Years of Dressing Dangerously: Modern Women, National Identity and Moral Crisis in Sukarno's Indonesia, 1945-1966
AbstractThis dissertation on the role of women, modernity and moral crisis in the development of the Indonesian nation during the Sukarno Era (1945-1966), argues that a full understanding of the mass killings of the Indonesian left in the aftermath of the “coup” of September 30, 1965 is incomplete without an analysis of Indonesian women’s modernity at its center. The idea of Indonesia was modern, based on a new “Indonesian national identity,” conceived of as “one archipelago, one language, one people.” The press played an important role in imagining the new nation. Women’s magazines played a particularly important role in providing a space where literate, mostly urban women could flesh out what it meant to be simultaneously “Indonesian” and “modern.” Indonesian modernity was complex, attempting to “take the best” from western technical modernity without losing a cultural base of “authentically eastern” values. The result was a specific Indonesian way of being “moderen” which the dissertation analyzes as a “multiply enmeshed cultural web” of the interplay of both local and global influences. Tensions that arose over what might be “too much” modernity were often conceived of as instances of “moral crisis” that put the future of the Indonesian nation at risk. Such crises often centered around women, their clothing and makeup, their bodies and their comportment. When oversteps were perceived as particularly blatant or salacious, violence was sometimes seen as an appropriate corrective. Under Sukarno, Indonesia was also beset by both political and regional pressures that sought to tear the nation apart. However, politically active women worked together in coalition as “Mothers of the Nation,” connected across Indonesia’s various political “streams,” to advance a progressive political agenda aligned with Sukarno’s vision of the nation. In October 1965, mounting political tensions in Indonesia exploded when a group of senior generals were kidnapped from their homes in the middle of the night and shot. The army blamed the Communist Party for the deaths, and exacted harsh revenge, leading to the destruction of the Indonesian Left, through the mass killings of at least half a million people. To do this, the army invented and deployed a salacious story about Communist women who were present at the killings of the generals, alleging they had sexually tortured the generals before executing them. In the words of John Roosa, the story served as a “pretext” for the annihilation of the Indonesian left under the army’s command. This narrative has received significant attention from historians. To date, however, there is little explanation of why it actually “worked” in an Indonesian cultural context. The dissertation proposes that the “Lubang Buaya Narrative” about Communist women is best read as a massive instance of moral crisis. The dissertation argues, therefore, that the narrative was constructed as a “post-text” of Indonesian cultural tensions about modernity. Recent historiography has argued that the mass killings represent an instance of genocide. The dissertation asks how historians might use the details of the construction of Indonesian women as modern, including the web of cultural meanings imbedded in questions of clothing, beauty, comportment and motherhood in the pages of women’s magazines to serve as markers for reading the causes of the Indonesian killings as genocide. The Sukarno era, and particularly its bloody end, therefore, cannot be understood without a complex reading of the lives of Indonesian women.
Cultural History of Modern IndonesiaWomen's History of Modern IndonesiaHistory of GenocideIndonesian National IdentityModernity and Post-colonial National Identity
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