ARI Working Paper Series
WPS 152 Women Writing about Marriage and Sexuality: Post-1998 Indonesian Fiction
Publisher : Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Publication Date : May / 2011
Keywords : women; family; marriage; gender; sexuality; Indonesia; fiction

This paper presents close readings of literary works by four Indonesian women writers and points to changes in discourses about marriage, families, sex and sexuality since 1998. Recent studies by social scientists address how sexual curiosity and erotic desire among Indonesian youth cause frictions between conservative religious attitudes and modern, globally influenced ways of life. While fiction presents readers with new, eye-opening points of view and offers alternative life styles such as cohabitation, extramarital relationships and being childless by choice, only time will tell to what extent these alternatives will affect their audiences in real life.

Ayu Utami depicts libidinous characters in her novel Saman who enjoy pleasurable sex that gives them satisfaction and personal gratification. In a collection of autobiographical sketches and critical commentaries she challenges the patriarchal master-narrative of the New Order period and society's sexual double standards. Her feminist approach exposes Indonesian hypocrisy regarding sexual habits and marriage. Alia Swastika presents a critical stance toward marriage in her story "A Request". Her protagonist is a self-conscious modern woman with professional ambitions who fears that marriage will suffocate her and limit her career options. Fira Basuki's novel Rojak represents race, class, gender and female sexuality in a story of promiscuity. The main female character consciously chooses to engage in an extramarital affair when her husband fails to give her personal fulfillment. Stefani Hid's novel presents the sexual adventures of a female adolescent in her search for selfhood in a fast-paced society affected by globalizing forces.

While marriage is still considered sacrosanct in Indonesia and the public firmly adheres to standards of what is morally appropriate behaviour, these literary writings demonstrate that perceptions of marriage, sexuality and gender roles have been modified in the post-1998 era.