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What is a trailing wife? Lots of people still have no idea what it means, but got the nerve to laugh at this job.

An incident had triggered me to write this article, published by today's Jakarta Post, with a hope that more people would understand the hard work behind this taken-for-granted job.

Copy paste of the article is below. Oh, actually I just realized that the editor changed the content, grammar wise. So I decided to put below  the original-unedited version of the article.

Trailing Wife? Do You Also Follow Your Husband to the Restroom?
By: Santi Dharmaputra
Sydney, Australia

(click here for the published version)
 
I got the honour to meet a leading researcher at the Indonesia Update Conference 2011 in Canberra. She asked what I did for a living, in which I answered that I was a trailing wife.
 
The lady gave a big laugh. “Trailing wife. Ikut suami. Is it written on her Indonesian identity card that her job is ikut suami? Does it mean the spouse follows her husband everywhere, even to the restroom?” she asked again.
 
Although I considered her ridicule inappropriate, she was actually not the first person who had misunderstood the meaning of trailing wife.
 
Amongst those whose work assignments bring them to relocate to another city and/or abroad - such as diplomats, expatriates, military or researchers - more than 80% are men, with 70% of which are married.
 
This means, if an Indonesian woman married to one of them - whatever nationality this man holds- and at some point his work relocates her from the city/country she currently lives in, she will be regarded as a trailing wife.
 
According to 2008 survey by Permit Foundation, 90% of spouses were employed before the relocation. Yet for varying reasons, only 35% carry out paid work during their life abroad. Some spouses do not have work permit or cannot find a job satisfying enough. Some families relocate within a very short period, leaving the accompanying partner too little time to find a job. The rest still have very young children.
 
Once a woman opts for following her husband, she should be ready to leave her comfort zone and deal with culture shock repeatedly.  She should convert a cold space into a home and, with little help, navigate the family’s daily life in a new environment. Sometimes she is also required to be actively involved in her husband’s social functions.  On top of that, a trailing spouse has to be efficient enough to pack the home back into container boxes when the family relocates once more.
 
If the family has children, the trailing spouse’s work expands to raising their Third Culture Kids (TCK).  TCK - children raised outside their passport countries- who, according to sociologist Ted Ward are the prototype citizens of the future, need their parents more after they have been uprooted.
 
As shown by David Pollock – an American sociologist - and Ruth van Reken, beside the many benefits of growing-up abroad, such as multilingualism and expanded worldview, children also experience the downside, like unresolved grief and lack of true cultural balance. Ideally both parents should proactively bring them up, however, most primary global breadwinners spend long working hours or prolonged absence from home.  This means the task of raising TCK falls mostly on the mother’s shoulders.
 
Despite such high commitment, huge responsibility and multiple roles, a trailing wife is unfortunately still taken for granted. Like a housewife supporting her husband, a trailing wife following her husband is not considered a real job.
 
Anne Kingston, author of The Meaning of Wife, revealed that successful single women sneer at the wifely role because it is associated with the traditional good wife imagery of servitude, subordination and self-sacrifice. Husband in a travelling family earns the money while the wife stays home, which is seen as representing this image.
 
Further, society tends to frown upon a woman’s choice to drop her paycheck in favour of supporting family abroad. They deem her as wasting her professional talent since, up to today, family-caring work is equated to ‘doing nothing’ and therefore managing household affairs means ‘unoccupied’. 
 
On the contrary, my observation in five different countries has shown that - next to the already busy homemaking - many Indonesian trailing wives conduct fruitful activities. For example, a former economist becomes an avid marathon runner, a previously public relation officer turns a scrapbook-kit designer, an architect now runs a catering business, and a former teacher publishes novels. The list can go on and on. Besides, there are also those who actively involve themselves in volunteer work, such as, for cancer or poverty relief.  Some others pursue a higher education degree.
 
Referring to Robin Pascoe, author of A Broad Abroad, the travelling life has taught these women to see themselves as interdependent -rather than dependent- of their husbands. They come to find skills outside their education background and define success beyond the materialistic way of money. They utilize their past professional experiences to creatively find stimulating projects wherever they live.
 
Through the internet and international community in their neighbourhood, these trailing wives apply borderless marketing strategy. Later when it is time to relocate, they bring along such non-traditional mobile career. Some keep on discovering another expertise and novelty next to the new skill they have, which add up to their curriculum vitae, and might even lead them back to those regular pay checks they left behind.
 
The fact that these women empower themselves and are functional in the community is rarely acknowledged. Society at large still prefers the stereotype portrayal of glamorous, unproductive and gossiping-at-coffee-mornings trailing wives.
 
In spite of their success in building international professions, when somebody asks what they do or what brings them to a particular country, their answer might simply be: trailing wife or ikut suami.  This short reply, however, brings most listeners to the cliché image that triggers smirk or mock, just like the one I received from the lady researcher.
 
And replying to her questions: Yes, ikut suami is a job and can be put on our Indonesian identity card. But no, I am sure the trailing wife’s husband is capable of going to the restroom by himself, thank you.
 
The author is a trailing wife who raises two multilingual children and currently resides in Sydney, Australia. Her research is on multilingualism, multiculturalism and cross-culture-kids. She blogs at http://trilingual.livejournal.com.

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Oct. 24th, 2011 06:07 am (UTC)
Quote:
"Society at large still prefers to portray the stereotype of these trailing wives as glamorous, unproductive and gossiping at coffee mornings."
I say, go to hell with them! Don't let those kind of comments bother you, San! You know who you are, and people that dear to your heart know that too.. That's what really counts!
I always admire you works.. they've opened my eyes on many different subjects :)
Just keep on doing your best, San!

Cheers,
Dian Marini (supaya ga bingung lagi, gue pake nama lengkap heheh)
trilingual
Oct. 24th, 2011 08:07 am (UTC)
Thanks, Dian! This trailing/accompanying wife term is still alien to many people, especially to our fellow Indonesians. It's about time to voice the truth :D.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 24th, 2011 02:13 pm (UTC)
Today I read your contribution to the "Opinion Page" in the JP first. In my opinion you made your points very convincingly. Better even: your article as such proves your main point - this "trailing wife" is a versatile, prolific thinker and author also.

One thing though: I don't think the labelling "trailing wife" is a very fortunate one. It may provoke misunderstandings by people with shallow minds.

colson/jerry

trilingual
Oct. 24th, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC)
Hi Jerry. Labelling is not so important, in my opinion. The most important is what people think about certain label. For example: the term housewife is refurbished with homemaker or stay-home-mom is also known as soccer-mom. Those two terms give the same meanings, which are housewife = homemaker = unpaid work. Stay-home-mom = soccer-mom = unpaid work. And as long as people think unpaid work = jobless =unoccupied it doesn't matter how fancy the term is, the perception would still be the same.

The term trailing wife or accompanying spouse suffer the same stigma as their sisters above :D.

Thank you, Jerry :D!
ckristanto
Oct. 24th, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
Published. Wow. Congrats. Don't have time to read it now, but for sure will read it later. I know something good will come up out of that unfortunate situation. Keep writing !! :D
ckristanto
Oct. 24th, 2011 08:20 pm (UTC)
"..Society at large still prefers the stereotype portrayal of glamorous, unproductive and gossiping-at-coffee-mornings trailing wives..."
If only I can do that !!! :D

Now I read it all, I love it even more. Strong points based on research and experience.

"..And replying to her questions: Yes, ikut suami is a job and can be put on our Indonesian identity card. But no, I am sure the trailing wife’s husband is capable of going to the restroom by himself, thank you..."
You said it well, San. Next time she will think before she laughed at people's profession.

And yes, I am proud to say 'my job is ikut suami' and SAHM also :). Thanks for your beautiful writing.
trilingual
Oct. 24th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
Yeah ... we have to feel good and proud of what we are doing. . I had a heated discussion with an old buddy who insisted that homemaking/wifery/ikut suami is merely a role/status but NOT a job. His reason: a job is something we got paid for so if we are not we are unoccupied/jobless. Capek gw argumennya krn ya itu mindset yg udah tertanam di benak kebanyakan orang. Homemaking etc = job adalah ide yg cukup baru yg coba ditanamkan oleh para social scientists cewek.
Brm Sasongko
Oct. 28th, 2011 08:03 am (UTC)
Housewife is really a job, why not?, keep the children, housekeeper, manage a home finance. Even for now. the assistance ("Pembantu Rumah Tangga") also one of a jobs, they got paid with some facilities, hehehee.... Don't doubt to say: "Ikut Suami" (housewife) is a good job. Good luck at all
trilingual
Oct. 28th, 2011 08:11 am (UTC)
Exactly! Mothers are crazy enough to work without payment but unfortunately the society still take them for granted.
Brm Sasongko
Oct. 28th, 2011 09:00 am (UTC)
yes.. exactly, but the world must change of the society stigma, housewife is very important position at home. That is needs the special management beside an office management at other side.
trilingual
Oct. 28th, 2011 09:10 am (UTC)
Cannot agree more. Women scientists have been working to voice the truth.
Brm Sasongko
Mar. 12th, 2012 12:14 pm (UTC)
agree...
purplepaperijk
Jan. 11th, 2012 04:31 am (UTC)
Hi, I want to write an article that maybe the Jakarta Post would publish, but i don't know how to contact them. Can you please share me the step to get your article to be published in the Jakarta Post? Thank you very much, it would be a great help for me :)
trilingual
Jul. 26th, 2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
Hello, sorry for the delay.

THE JAKARTA POST
opinion@thejakartapost.com
jktpost2@cbn.net.id
editorial@thejakartapost.com
sundaypos@thejakartapost.com
features@thejakartapost.com

THE JAKARTA GLOBE
newsdesk@thejakartaglobe.com
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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