Toeti Heraty was born in Bandung on 27 November 1933. Her father, Prof. Rooseno, was a well-known engineering expert and her siblings all work in the hard sciences. Toeti initially followed her family’s wishes, studying Medicine at the University of Indonesia from 1951 until 1955, obtaining an undergraduate level. Her studies in medicine, however, did not satisfy her brand of curiosity. She left the medical field and began what would be her journey from hard sciences to feminist poet. She continued studying at UI, in the department of psychology 1955 from 1962. During this period, she also studied at the University of Leiden, where she met her husband, biologist Eddy Noerhadi. They were married in 1958. She returned to Leiden for her doctorate, studying from 1971 until 1974. Her dissertation, which was later published, is titled Aku Dalam Budaya (The I/Ego in Culture).
Toeti lead an active life in the academic world. She taught at the Psychology Faculty of Pajajaran University. Along with Soerjanto Poespowardojo, she founded Department of Philosophy in the Arts Faculty of UI, and served as a lecturer. She went on to chair the philosophy department in the UI, as well as the Post Graduate program for Philosophy Studies. Toeti also acted as Dean of the Jakarta Institute of the Arts. She was installed as acting professor in the UI Arts Faculty in 1994.
Recognition for Toeti Heraty’s poetry came in the 1970’s, though she began writing nearly ten years earlier. Her background in psychology and philosophy informed her poetry, as did her position as a female in a male-dominated culture. Thus her poems give voice to the emotional struggles and disappointments of women. Her poems clearly show a feminist influence; yet their way of confronting patriarchy is both soft and ‘strong’, quietly questioning the complicity of a world that represses women. Most recently, she challenged the standard perception of one of Indonesia’s great archetypal figures: Calon Arang. Her lyric poem Calon Arang: the Story of A Woman Victimized by Patriarchy, challenges the one-dimensional perception of the famous mother/witch as an evil antagonistic character, but rather as a three dimensional woman acting against a repressive, patriarchal society.
Toeti Heraty’s work as a feminist is not limited to her poetry, she is considered to be a member of Indonesia’s first generation of feminist thinkers, having written extensively on issues impacting women. Toeti Heraty continually questions, challenges and critiques her own culture and they way in which it marginalizes women.
Apart from being a poet, feminist and academic, Toeti is also known as a lover of the arts. Her house at no. 6 Cemara St. in Menteng also acts as a gallery that holds works of the great painters like Affandi, Soedjojono, Srihadi and others.
In 1998, Toeti Heraty was appointed head of Yayasan Mitra Budaya Indonesia (YMBI- Foundation for Lovers of Indonesian Culture) and is the manager of its premises. Apart from its cultural activities, YMBI also publishes a regular cultural magazine, Jurnal Perempuan. She also works with the NGO Suara Ibu Peduli.