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Thursday, September 20, 2007

High Literature vs Popular Literature

In “Popular Literature” class—when I was a student at American Studies Gadjah Mada University majoring ‘American Literature and Culture’—my classmates and I used to have lively discussion on “dichotomy” of popular literature—often considered as low quality literature—versus high-brow literature. Why should this dichotomy exist? Who has privilege to decide which kind of literature is considered pop and which is high? And why should some people feel that they have that privilege?

Some literary critics said that when a work was produced only to follow what public wanted to read—just for fun or entertainment, no “deep meaning” under the surface of the story—then it would be categorized into “pop literature”. In addition to that, people also said the work was only for commercial’s need, because the writer needed money when writing. On the contrary, when a work was produced not only to follow public’s needs, it was written more to fulfill the writer’s ambition to communicate “something important” to readers, so that the work had “deep meaning”, then the work could be categorized into “high-brow literature”.

However, when talking about Jack London’s works, who would say that his works do not have deep meaning whereas London himself said that he wrote them only for money? Literary critics even classified London’s works into high-brow literature.

Besides that, critics said that the parameter of high-brow literature was when one work deserved to be included into canon. The canon here usually refers to “big anthologies” such as Norton Anthology, Heath Anthology, etc. Again, I want to ask, who has privilege to select which works to be included into those anthologies?

The publication of THE NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF LITERATURE BY WOMEN can be considered one way of women’s struggle to include women’s works into high-brow literature. In the ‘preface’ of its first edition published in 1985, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar wrote:

“… no single anthology has represented the exuberant variety yet strong continuity of the literature that English speaking women have produced between the fourteenth century and the present. In the NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF LITERATURE BY WOMEN, we are attempting to do just that.”

“Complementing and supplementing the standard Norton anthologies of English and American literature, NALW should help readers for the first time to appreciate fully the female literary tradition which, for several centuries, has coexisted with, revised, and influenced male literary models.”

Furthermore, in the sixth edition of The Norton Anthology of American Literature appearing in the beginning of the twenty first century, Nina Baym, the general editor, stated in the preface:

“That the “untraditional” authors listed above have now become part of the American literary canon shows that canons are not fixed, but emerge and change.”

It can be included that in the long run dichotomy of pop and high literature will disappear peacefully. It is up to public to value and to choose which works they will read. I am of opinion that in society where people are mature enough to choose which works to read, bad writings will be left behind.

P.S.: This article was written to ‘answer’ my Abang’s challenge, related to the hot topic on the polemic of two sides—the community of TUK versus the community that is against it.
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Sunday, September 16, 2007


In some mailing lists I join, people are still discussing ‘hotly’ about ‘aurat’. (aurat means parts of bodies that are supposed to be covered.)

What is ‘aurat’?

When I was in elementary school (I attended an Islamic elementary school), I was taught that ‘aurat’ for women is most parts of their bodies, except face and palms, while for men, ‘aurat’ is ONLY from their navel to exactly above knees. It means parts of women’s bodies that are allowed to be seen are only their face and palms. Meanwhile, people can freely see men’s full head, neck, shoulders, chest, upper belly, arms, hands, and legs from knees below.

Why should women cover most parts of their bodies?

It is stated that women’s bodies—hair, neck, ears, etc—will easily turn men on. I suppose all men—creatures having penis since birth—are considered heterosexual in Islam, because people say that Islam only recognizes two kinds of sexes: male—again, all creatures having penis, and female—all creatures having vagina and breasts. If a man is turned on because of seeing a woman’s parts or her whole body, he will probably do some ‘unexpected things’, such as whistling, staring, touching, etc. Therefore, ‘to protect’ women from those unexpected acts, they are to cover (or ‘imprison’?) their whole bodies under loose clothes. This is also ‘to protect’ men in order that they will be ‘saved’ from temptation to do ‘immoral acts’. To protect men here of course means different from ‘imprisoning’ that I mentioned earlier.

I am of opinion that definition of ‘aurat’ here is closely related to the fact where Islam ‘was born’, that was in Arab. When it is related to two previous celestial religions ‘born’ before that—Christian and Judaism—that were believed by most Muslim people as “Islam in different forms” or “Islam which was not perfected yet by Muhammad”, these two religions were also born in Arab, where the people ‘originally’ wore kinds of clothes covering most parts of their bodies.

It reminded me of one question from one chat friend—a Californian male, a non believer—several years ago, “If Islam had not been born in Arab, but in Indonesia, more specific again, in Papua, where the ‘original’ people only wore ‘koteka’, do you think ‘aurat’ in people’s bodies that have to be covered would be the same—all parts of our bodies?

After reading more books and articles about human beings’ history from the very old time—at the very beginning of human beings’ life in the earth—in my effort to get rid myself of indoctrination I got from my elementary school teachers, I found out that there was time where men and women were equal, there was no separating domain—domestic and public spheres—an era where perhaps people did not know the existence of celestial religions. In that era, seemingly both men and women wore the same kind of clothes, not covering much, no imprisonment toward women, no protection given to men—from temptation to expose their sexual desires. Therefore, I do agree if people say that ‘aurat’ is very cultural. Regulation to cover ‘aurat’ is only to imprison women, and to spoil men, so that they will be able to avoid doing ‘immoral’ things. (Have you ever heard that heaven later will be full of men, on the contrary, hell will be full of women.)

In conclusion, I completely agree that this ‘aurat’ thing is just for fooling us around, just a joke. That’s why I also agree when one woman in one mailing list complained why only men are protected from sexual temptations, why women are not protected from the similar things. Aren’t there any women who get easily turned on when they see men’s naked chest, or muscular arms/biceps?

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dorce Show

Dorce is the name of one most popular transsexual in Indonesia. I don’t remember when he/she had operation to ‘let go of’ his/her penis and then the surgeon made a vagina for his/her genital. I don’t really know his/her private life so I don’t know whether he/she has a spouse. (Forgive me for not following the hottest gossip in Indonesia. LOL.)

He/she has become a host of one quite popular television show in Indonesia, named “Dorce Show”. This talk show has invited many people to be guests, and they come from various background. I am not one of its loyal audience of course since I don’t like watching television. However, I know this program that is aired five times a week, around 09.30-10.30. My dear Mom oftentimes watches it Therefore I once in a while know the topic of the show, especially when I am at home around that time and luckily pass the dining room where one television set is located and my Mom watches it.

Last Friday, a workmate told me the topic of this show aired one day before, September 6. A woman who has got domestic violence from her husband was interviewed. When Dorce asked her, “Will you divorce your husband?”, the woman said, “No.” The answer got a big applause from Dorce him/herself and the audience in the studio did it too. Furthermore, Dorce said, “Be patient, Bu (one greeting usually addressed to a mature woman in Indonesia, a bit similar to ‘Ma’am’ in English). God will pay you back. Just pray that your husband will realize his mistake. He will change, I am sure. And for you yourself, you will go to heaven for being patient.”

The applause and the comment from Dorce, directly or indirectly, have supported the status quo of male chauvinism in Indonesia. Besides, it will make millions women who watch the show will think that domestic violence will easily be abolished only by praying to God, no need a real action.

My friend’s story reminded me of one Dorce show I accidentally watched several months ago. There were some women as guests to be interviewed. They had the same background: their husbands were imprisoned because of doing one crime. The first woman was “interrogated”, “Will you divorce your husband?”

I knew from the way Dorce asked the question, the tone he/she used when asking that, and also from his/her facial expression, I instantly could conclude that Dorce expected the woman to answer, “No.” Unfortunately, unexpectedly, the woman answered, “Yes.” Automatically, Dorce commented, “Yes? Oh … Do you plan to get married again?”

The woman responded cheerfully, “Yes. I have got married again for several years.”

Dorce sighed, although in a tone of joking said, “In fact you are a bitch, eh?”

In Indonesian culture, it is still a common thing for a woman to be called “bitch” if she gets married again not long after getting divorced. No matter what, staying married with one man is still worshipped and the woman who undergoes it although she gets domestic violence will get a big applause from society.

FYI, as far as I know, Dorce is the only case of transsexual who got operation to “change” the genital and it was made known publicly. His/her being celebrity, his/her way to get dressed as a good Muslim woman (covering all of the body, sometimes also the head), quoting some verses from Alquran in his/her show, in my opinion, easily attracted public’s attention (seemingly, this also made people forget the fact that Dorce is a transsexual) although there are also many people who are against him/her by accusing him/her not to accept the life/sex God has chosen for him/her—a body with penis.

As a feminist, one thing that bothers my mind is that Dorce, a transsexual, where in the reality there are many other transsexual/transvestite/gay/lesbian people that are marginalized, even follows the stereotype of “good women” in this patriarchal culture. I am wondering if after the genital operation, Dorce then felt like he/she was a “real” woman, forgetting that he/she was once a transsexual so that to be accepted as a “real woman” he/she had to support the stereotype? I assume that it would be much better if Dorce joined the women’s movement, to crush the stereotype of good men and good women in the male chauvinist society.

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Media and Culture

Media is one best way for promotion. Many companies use media to promote their products or services to public, both via printed and electronic media. Media is also best way to promote ideologies that will influence people’s way of life, one of them is ‘culture’. Therefore, media is also oftentimes considered as the scapegoat of the changing in lifestyle, habits, behaviour, etc.

Colonialism era—where many western countries, usually referred to ‘white’ people colonized eastern countries, usually referred to ‘coloured’ people—created gap between the white and the coloured. This gap engendered inferiority to the coloured—the colonized—toward the white—the colonizers. This phenomenon is easily understood if until now the inferior feeling still dominates the coloured. This resulted in view that everything from the west is more interesting, more appreciated, and more modern than the east.

The emergence of internet and television has bridged between the west and the east so that the spread of culture takes a shorter time more easily, and even more thorough. The absorption of one aspect of culture from the “superior” countries to the “inferior” countries happened ‘somewhat naturally’ and people seemed not to realize that. In television business, people behind the screen, such as the owner of production houses, the directors, the producers, and the owner of television stations, only think about their own profit, so that they air programs that refer to the superior countries, to attract more audience, to increase the rating, that means to attract more advertisers, without caring whether what they have done will decrease their own cultures.

Should we blame the next generation that probably feel more proud to be called, “MTV generations”? Should we blame them who don’t really know their own traditional dances, languages, performances, and some other aspects of Indonesian cultures? Should we blame them who prefer spending their free time hanging around shopping malls and enjoying meals in fast-food restaurant having foreign franchise? Aren’t they products of the egotism of capital owners, and older generations that bombard media with foreign products?

Gramsci with his famous hegemony theory proposed an idea to involve the ‘organic intellectuals’ (such as academicians) participation to get rid of foreign cultures. The academicians are encouraged to make the young generations realize the dangers of foreign cultures to abolish the local cultures; not the traditional intellectuals (people who have money) that even seem to legitimate the power of foreign cultures.

However, I believe it is not as easy as turning our palms down. The academicians do not have as much money as the capital owners—behind the screen of media. It is difficult for these organic intellectuals to produce programs to compete with the programs proposed by those who only think of profit for their own pocket. As far as I observe, the number of these organic intellectuals is not comparable to those traditional intellectuals. Therefore, it is not wise to give the burden to watch the bad impacts of globalisation on the next generations’ lives to the organic intellectuals only.

What can we do now?

As a mother of a teenage daughter, I just have one suggestion to all of us: to have open communication and harmonious relationship with our children. Good and open communication will enable us to guide our children without making them feel led forcibly. One generation gap between our children with us sometimes make them consider us old-fashioned if we do not follow their ‘world’. We always have to follow and accompany them when undergoing something new, discus it together, while look for solution together too. Not all values and ideology coming from the west are bad. This is our duty as parents to choose and select which is positive which is negative, based on our discussion together with our children.

Let us start from home.

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Media and Gender

In Indonesia, there are not many people who understand the difference between ‘sex’ (refers to male and female) and ‘gender’ (refers to man and woman). Just like what I wrote here some time ago, that there still many people who don’t know the difference between ‘feminist’ and ‘feminine’.

Claudette Baldacchino, a feminist journalist, opined that gender refers to social, cultural, and psychological factors when one wants to define someone as masculine or feminine. Furthermore, Baldacchino also sated that gender is not just an important aspect how “other people” see and perceive “us”, but it also influences “our” way to see and perceive “ourselves”.

Last Friday August 24, 2007, I discussed ‘anorexia’ and ‘bulimia’ in my Intermediate 4 class. The class consisted of 16 students, six boys, eight girls, most of them are senior high school students, and only two of them—girls—are college students. The class took place from 2pm until 4pm, the time where many people are sleepy and tired, due to the hot weather in Indonesia, especially my hometown. We discussed two quite long passages. The passages illustrated a bulimic patient named Melissa DeHart. Her suffering started from her wish to be as slim as Hollywood celebrities that looked so slim; very pretty and attractive due to their slim bodies. DeHart wanted to be as pretty and attractive as them so she started to be on a strict diet to slim down her body.

I asked my class a question, “Why do many people think that being slim is beautiful?” None gave me an interesting and critical answer, but one. One female senior high school student answered, “Because having slim body means healthy, Ma’am. Fat bodies usually refer to diseases, such as hypertension, easy to get heart attack, obesity, etc. The others just said, “I don’t have any idea Ma’am…”

To me, it showed that they didn’t realize that they had been bombarded by media on the idea of beauty. There are many advertisements promoting that beauty is slim, both in electronic media—such as television—or printed media—such as newspapers, tabloids, or magazines. If one advertisement didn’t directly promote slimming product, it would use slim models that would emphasize the idea “pretty is slim” or “slim is pretty”. Some parties that want to socialize an idea “Big is Beautiful” did not succeed yet to change the “old” paradigm.

The fact that my students were not aware of the bombarding media on the idea “slim is pretty” showed the failure of their understanding and perceiving themselves using their own belief, when we wanted to refer it to Baldacchino’s definition on ‘gender’. They did not need to always follow what media said about something, they were supposed to be confident to use their own parameter when valuing something. In Indonesia, parameter of being pretty, besides having slim body—one universal thing I suppose, being pretty also refers to having fair complexion, and having long straight hair.

What is the relationship between media and gender?

If the supporters of the status quo of patriarchal culture use media to eternalise their ‘faith’ in male chauvinism, I am of opinion that people who struggle to create a more equal society use media too; such as publishing newspapers, magazines, tabloids or journals focusing on gender equality. Unfortunately, until now, journalism field is still considered masculine sphere. Research done by the International Federation for Journalist (IFJ) published in Brussels in 2003—involving 39 countries in the whole world—stated that the number of female journalists was only 38%, 11% higher than the similar research done one decade earlier. The number 38% only referred to the number of journalists, not including the decision makers, such as editor, the chief of departments, or even the owner of media.

The National Commission of Women in Indonesia encouraged people to write in public as one way to reduce domestic violence, including to support the non gender-biased media. Write anything. And in my opinion, the easiest media to tell the world is via blog. In addition, don’t forget what Baldacchino said, when writing, use our own way of thinking to understand and perceive our own experience.

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