Asian Games 2018

Indonesian fans’ sexually charged comments to Jonatan Christie spark male harassment debate

Ever since the badminton star took his shirt off at the Asian Games, fans and academics have been trying to figure out if he is a victim of sexism

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 8:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 1:51pm

The Indonesian fans at the Jakarta Asian Games badminton arena were already ear-drum-bursting loud. But when local hero Jonatan Christie displayed a ripped torso while changing his sweat-soaked shirt between sets against Hong Kong’s Vincent Wong, they somehow managed to become even louder.

Squeals of delight from mostly female fans were accompanied by the thunder of almost 4,000 people banging their inflatable sticks. Christie noticed the adoration, and having beaten Wong in the quarter-finals, he went a step further after his semi-final victory by tossing his shirt into the audience.

He also obliged after winning gold and “Jojo” became the country’s new heartthrob. Indonesia’s social media went ballistic with hundreds of female fans writing swooning comments on various platforms, some quite explicit.

Some of the comments read: “My ovaries are exploding”, “He is so good at the net, all the more in bed”, “Oh, his shirt was thrown to the audience. I wanted to protest, why just your shirt?”, and “I’m nauseous. Maybe I’ve been impregnated online. Take responsibility Jo”.

There was even a Twitter hashtag created named #jojobukabaju, which means Jojo take off your shirt.

The chatter quickly evolved from comments about his body to a debate about whether it is a form of sexual harassment.

Female blogger Vita Kartika Cahyarani, a Bachelor of Communication graduate, wrote that men can indeed be victims of sexism but in Jojo’s case, it does not amount to sexism, partly because he did not feel bad performing the stunt.

She wrote: “First of all, sexism is the belief that men are superior to women, which then justifies acts of prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination. Such belief can be born out of ignorance or malice, conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional – but it does not make it any less sexist.

“Now, the question is: Can a man be victim of gender-based discrimination and prejudice? Yes, they can. Still, it is not a reverse sexism or sexism in general.

“An important but often overlooked part of sexism is the power relation between genders. Jojo is a star athlete with more power over his female fans. His conscious decision to celebrate his victory by going shirtless during his semi-final and again after the final proved that he did not feel bad doing it.

“Women have become the ones who are more harshly judged by the misogynistic moral police based on their behaviour and appearance. Sexism can be found everywhere and it is something women experience on a daily basis. In this case, Jojo has full authority over his body and the way it is presented, while unfortunately women do not.”

Cahyarani goes on to clarify that sexual harassment does not depend on whether the victim feels harassed and suggests there is a big difference between sexism and gender-based prejudice.

Joevarian Hudiyana, a PhD student at the University of Indonesia’s School of Psychology, looked into whether the comments about Jojo could be considered as sexual harassment or highlighted the liberation of women in expressing themselves in public.

“Men are less likely to admit to having experienced sexual harassment, since it may be too emasculating for them,” he writes. “Peer pressure may also contribute to the minimal number of reports by men. Other men may simply not see sexual harassment perpetrated by women as threatening.

“Regardless of Jojo’s reaction, sexual harassment, in which men are victims, exists and should never be underestimated. The derogatory comments hurled at Jojo (by men or women) may affect him similarly to how they affect victims of sexual harassment.”

He adds that the concept of women being able to unshackle themselves from a patriarchal society and express themselves in public is a separate issue and does not apply in Jojo’s case.

“Viewing the Jojo phenomenon solely as a matter of women’s liberation is not only misleading but also dangerous,” he writes. “It eliminates the experience of the targeted subject, that is, Jojo himself. Victims’ subjective experiences should be the top priority.

“By ignoring the victim and focusing on an entirely different issue (women’s liberation) we risk eliminating the potential sexual harassment dimension of this phenomenon entirely. Women should always enjoy privileges that usually belong to men, such as freedom of expression. However, there is a clear, thick line separating the freedom of expression from harassment.”

As for Jojo himself, his reason for taking off his shirt were much simpler. “I don’t know why, but since it made people happy, I just did it. It was spontaneous,” he said.