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Bewitching Women, Pious Men

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

Aihwa Ong
Michael G. Peletz
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 314
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  • Book Info
    Bewitching Women, Pious Men
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91534-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    A. O. and M. G. P.
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)
    Aihwa Ong and Michael G. Peletz

    How can anthropologists and other scholars bring fresh perspectives to the study of femininity and masculinity in Southeast Asia? Dominant scholarly conceptions of gender in Southeast Asia focus on egalitarianism, complementarity, and the relative autonomy of women in relation to men-and are framed largely in local terms. For the contributors to this book, gender is a fluid, contingent process characterized by contestation, ambivalence, and change; their approaches, moreover, situate gender squarely within the interlocking ideological and material contexts of a dynamic, modernizing region.

    In the postcolonial world, the intersections of the past and the present, the local and the global,...

  6. ONE Why Women Rule the Roost: Rethinking Javanese Ideologies of Gender and Self-Control
    (pp. 19-50)
    Suzanne A. Brenner

    The ethnographic literature on java has referred repeatedly over the years to a concept that can be glossed as “spiritual potency” (see Keeler 1987, 1990; C. Geertz 1960; Anderson 1972; Hatley 1990; S. Errington 1990). According to a number of ethnographic accounts, there is a common belief among Javanese people that individuals have the potential to develop a concentration of inner spiritual strength through the sustained practice of emotional and behavioral self-control. Individuals who have amassed this mystical power are said to be recognizable through their constantly calm demeanor, their refined speech styles and comportment, and their ability to elicit...

  7. TWO Narrating Herself: Power and Gender in a Minangkabau Woman’s Tale of Conflict
    (pp. 51-75)
    Jennifer Krier

    The women were sitting in the kitchen, ladling rice and curry into bowls for the titled male elders in the lineage.¹ They had donned sarongs and head-coverings by the time the men had arrived. “They are our elders,” the women told me, “you must dress respectfully and honor them.” So the women served the men fancy food, setting down the plates and glasses where the elders directed, while the big room of the house-women’s space in daily life-slowly filled up with men and cigarette smoke and serious talk about the ritual that needed to be planned.

    Back in the kitchen,...

  8. THREE Neither Reasonable nor Responsible: Contrasting Representations of Masculinity in a Malay Society
    (pp. 76-123)
    Michael G. Peletz

    For much of the twentieth century, kinship was, as Collier and Yanagisako (1987a:1) recently put it, “the central focus of ethnographies and ... the privileged site for theoretical debates about the character of social structure.” This is dear from even a cursory perusal of classic texts by Lowie, Murdock, Goodenough, Schneider, and other American anthropologists. It is even more obvious when one reexamines the Great Books associated with the likes of Radcliffe-Brown, Evans-Pritchard, Gluckman, Fortes, Leach, Levi-Strauss, and others working within the British or French traditions. To illustrate the point with a concrete example, we might consider the landmark collection...

  9. FOUR Senior Women, Model Mothers, and Dutiful Wives: Managing Gender Contradictions in a Minangkabau Village
    (pp. 124-158)
    Evelyn Blackwood

    While the anthropological discourse on postmodernism and late capitalism appraises the postmodern condition, postcolonial nations are impressing old paradigms on the bodies of their new citizens. Much as their colonial predecessors did, these new nations have developed a core of agents, activities and institutions that direct the formation of group and individual identities, which in turn coalesce into a national identity. In the process of state building, diverse ethnic groups are homogenized into national citizens through pronouncements concerning the acceptable styles and images of life (Foster 1991; Williams 1989). New nations not only redefine ethnicity in producing national identities, but...

  10. FIVE State Versus Islam: Malay Families, Women’s Bodies, and the Body Politic in Malaysia
    (pp. 159-194)
    Aihwa Ong

    In the summer of 1990, on my annual visit to Malaysia, I noticed that many young Malay women had traded in their black Islamic robes(hi jab)for pastel colored ones, and that their headcloths(mini-telekung)were now embroidered with flowers. The effect was rather like seeing a black and white film in color. In the late 1970s and early 198os, when Malaysian campuses were the hotbeds of Islamic resurgence, female students shrouded in black robes and veils sometimes appeared like phalanxes of Allah’s soldiers. Now university women were dressed inhijaboutfits that had been transformed by color and...

  11. SIX State Fatherhood: The Politics of Nationalism, Sexuality, and Race in Singapore
    (pp. 195-215)
    Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan

    Postcolonial governments are inclined, with some predictability, to generate narratives of national crisis, driven perhaps-the generous explanation-to reenact periodically the state’s traumatic if also liberating separation from colonial authority, a moment catachrestically founding the nation itselfquanation. Typically, however, such narratives of crisis serve more than one category of reassurance: by repeatedly focusing anxiety on the fragility of the new nation, its ostensible vulnerability to every kind of exigency, the state’s originating agency is periodically reinvoked and ratified, its access to wideranging instruments of power in the service of national protection continually consolidated. It is a post-Foucauldian truism that...

  12. SEVEN Alternative Filipina Heroines: Contested Tropes in Leftist Feminisms
    (pp. 216-243)
    Jacqueline Siapno

    Dekada’70 (Decade 1970) is a novel about the political radicalization of the urban middle-class in the antidictatorship movement in the Philippines in the 1970s. It was written by a woman, Lualhati Bautista, who grew up in Tondo (one of the worst urban-poor slums in Manila), was educated in public schools,¹ and began her writing career by publishing her stories withLiwayway² magazine. Unlike some contemporary Filipino writers who think and write predominantly in English, Lualhati Bautista chooses to write fictiononlyin the Tagalog language. Her major works have yet to be translated.³ The themes she chooses to write...

  13. EIGHT Attack of the Widow Ghosts: Gender, Death, and Modernity in Northeast Thailand
    (pp. 244-273)
    Mary Beth Mills

    In the dry season of 1990, for a period of about six weeks, villagers in the northeast of Thailand came to believe that they were in imminent danger of attack by marauding “widow ghosts”(phii mae maai).¹ Rural communities throughout the region called Isan, erected large, carved wooden penises, often two to three feet long or more, on village gateposts and at the entrances of most houses in an attempt to ward off these deadly female spirits.Phii mae maai,it was believed, were roaming the countryside looking for men to kill and take as “husbands.” The fearsome power of...

  14. NINE Narratives of Masculinity and Transnational Migration: Filipino Workers in the Middle East
    (pp. 274-298)
    Jane A. Margold

    In a performance piece entitled “1991,” the Mexican-American protagonist identifies himself as a migrant poet, a “high-tech Aztec” who wanders through the borderlands of pastiche cultures and multiple epochs. The male subjectivity he enacts is fragmented and self-parodic. Standing astride an imaginary line on stage, the poet reflects that his “manhood” is “perfectly bisected” by the border between Mexico and the United States. No bodily integrity or unitary consciousness is possible for this liminal male self. The poet exits stage as he entered, the perplexed child ofdesmodernidad:chaos, motherlessness and late modernity.¹

    The migrant poet’s performance of his splintered,...

  15. INDEX
    (pp. 299-309)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 310-310)