Bewitching Women, Pious Men: Gender and Body Politics in Southeast Asia

Bewitching Women, Pious Men: Gender and Body Politics in Southeast Asia

Bewitching Women, Pious Men: Gender and Body Politics in Southeast Asia

Bewitching Women, Pious Men: Gender and Body Politics in Southeast Asia


This impressive array of essays considers the contingent and shifting meanings of gender and the body in contemporary Southeast Asia. By analyzing femininity and masculinity as fluid processes rather than social or biological givens, the authors provide new ways of understanding how gender intersects with local, national, and transnational forms of knowledge and power.

Contributors cut across disciplinary boundaries and draw on fresh fieldwork and textual analysis, including newspaper accounts, radio reports, and feminist writing. Their subjects range widely: the writings of feminist Filipinas; Thai stories of widow ghosts; eye-witness accounts of a beheading; narratives of bewitching genitals, recalcitrant husbands, and market women as femmes fatales. Geographically, the essays cover Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. The essays bring to this region the theoretical insights of gender theory, political economy, and cultural studies.

Gender and other forms of inequality and difference emerge as changing systems of symbols and meanings. Bodies are explored as sites of political, economic, and cultural transformation. The issues raised in these pages make important connections between behavior, bodies, domination, and resistance in this dynamic and vibrant region.


This book had its beginnings in a conference on gender in Southeast Asian cultures that was held at the University of California, Berkeley, in the winter of 1992. The meetings were sponsored by the University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies as part of its annual conference series, and were organized by Aihwa Ong of the Department of Anthropology. Sylvia Tiwon of the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies helped put together the program for the meetings. We appreciate the support and encouragement of Robert Reed, Director of the Center; we are also grateful to Eric Crystal and Cynthia Joysama, who made many of the administrative arrangements for the conference and were instrumental in its success.

Although we were not able to include in the present volume all the papers presented at the meetings, we would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to all the participants for the intellectual energy and excitement they brought to the formal sessions and the dialogues that followed. We are especially grateful to Anna L. Tsing and Vincente Rafael who (along with Michael Peletz) served as discussants, and not only raised provocative questions, but also sharpened our theoretical contributions. Subsequently, Michael Peletz agreed to be coeditor of the present volume, and jointly imagined how the entire collection would come together. One of our early decisions was to “round out” the collection by including two previously published papers (Ong, and Heng and Devan) that were not presented at the conference.

We would like to thank Naomi Schneider and William Murphy of the University of California Press, for their encouragement and support in publishing the book. We are also grateful to anonymous readers for the Press, who provided helpful comments, and to Herbert P. Philips, who drew our attention to the modernist Thai painting that graces the cover of the book.

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