Some weeks ago, one headline in the local newspaper published in my hometown,Semarang talked about one popular singer from Malaysia, Siti Nurhaliza who was said was just proposed by a wealthy businessman who was in his mid forties. Datuk, that’s his nickname, has given her, as a dowry, a very luxurious car and house that perhaps cost more than US $ 425,000. When I saw his picture in the newspaper, I said, “Well, he’s good looking enough.” A female workmate—around 26 years old—commented, “His money made him look handsome. Anyway, who will refuse to be given a dowry that expensive? No woman will refuse, of course.” (FYI, this workmate of mine was proposed by her boyfriend some months ago and now she is still preparing her wedding ceremony.) I commented back (with my cynical character L), “Do you want to sell yourself? Do you consider yourself as a property and deserve to be bought that expensive?”
“Well, I don’t think it is about buying and selling in a marriage. ...” that’s her reply. I didn’t comment more. I knew she belongs to the conventional type (I concluded like that from our daily encounter and talk) and it would be difficult for her to accept my viewpoint that there is not much different of a role of a housewife from that of a prostitute. Paying some amount of money in the form of dowry is similar to a case when a customer pays a prostitute before (or after?) having sex. I didn’t want to “poison” her. LOL.
I remember the four main attributes of a “true” woman in The Cult of True Womanhood appearing in the nineteenth century America; namely, piety, purity, domesticity, and submission. The second attribute—purity—obliged women to be pure, virgin, before the first night of her wedding coz she had to give her virginity to her husband as the payment of the dowry her husband had paid to her parents. While for the other three attributes, they were the “service” she had to give her husband as the payment of the monthly paycheck she received after marrying him.
No wonder, then, if men thought that their women were their property, coz of the amount of money those men had to pay.
In Javanese culture, in Java island where I live, one big island in Indonesia—the most populated one—dowry is called “tukon” that can be interpreted as money used to buy something. As many other ethnic groups in the world, in Javanese culture, men pay the dowry to the bride’s family. Many parents who consider their daughters as their property will sell their daughters with high price, as the “substitute” of the amount of money they have spent to raise the daughters—food, clothes, shelter, including education. Those parents want the money they have spent back by “selling” their daughters.
This culture dates back from the time immemorial. After getting married, women will feel that they are responsible to take care of their husband’s need; such as preparing meals, washing clothes, cleaning the house, etc. For men who used to be independent before getting married, doing all those things by themselves, after getting married suddenly they no longer can do them, they depend on their wife. The one who buys is the superior. The one who is bought is the servant, the submissive.
However, there is one ethnic group in Indonesia that has contradictory culture in paying dowry. In Minang culture located in Sumatra island, women pay the dowry. If one woman wants to propose a man who is good-looking, she must pay expensive, the more quality the more expensive, that’s for sure. The following question, then, is whether Minang women then are superior to their husband coz they are the one who buy? NO is the answer. The responsibilities given to women as servant—cooking to prepare meals, cleaning the house, washing and ironing clothes—still belong to women. With their unique culture called “matrilineal”, men in Minang culture are not responsible toward their wife and children financially. Instead, they are responsible toward their nephews and nieces of their daughters. Women in Minang are indeed more unfortunate than Javanese women, I assume. They have to spend some money to “buy” their husband-to-be so that they will get married. (Don’t forget Indonesia’s marriage-oriented society, you are NORMAL only when you are married after reaching a certain age.) After the wedding, instead of being the “owner” of the “property” they have bought, those Minang women must serve their husband, and their husband doesn’t need to finance their household. It is very possible for irresponsible men to ignore the needs of their wife and children coz in fact it is justified by the local culture. It will be more unfortunate for women who don’t have any brother that is obliged to be responsible for the lives of the sister and nieces/nephews.
Going back to Siti Nurhaliza’s case. She is a very popular and talented singer. It is very logical then if she deserves to get very expensive car and house as the dowry although she herself doesn’t really need that money (at least, this is my way of thinking J) coz she is already rich to be number one singer in Malaysia. :)