State Ibuism by Julia Suryakusuma

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Julia Suryakusuma is not a newbie in Indonesian feminism arena. Her name is the legacy once one talks about Indonesian gender and sexuality. Her books, writings, speeches have contributed a lot in those arenas. This book is without exception. 

The book State Ibuism by Julia Suryakusuma is basically her thesis back in 1998 yet the situation back then is still relevant and similar to the Indonesian situation nowadays; as the mechanism and the outcomes of governmental control are still similar. Gender is still a mobilizing force for programmatic intervention and social control, as so Julia says. Meanwhile, it also means that women are still the object of the social construction- which is somehow formed to be fit into a certain hierarchical and patriarchal order. Even though these discourses on women do not change rapidly from time to time yet one can see that what is changing the the constellation, the role of the state itself. In the past, the construction of womanhood is state-dominated. Yet the discussions are now open to any interpretations as the state is no longer dominating it but it shifts to the religious arena. This shifting causes a gentle ‘force’ that women should return to her kodrat as a domesticated housewife, nurturing person, care taker for the family and the children. 

Through this book, Julia Suryakusuma tries to present those portrayal of the social construction of womanhood in Indonesia and its relation to the state. She firstly describes the social construction of womanhood itself in her perspectives. Julia then presents the facts of Indonesian state and women organisation after 1985. Her emphasise is how women is being constructed by the state through the government organisations. She takes PKK, the Indonesian family welfare guidance and the housewification in Buniwangi and Citandoh, two areas in West Java.

From the reader’s perspective, this book to me is very enlightening. What I get from the book is how the women is often constructed in the Indonesian culture through several aspects. Indonesian women is socially constructed through the concept of domestication in which women will have to return to their kodrat as aforementioned. Indonesian women are also culturally constructed through priyayization and the notion of ibuism itself because one of their kodrat is to return to the role as a mother, a caretaker for the family. Meanwhile, in the political arena, the position of women is also challenged by the state power. Those women organisations such as PKK or Dharma Wanita basically place women in the position where they only continue their husband position in the hierarchy. A wife of a military general is likely and technically going to be picked as a leader following the husband’s position in the military hierarchy.

In accordance to that notion, this domestication and notion of housewife to their relation to the family norm and state power will later led into capitalist development for some reasons (I wish that Julia can explain this part clearer- even I can grab what she tries to say). I also think that Indonesian women is ideologically constructed through the mediation of Pancasila- the official, foundational philosophical theory of Indonesia. In the end, it strengthen my opinion that the goals of the state is the domestication of women through these processes the orders (ketertiban), pembinaan (guidance), and stability (stabilitas) and through the notion of ibuism and priyayization. 

In the end? it also confirms the strong thick patriarchal system and culture that operate in the discussions of Indonesian gender and sexuality. Women are also the best victim as they are somehow ‘forced’ to return to their kodrat. It seems like women are given their notion of freedom yet the challenge of its feminism is somehow being controlled by the higher power.

This ideology of state ibuism was extremely feudalistic in nature: in its structure, hierarchy, in its undemocratic with organisational positions derived from being someone’s wife and not necessarily as a result of any merit of their own. Women were given activities that on the surface provide them with a certain importance and status. But instead of strengthening women and increasing their power, policies and programmes derived by the state from the gender ideology of state ibuism rendered them powerless. Furthermore as with priyayization, state ibuism was urban-oriented, propagating activities and values that were often unrelated to the realities of rural women. 

This-indeed reminds me of Pierre Bourdieu’s notion in masculine domination in which he says

“Male domination is rooted in the society in the most unconscious way.”

The book is written in English and Indonesian version. It enables not only the Indonesian readers but also the English readers who want to get more enlightenment on Indonesian feminism. The book itself is available at  Penerbit Komunitas Bambu click and get your own copy at an affordable price. 

Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks

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“Girls were subjected to both clito-ridectomy—the excision of the clitoris—and infibulation—the cutting away of the labia and the sealing of the wound to leave only a tiny opening for urination and menstruation. If the malnourished little girls didn’t bleed to death from the procedure itself, they often died from resulting infections or debilitating anemia. In others, scar tissue trapped urine or menstrual fluid, causing pelvic infections. Women with scar-constricted birth canals suffered dangerous and agonizing childbirth. ”
― Geraldine Brooks, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women

I was expecting that I am going to be able to deepen my understandings on Islam particularly how the women’s desire is seen in a woman. I knew it is not an easy subject nor even notion to write: therefore, the title of Ms. Brooks caught all my attention so I bought it. Alas, it turns out that the book talks mostly about her experience living in the Middle East and what she has experienced and seen in the women’s world there which of course, intersects with the Islamic values and culture. 

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I do not belittle what Ms. Brooks has done or written tho, yet I feel like I get the senses that Islam is somehow considered as a belief which place women as a submissive creature, even some of the lines in the writing also narrate how women take place in the hierarchy like in the military etc. Yet the position of women is still often being neglected.

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On the other hand, this book was written in the early 90’s; therefore, it reaches over 20 years old. Some of the things have been changing since then. As I keep travelling and living in the Muslim country, the differences between then and now are pretty obvious. I am now seeing more Islamic clerics, Islamic women and other common Muslims talk about their disagreement with domestic violence, jihad, FGM, honour killings, etc. I am seeing many of them discussing the rights of women and minorities as well as how they can to be solved and restored even it is not easy with the fundamentalism and literalist interpretations.

The laws of the Islamic state would be derived first from the Koran. But since only about six hundred of its six thousand verses are concerned with law, and only about eighty of these deal directly with crime, punishments, contracts and family law, other sources also have to be consulted. ”
― Geraldine BrooksNine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women

I lastly just want to say that some of you may find some lines in this book bias. Some of you may experience disappointment expecting that Ms. Brooks will present the notions of desire as seen in the Islamic women. Yet despite of those things, the book is a good book to read. 

Dear Ijeawele or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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“Never apologise for working. You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give to your child.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who is well-known for her “woman-empower-women” writings returns with fifteen suggestions to become a feminist. The story starts years ago when her friend asks her opinion on how to become a feminist. It’s simply because she wants her new born baby Ijeawele to be raised as a feminist. So, Ngozi comes up with some ideas on how to become a feminist which normally centralises on one notion: how a woman should be proud of themselves no matter what they are. 

Ngozi also invites her friend to introduce books to her new baby born believing that books can open such horizons (which I personally believe).

Yet unlike other feminists who avoid the role of men, Ngozi has an idea that her friend should teach her for not neglecting the position of men but to live in balance with them. 

This is what I love the most

“So instead of teaching Chizalum to be likeable, teach her to be honest and kind. And brave. Encourage her to speak her mind, to say what she really thinks, to speak truthfully. And then praise her when she does. Praise her especially when she takes a stand that is difficult or unpopular because it happens to be her honest position. Tell her that kindness matters. Praise her when she is kind to other people but teach her that her kindness must never be taken for granted. Tell her that she, too, deserves the kindness of others. Teach her to stand up for what is hers. If another child takes her toy without her permission, ask her to take it back because her consent is important. Tell her that if anything ever makes her uncomfortable , to speak up, to say it, to shout.”

Another tip that Ngozi gave is not to put pressure on the baby-born which I completely agree with her. Parents always teach their girls to be likeable, nice and to be false but they do not teach the boys the same thing which is dangerous because there are many sexual predators out there. This is also not so good for the girls because they need to speak up when they are abused. 

A good parenting tips from Ngozi: be their mother but also a friend whom your children can talk anything. 

“Teach her that to love is not only to give but also to take. This is important because we give girls subtle cues about their lives – we teach girls that a large component of their ability to love is their ability to sacrifice their selves. We do not teach this to boys. Teach her that to love, she must give of herself emotionally but she must also expect to be given. 

I think love is the most important thing in life. Whatever kind, you define it, but I think of it generally being greatly valued by another human being and greatly valuing another human being.”

“Gender roles are so deeply conditioned in us that we will often follow them even when they chafe against our true desires, our needs, our happiness. They are very difficult to unlearn.”

that’s what Ngozi said in the first chapter of her book, another reminder of woman that no matter their decision is: to get married or not, she should remain as what she is, speaks what she wants and be proud of what she has and what she is. 

A book worth reading…a book worth buying also for your children,

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan

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“Whatever happens, I’m a man. But I’m a man with a soft dick…” 
Ajo Kawir, the main character in the book

Ajo Kawir’s penis cannot get a hard on! Ajo Kawir is impotent! It happens when he is forced to witness Scaret Blush who is psychologically unstable being raped by two policemen in front of him when he was a teenager. His penis later settles in insignificant in size and in perpetual slumber like a newly-hatched bird. Nothing can even stimulate that penis even a photo of sexy woman. The penis cannot just function well particularly in the pleasure department.

Ajo Kawir would have to undergo several treatments. He even put a bee on his penis in order to be stung. Does it work? No, it doesn’t, it leaves his penis swollen. He is frustrated yet this extreme frustration later leads Ajo to become a fearsome fighter and leads him to meet several other characters. Ajo is portrayed as a man with dignity even his manhood cannot work like any other normal one. He is full of love and compassions. He also sets out to punish a local mob boss for  taking advantage of one of his female tenants. He has to pass the gangster’s bodyguard Iteung who will later become his wife. Iteung is the sort of girl who would beat a man  physically and leaving him in a ditch yet her bravado is later what attract Ajo Kawir, leaving him head-over-heels in love with this creature even he would have to leave her at first as he feels insecure about himself. And it’s so heartbreaking.

“…Look into my eyes, Iteung…look into my eyes, Iteung!…Do you love me, Iteung?”

The question started her crying again, even louder and her shoulder heaved but she nodded, nodded with complete certainty.

“Good…If you still love me, then let me go. Because if you don’t, you will make me into a fool and an idiot-even though, clearly, I am already an idiotic fool.”

Iteung was racked with sobs, her eyes and cheeks swollen. But even so, she finally let Ajo Kawir go. He left without another word. Without looking back. Without any reassurance for Ireung that she’d ever see him again.

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What I highlight from this book is Eka Kurniawan’s ability in portraying such brutal scenes which contain of violence against women particularly relating to the sex department like raping. Eka Kurniawan portrays it in the easy-and-digestible-manner like Marquez. One can also see that this may be Eka Kurniawan’s efforts in showing the real-life brutality that females suffer because of those misogynistic men in a world dominated by male. 

Kurniawan defo pleases the readers with good plot, great-witty-cynical sense of humour, irony, real-life portrait and a man who talks to his penis (ah, his penis answers him back occasionally). 

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Even though the readers should be aware on the explicit sex portrayed in the novel, the readers will surely enjoy reading this book, particularly the translated one.

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The reason? because Anne Tucker flawlessly translated the book from Bahasa Indonesia to English and simply because Eka Kurniawan is a genius writer. 

In the end? does Ajo Kawir ever find true love and does he penis finally work? Does it able to have a hard on? Well, you would have to read the book.

I am an Emotional Creature by Eve Ensler

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“I finally know the difference between pleasing and loving, obeying and respecting. It has taken me so many years to be okay with being different, and with being this alive, this intense.

-Eve Ensler in I am an Emotional Creature

I am an Emotional Creature by Eve Ensler is the sequel of The Vagina Monologue by Eve Ensler. In the previous book, Ensler invites her reader to be gutsy in pronouncing the word vagina and to embrace their femininity as well as sexuality. Yet in I am an Emotional Creature, Ensler provides her reader with the “guidance”  and the “invitation” to speak their mind up and to be true to themselves. 

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This book to me is something that women particularly all the teenage girls should read. Women have the tendency to be oppressed in the society. They are taught and forced to be inferior yet they have to represent themselves in the best manner. Women often suffer because they experience the social injustice, harassment, and violence because they are oppressed to remain silent, kind and unable to speak their mind up. Filling those unlucky holes, Ensler tries to present some writings from her readers in her pages. She presents the readers’ writing from other places such as New York, China, Tehran, Congo, Cairo, Palestine and many more. Each of the writing share a similarity: one who experiences humiliation trying to be embrace herself by being proud of what she is.

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An example is in Ensler’s work entitled Manifesta to Young Women and Girls in which Ensler says;

HERE’S WHAT YOU WILL BE TOLD:

Find a man
Seek protection
The world is scary
Don’t go out
You are weak
Don’t care so much
They’re only animals
Don’t be so intense
Don’t cry so much
You can’t trust anyone
Don’t talk to strangers
People will take advantage of you
Close your legs
Girls aren’t good with:
Numbers
Facts
Making difficult decisions
Lifting things
Putting things together
International news
Flying planes
Being in charge.
If he rapes you, surrender,
you will get killed trying to defend yourself
Don’t travel alone
You are nothing without a man
Don’t make the first move,
wait for him to notice you
Don’t be too loud
Follow the crowd
Obey the laws
Don’t know too much
Tone it down
Find someone rich
It’s how you look that matters,
not what you think.

HERE’S WHAT I’M TELLING YOU: 

Everyone’s making everything up
There is no one in charge except for those
who pretend to be
No one is coming
No one is going to
Rescue you
Mind-read your needs
Know your body better than you

Always fight back
Ask for it
Say you want it
Cherish your solitude
Take trains by yourself to places
you have never been
Sleep out alone under the stars
Learn how to drive a stick shift
Go so far away that you stop being afraid of
not coming back
Say no when you don’t want to do something
Say yes if your instincts are strong
even if everyone around you disagrees
Decide whether you want to be liked or admired
Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out
what you’re doing here
Believe in kissing
Fight for tenderness
Care as much as you do
Cry as much as you want
Insist the world be theater
and love the drama
Take your time
Move as fast as you do
as long as it’s your speed.
Ask yourself these questions:
Why am I whispering when I have something to say?
Why am I adding a question mark at the end
of all my sentences?
Why am I apologizing every time I express my needs?
Why am I hunching over?
Starving myself when I love food?
Pretending it doesn’t mean that much to me?
Hurting myself when I mean to scream?
Why am I waiting
Whining
Pining
Fitting in?
You know the truth:
Sometimes it does hurt that much
Horses can feel love
Your mother wanted more than that
It’s easier to be mean than smart
But that isn’t who you are.

Each of Ensler’s voice is unique in this book. It is not merely about Eve Ensler anymore, but she represents those voices of women who are unable to speak for themselves. She also present several general facts such as

Her words are mostly empowering

“People ask me all the time how I survived. It wasn’t that I was smarter or even stronger than anyone else. I didn’t even know what I was doing. It was just that something inside me couldn’t go along.”
― Eve Ensler, I am an Emotional Creature

It is fascinating to read this book even I normally do not read this kind of book. This book may be written for girls but it will be good also if boys can read this book so they know how to treat girls in the right manner. Those boys knows what circles around girls and their unusual and ordinary circumstances. A book that worth reading for. 

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An Erotic Beyond: Sade by Octavio Paz

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“I don’t believe that there are dangerous writers: the danger of certain books is not in the books themselves but in the passions of their readers.”
-Octavio Paz in An Erotic Beyond Sade

Octavio Paz is brilliant! That is the first word crossing my mind when I read this book. He analyses a controversial subject whose people might never think which are erotica and sexuality. In giving his arguments, Paz breaks down his analysis into several chapters, as you, dear readers can see below:

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He based his arguments in the first chapter by analysing the difference between erotica and sexuality. Paz argues that that sexuality comes naturally meanwhile eroticism is the social construction of sexuality itself. It comes from one’s mind and is put into a manifestation such as orgies and other forms of sexual activities.

“There is no essential difference between eroticism and sexuality: eroticism is socialised sexuality, subject to the necessities of the group, a vital force expropriated by society. Even in its destructive manifestation – orgies, human sacrifices, ritual mutilation, obligatory chastity – eroticism inserts itself in society and affirms its principles and goals. Its complexity- rituals, ceremonies – begin to have social function; what distinguishes a sexual act from an erotic one is that in the former, nature serves the species, while in the latter, human society is served by nature.”

Furthermore, Paz also argues that the human themselves who make a form of eroticism as something historical. If I can put it in other word based on my understanding, human creates such an image and associate it with something particularly eroticism; for instance, the image of Venus that they create is often associated with beauty and Aphrodite is often associated with eroticism. 

 

 

This imaginary is probably what later drives Paz to centralise his discussion on eroticism and sexuality on Marquis de Sade, a prominent figure for erotic literature along with Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. Several people whom he met in Paris and had a discussion about Sade gave a little bit more contribution on the discussion about eroticism and mere sexuality. It enriches the discussion which makes Paz’ writing on eroticism brief and pleasant to read even it is a little bit overpraised like Harold Bloom and his Shakespeare Universalism. It’s enlightening and worth reading. 

 

Operation Playboy by Kathryn Bonella

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“To anyone who ever takes an international flight…you just never know who is sitting next to you…”

The caption in the beginning of Bonella’s Operation Playboy intrigues me as the title and rest of the book. Well, I do not mind if one next to me is as sexy as Chief Fernando Caieron. Anyway, the book tells about her investigation on those Brazilian playboys who travel around the world with their flamboyant appearance, their surfing boards, and plenty of cash to spend for those celebrity models, high-class hookers, parties and five-stars hotels. Little that people know, those Brazilian hotties are also a part of drug-running kings who live a risky life by trafficking cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana on international flights circling mostly in some parts of South America, Europe particularly in Amsterdam and Bali. 

It is fascinating, surprising yet enlightening knowing the stories from these boys: on how they start to become the drug mules – or later the drug “horses” and how they keep inventing new ways to smuggle drugs in. When these boys play their game, they really gamble every thing.  Yet like one of them said, it is “better than an orgasm.”

Their escapades were without any obstacles. The honky tonky- sexy Brazilian cop Chief Fernando Cesar and Fernando Caieron investigated their circle and brought them to justice tirelessly even he sometimes would have to deal with the corrupted judicial Brazilian system. The arrest of some of the people in this drug circles also hit the media as it became one of the hot news in Indonesia. Well, what can I say? You smuggle drug to Indonesia and you are faced the death penalty. See what happened to the Bali 9: a group of Australian folks who were death sentenced in Indonesia. I remember back then, one of the Indonesian judges said;

Criticism from outside is expected, but Indonesian courts will only adhere to the laws applied in this country, and that includes the death penalty. The judges will not budge, we will not be affected by public opinion or the media.
— Denpasar District Court Judge I Wayan Yasa Abadhi, December 2005.

I really love how Bonella narrates those boys’ real experience into a story. I also love the last part where she provides her readers with the testimony of some of those boys and how their life looks life after the arrest. What I love the most is the statement of Jorge (whose stories especially his sexual escapades often make me holding my breathe)

“There is no ex drug dealers, no ex prostitutes…that doesn’t exist. Once you’re a prostitute, you are always going to be a prostitute, once you are a drug dealer, you’re always going to be a drug dealer. Guaranteed. There is no way back. That is my opinion.”

Ah a highly recommended book. One should possess this book and read it.