Maskulinitas: Culture, Gender and Politics in Indonesia

Article excerpt

Maskulinitas: culture, gender and politics in Indonesia. Monash papers on Southeast Asia no. 71 Caulfield: Monash University Press, 2010. Pp. 182. Notes, Bibliography, Index.

In this wide-ranging and intriguing study of Indonesian arts, especially those that appeared during the first 10 years following Suharto's fall, Marshall Clark looks at diverse genres: the novels of Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Ayu Utami; films--some art house, some more popular--by a number of important new directors; and works by a controversial poet, Binhad Nurrohmat. In each case, he asks how men are represented and what we can learn in light of those representations about contemporary Indonesian attitudes toward masculinity. In particular, he wishes to learn whether conventional expectations of the idealised male are undergoing re-evaluation. Has there been any loosening of the screws that keep Indonesian males fastened to a New Order take on gender, wherein men are in control of themselves and everyone else, and women are subservient, supportive and focused on the family? Or to say the same in a different idiom, has the radical questioning that the end of the New Order occasioned reduced the power of Javanist patriarchy and heteronormativity?

Clark frequently invokes Bakhtin as he examines materials that deal much more frankly and provocatively with sexuality and 'lower bodily strata' than has been customary in recent Indonesian culture. Like Bakhtin, he celebrates the anti-authoritarian tenor of what comes from the 'marketplace': the way that exchange of all sorts challenges the order and stasis of institutionalised power. Yet there is a risk here, one that Clark does not completely avoid, of taking representations of the lowly or nonnormative as critiques of the high and mighty or the normative, when the point may simply be to emphasise their differences. Pramoedya, certainly, challenged hierarchical assumptions at their foundations. Yet many of Clark's other examples, particularly those from film, are equivocal. As Clark admits, many popular films reflect men's sense of being under threat from assertive feminism. But they do so by reaffirming stereotypes of women's baleful power and retelling tales of men's violent responses. Directors who fall back on these standard tropes may simply, and cynically, exploit young male spectators' taste for such violence. But their films' popularity suggests no rethinking of conventional (and destructive) masculinist attitudes.

Clark's claims are modest. …