Everybody agrees that Frida Kahlo is an example of a woman enduring multiple aspects of misfortunes be it self-image, failure to conceive, gender role and a cheating husband. Women’s sufferings are often overlooked in the world we live in today, especially in our culture that practices patriarchy. She was bold to reveal her ongoing struggles and illustrated them in her paintings that reflect women’s suffering and she used herself as a model exhibiting the pain.
Harliana, 35 years old, is a beautiful woman who suffered marital troubles due to her husband’s infidelity. She endured it and never spoke of it to anyone as it was taught well by the society never to expose the husband’s shame. She tried to seek advice from her mother regarding her husband’s lack of attention towards her and frequent blaming of not completing the housework up to his standard, and her mother’s answer was, “That is normal for married men. He is too busy making both ends meet to feed all of you (Harliana and her two children). You must not hurt his feelings. He loves you and be thankful that he cares for you.” Harliana accepted the reason and continued to live in loneliness and despair.
Harliana’s actions differ from Frida who took charge of her own happiness. Despite her permanent disability from a near fatal accident, Frida embraced her physique by diverting her physical pain by wearing glorious and magnificent outfits. She incorporated beauty and fashion to cope with her disability which left an everlasting impression of her taste. When her famous womaniser husband proposed to her, she asked for loyalty if not fidelity. Despite loving and staying with her husband who had multiple affairs, she learnt to love herself and not letting herself to be the doormat. She gets pleasure by meeting many people and drowned herself into painting which were not known at the time to be masterpieces in the future. She changed beauty by emphasising the unibrow in her paintings.
Marriage takes two ways to work. Since Harliana’s husband is concerned that she doesn’t keep up to his standard for house chores, then he should take charge rather than complain. He should make time for Harliana and their children despite being busy with work. He needs to have good time management instead of having an affair. Men should realise the huge responsibility on their shoulders when they decided to be in a marriage.
When a woman marries her husband, she imagines having a family, laughter and endless love from the man she loves. However, not all marriages are made in heaven. This is the alternative reality of marriage. Harliana should know how to love herself instead of waiting for her husband to love her. If she chooses to stay and tolerate her unfaithful husband, she needs a backup plan especially relating to finances. She needs to bring back her dignity and her self-worth. The ugly truth is women are responsible for their own happiness. Frida channelled her sorrow into work and created what would change the ideology of women in the future.
Due to cultural and personal reasons, many stay on in a bad marriage. Women always choose not to be the troublemaker and behave in a marriage. However, the first step of survival is to think of herself just as how Frida loved herself. Harliana needs ‘cleansing’ to change from the old self to a new woman. When the heart is cleansed, it will reflect on the outside making a woman more radiant and beautiful. Subsequently, this will rebuild her confidence.
Frida had external support from her fellow poet, photographer friends and of course her family. With strong support system, women will have the strength to survive. It’s unfortunate for Harliana, who is alone as many other Malaysian women. The society has taught us never to step above men and to not interfere in any family matters. As an alternative, Harliana could get support from NGOs or a group of people with similar interest. She needs to be responsible for herself and stop being the doormat.
In a country that practices patriarchy, we are seen as second class. If the system can’t be changed (for now), women need to take charge of their own happiness. Frida left us with a legacy that showed us what women can tolerate in her lifetime. She once said “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”