My Jakarta: Dyana Savina, Feminist Rock Musician

By webadmin on 06:35 pm Jul 07, 2012
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Denny F. Halim

Dyana Savina, 28, can rock the stage like, well, a rock star. Her lyrics talk about things like gender issues and feminism. But she is equally at home away from the stage, as a junior program officer at the Humanist Institute for Development Coordination (Hivos), where she works on projects to give young people access to sexual and reproductive health.

Dyana spoke with My Jakarta about her music and her new band, offered her thoughts on feminism and let us in on some of the secrets behind the most popular girl groups in the country.

Tell us about your band.

My latest band, Fever to Tell, was formed in 2010. We play at indie events and our genre is riot grrrl [feminist punk]; music with lyrics that talk about women’s empowerment and relationships.

We have a song that talks about women in an urban environment where sexism and conventional stereotyping is still strong, even in a so-called modern society. The band only has one male out of five members.

Riot grrrl, is that a typo?

Riot grrrl started off as an underground feminist punk rock movement in Washington, DC, in the ’90s. The growling triple ‘r’ in the word girl is a symbolic way of breaking away from the derogatory terms used to describe women or refer to them as a second-class sex. The movement also lives by the creed that every girl should be empowered and have the same rights as boys. These feminists associate themselves with third-wave feminism, a subculture where women have the right to fill the punk rock space, which is male-dominated. These women participate in the male-dominated punk rock scene with bands and by making zines filled with content about women’s issues and feminism. It also gives bands a chance to voice their disagreement with popular conventional female-targeted magazines or girl bands that strengthen female stereotyping.

So, riot grrrl is a movement. These bands speak about their concerns with issues such as abortion, women’s reproductive rights and sexuality.

What is the response from audiences?

It has been very good. Sometimes, in an event, we are the only riot grrrl band performing, and obviously, most of the audience members are male.

Do you always work on feminism issues?

My first job was as a features writer for a women’s magazine in Jakarta because I was always interested in women’s issues. Unfortunately, the job was different than what I expected. I had to write about ‘ways to please men’ or ‘how to look good for a man on the weekend.’ Or I had to write about a beauty contest, where brains are last on the list of requirements. I quit after six months.

Then I started working for NGOs and got accepted for a scholarship in women’s and gender studies in 2008. After I finished my post-graduate work, I worked with several NGOs in human rights and corporate social responsibility before I settled at Hivos. All my NGO work has been related to women, gender and development.

What do you think about the condom campaign from our new health minister?

We need to realize that teenagers are having sex. If we cannot stop them, we should be able to protect them.

Our minister of health [Nafsiah Mboi] is new but she is starting to make some bold moves. People will always try to attack and criticize anyone who is against the so-called status quo paradigm. I say, ignore those people and keep doing the right thing, Mrs. Minister!

What is the fundamental problem of gender issues in Indonesia?

Women need to be aware of marginalization. You get tired of answers like, ‘This is a woman’s destiny.’ Sometimes, women who fight for women’s rights receive complaints from other women.

As a vocalist and feminist, they also assume that I engage in the ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ culture associated with the scene. Some even think I am a lesbian. When I tell them I am a straight-edge heterosexual, they say it’s because of my piety to Islam. The same goes for women who choose to be housewives. They can be feminists in their own way. It’s about the freedom to choose.

Your music and work are both related to feminism. Any specific reasons?

Growing up in a patriarchal family gave me some bad experiences, but the biggest influence was seeing women being sexually harassed by men. My first experience was when I was in junior high school, involving a police officer. Then I saw it again when I was in college, two men in military uniforms harassing a woman on a bus. T hat frustrated me because I couldn’t do anything to help those women.

What do you think about the popular female bands in Indonesia?

That’s not art, but a prison. I heard that in some groups, weight and age play a deciding factor in your career. Recording companies don’t let people appreciate their own looks. I respect their decision if they are happy being treated like that, but I highly doubt they are.

Dyana Savina was talking to Denny F. Halim.