had children with Dhani, the drama destroyed her career. She was never able to recover from all the hate sent her way. Dhani, on the other hand, kept on being famous, despite repeatedly falling into public controversies like wearing a Nazi uniform and being implicated in a plot to overthrow the government—although the last one is a little weird and probably not all that accurate of a claim.

I couldn't probably keep going, but you get the point. This video went viral for all the wrong reasons. Shafa's response is totally understandable, a very personal, very hurtful thing just happened to her immediate family. But the rest of us are just bystanders casting judgement on a woman and leaving a man completely out of the conversation. So next time, instead of wasting so much energy condemning some guy's side-chick, let's take a step back and leave it all alone. Because we might not be able to change our language, but we can just keep our mouths shut.