Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

"He Is Your Garment and You Are His ...": Religious Precepts, Interpretations, and Power Relations in Marital Sexuality among Javanese Muslim Women

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

"He Is Your Garment and You Are His ...": Religious Precepts, Interpretations, and Power Relations in Marital Sexuality among Javanese Muslim Women

Article excerpt

The operating assumption for this paper is that sexuality is a cultural construct and not altogether biological and immutable. (1) Another assumption is that the teachings of the Qur'an on sexual equality and reciprocity may not always apply in Muslim society in Java. This is because there are at least two factors that determine a Javanese Muslim's attitude to sexuality. First, there is the influence of local Javanese culture which, like many other cultures, is patriarchal and has, consequently, assigned asymmetrical power relations in marriage with all its ramifications on women's sexuality. This patriarchal ideology has been sustained by Javanese stereotypical concept of womanhood, and further perpetrated by the political structure through the institutionalization of the familial ideology. (2) Second, there is the influence of how a person understands Islam and its religious texts. The religious quote referring to marital sexuality (Q.S. al-Baqarah 2:187) in the title of this paper is one of the many instances in the Qur'an and appeals to traditions traceable to the Prophet and his companions known collectively as the Hadith. It prescribes equal and complementary gender and sexual relations in marriage. Other verses or hadith may not be as explicit as illustrations of equity and reciprocity between man and woman; in fact, many even imply something quite the contrary. (3) This diversity in the religious texts lends itself to varied interpretations and emphasis, which results in the wide range of experiences found in Muslim communities across the world. Within the world of Javanese Muslims that my three case studies are drawn from, these differences are also evident.

Sexuality, Power, and Patriarchy

My study also seeks to understand sexuality as more than a personal issue between two partners. Articles from feminist literature epitomized by the writings of Kate Millet inform this paper, canvassing a perspective that dissects sexual relations as part of the power relationship intrinsic to human society. "Sex is political", claims the second-wave feminist Millet in her book Sexual Politics (1970), because the roots of women's oppression are buried deep in patriarchy's sex/gender system. The male-female relationship is the paradigm for all power relationships, and "unless the clinging to male supremacy as a birthright is finally foregone, all systems of oppression will continue to function" (Millet 1970, p. 25). Because male control of the public and private worlds is what constitutes patriarchy, (4) male control must be eliminated if women are to be liberated. To eliminate male control is no easy task. It must, first of all, eliminate the prevalent gender relations constructed under patriarchy.

Patriarchal ideology, according to Millet, exaggerates biological differences between men and women, ensuring that men always play the dominant role and women, the subordinate one. This ideology is particularly powerful because through conditioning, men usually obtain the consent of the very women they oppress. The role of institutions such as the family, the school, and religion is instrumental in sustaining patriarchy. Each of these institutions justifies and reinforces women's subordination to men with the result that most women internalize a sense of inferiority to men. If a woman refuses to accept patriarchal ideology, and if she manifests her mistrust by casting off her submissiveness, men will use coercion to accomplish what conditioning has failed to achieve. Intimidation, observed Millet, is everywhere in patriarchy (Millet 1970, pp. 43-46).

Sexuality is a crucial issue in feminism because "aggression and the `need' to dominate form a routine part of what is accepted as (normal) male sexuality" (Coveney et al. 1984, p. 9). Male violence against women is normalized and legitimized in sexual practices through the assumption that when it comes to sex, men are by nature aggressive and dominant, whereas women by nature are passive and submissive. …

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