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Gender and Nationhood: The Emerging Gendered Modernities of Malaysia and Indonesia

Sunday 22 March 2015, 1130 – 1300, Auditorium 2

Dahlia Martin
Flinders University

Gaik Cheng Khoo
University of Nottingham

Specific constructs of gender have been central to the emerging modernities of Malaysia and Indonesia; gender is therefore an essential component of socio-political developments in these two countries, and in turn reflects a dominant androcentrism in these societies. This panel seeks to bring further attention to the relationship between gender and modernity in the Malaysian and Indonesian context, by examining how gender is engaged in specific points of contestation over the essence of modernity in either of these countries. The specific points of contestation discussed during the panel include: ethnoreligious and ethnosexual identity politics in Malaysia; the emergence of the suffering female subject in Islamic melodrama in Jakarta; and the biopoliticisation of the Malaysian population. This panel consists of four presenters, all of whom have in recent years investigated socio-political developments in Malaysia and/or Indonesia with particular attention to the aspect of gender. Whilst utilising a variety of scholarship such as feminist, queer and postcolonial theories to facilitate a gendered reading of developments in these countries, the papers nonetheless will locate its findings in the specific local sociohistorical context. To this end, the panel also aims to contest the boundaries of methodologies with regard to the analysis of gender by engaging in intersectional and multi-tiered analytical paradigms and proposing praxis. It argues that new methodological paradigms are sorely needed in the analysis of gendered subjectivities at the intersection of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, religion, health and identity to illuminate a better understanding of power, ideology, division and social categories in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Paper 1: Melodrama, modernity and the politics of religious suffering

Alicia Izharuddin
School of Oriental and African Studies

Recent production of Islamic films in Indonesia that articulate the link between piety, poverty, and family relations are couched in highly melodramatic terms, featuring elderly mothers who sacrifice their spiritual aspirations and themselves for the sake of their family. These films are set against a melange of the dizzying disparities of Jakartan modernity and buttressed by the theatrical quality of suffering as social and religious cachet. This paper asks, in what ways do Islamic melodrama and suffering create the emotional geographies of Jakartan modernity? The theoretical underpinning of this paper draws on a range of existing arguments surrounding the relationship between the visibility of piety, melodrama and modernity, but also on the work of urban theorists and cultural historians who have identified the metropolis as a significant catalyst in the formation of modernity. I argue that the synergies between melodrama, the spectacle of pious suffering, and Jakartan metropolitan culture create paradoxical forms of feminine subjects of Islamic modernity.

Paper 2: The Contestation of Muslim Homogeneity through Queer Variegations of Lived Islam among Gay-Identifying Malay-Muslim Malaysian Men

Joseph N. Goh
Monash University Malaysia

This paper examines and interprets the multifarious ways in which gay-identifying Malay-Muslim Malaysian men negotiate their faith systems and their sexuality. These negotiations occur in a country which not only censures non-heteronormative identifyings and expressions, but unproblematically expects and insists on heteronormatively-defined notions of religious homogeneity in its intersection with gender and sexual performativities. My analysis draws on a larger qualitative research project which began in 2012. In this project, I conducted in-depth, face-to-face interviews with 30 Malaysian non-heteronormative men from diverse sexual, religious and ethnic backgrounds in order to uncover the meanings of their sexual identities and practices, as well as the connections and/or conflicts between their sexualities and sense of the transcendent. In this paper, I deploy a Constructivist Grounded Theory Methodology, and diverse queer, religious and sociological frameworks to analyse the selected narratives of four gay-identifying, Malay-Muslim Malaysian men who spoke on the intersection of their sexuality and their religious beliefs. By performing Islam in specific ways in their daily lives, these men construct liminal spaces that enable a concomitant adherence to their faith as Muslims, and their identifyings and expressions as gay-identifying men. By contesting religious homogeneity through their lived realities, they perform a queer, Islamic modernity that rails against heteronormative assumptions of Malay-Muslim Malaysian men.

Paper 3: Gender, Family Planning and Nation Building: The Biopoliticization of Population in Post-colonial Malay(si)a

Heong Hong Por
Universiti Sains Malaysia

This paper aims to reconstruct the history of family planning in Malaysia with a focus on ideas about citizen’s bodies and its intersection with the ideology of nation building from 1954 to 1984. Recent feminist critiques of family planning tend to paint a picture of the national anti-natalist approach to population issue prior to the 1984 pro-natalist turn as women friendly. On the contrary, historians informed by Foucauldian conception of biopolitics construe population control in the region as a top-down program that instrumentalizes, disciplines and manipulates the citizen’s health and bodies.

Drawing from official reports and English and vernacular newspapers about family planning, this paper will reconcile these two contradictory pictures of population politics. Despite that family planning had been charged with nation building ideology and aimed to modernize and develop the new nation via controlling married heterosexual women’s bodies and their variegated rates of fertility since its inception in the 1950s, some female doctors had tried to define birth control as a women centered technology to improve women’s life. Though ideologically charged and nation state centered, the state-led anti-natalist campaign  paradoxically allowed married women access to birth control technology. This paper argues that, biopolitics in the three decades of anti-natalist era was characterized by a mix of top-down instrumentalizing trend and the citizen’s redeployment of birth control technology for the improvement of one’s quality of life.