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Does phallic masculinity still matter?: Masculinities in Indonesian teenlit during the Post-Reformasi period (1998-2007).

This paper examines masculine norms advanced in literature for young readers circulating during the first nine years after the Reformasi in 1998. The phase that marks a pivotal point in Indonesian modern history is characterized by more open cultural and political climate. The post-Reformasi stage is the continuation of the Reformasi, which took place in 1998 when President Suharto stepped down and ended his authoritarian regime (known as the New Order regime) lasting for thirty two years.


More than a decade after the demise of the New Order regime, contemporary Indonesian socio-political life reflects both the complexity and diversity of Indonesian society, as well as the legacy of the New Order's authoritarianism. One of the issues that has played an influential role in shaping the culture of the post-Suharto period is freedom of expression. Although many sections of Indonesian society have articulated the importance of civil rights and individual freedom, some others seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

The latest example that shows the growing push toward religious conservatism is the ban on Lady Gaga's show planned to take place on June 3, 2012 in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. It had been reported that a number of conservative mass organisations affiliated with Islam, such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Hizbut Tahrir, strongly oppose the show in Indonesia. Under the pretext that Lady Gaga is involved in Satanism, these organisations insisted that the Indonesian government not issue legal permission for the show (Hidayat, Agustia, Sukma, Hayati, & Mnryadi, 2012, p. 36).

The conflicting ideas and approaches that have been evident in socio-political events in the decade after the fall of the New Order regime indicate the complexity and diversity of contemporary Indonesian public culture. Some political reforms, such as those resulting in the acknowledgement of minority rights and more diverse political ideologies, show that the state has attempted to enhance civil participation in socio-political life. However, the New Order legacy of authoritarianism, reflected in the attempts of the military and state apparatus to maintain their positions, as well as the growing conservative push in political and cultural affairs, does not seem to have waned significantly. These are potential set-backs in the progress of contemporary cultural democracy, as they deny the complex diversity of Indonesian society. An influence of this authoritative approach can be manifest in the tendency to impose a single version of cultural norms. The controversy that surrounded the Pornography Bill demonstrates this tendency.

Literature for young people in the first decades of the post-Suharto period reflects the tension between the liberalising and authoritarian tendencies evident in the political history of this period. The liberalising tendency can be seen in a significant shift from the educative messages that characterised the genre during the New Order regime. State-affiliated institutions, such as Pusat Bahasa Departemen Pendidikan Nasional (the Language Centre of the Department of National Education), continue to publish texts for young readers. However, their significance in promoting state agendas is not as dominant as the role of institutions in New Order era. This can be indicated from the absence of a large-scale project, such as the New Order Proyek Inpres, aiming to promote and disseminate the government's ideology. In the absence of large-scale government projects to produce ideologically homogenous reading materials that promote the government's programs, more varied forms of young people's literature have burgeoned since 2000. With the decreasing involvement of the state in providing a large amount of the literature, contemporary authors, particularly independent writers whose works are not published by state-affiliated publishers, seem to be more active in determining their own agendas. This is clearly seen in the forms of the literature intended for different types of readers. One such form of literature is known as teenlit (i.e., teenage literature), publications characterised by the prevalence of story-line revolving around teenage romance, extensive use of Jakarta-style Indonesian (bahasa gaul), the presence of urban middle-class protagonists, and a commodified life style.

In relation to the ways masculinities are presented in these texts, a number of questions arise. If masculine norms foregrounded in post-New Order state sponsored literature for young readers have shifted, how are male characters portrayed in contemporary Indonesian teenlit? Is there a difference in the representations of masculinity in works written by female and male authors, respectively?


The year 1998 when Suharto resigned and Indonesia was hit by the Asian financial crisis was a difficult time for the publishing industry, and many publishers ceased publication (Ihsan, 1999). The continuing effects of monetary crisis that began in 1997 resulted in the reduction of purchasing power, requiring publishers to find strategies to make their books more appealing. In this climate, novels containing light themes and written in popular language tended to replace novels with more "serious" themes, such as philosophy and those that have the potential to enhance critical thinking (Kompas, 2005). This is also in line with a feature of the post-Reformasi student press that dealt mostly with popular life-styles, in contrast to the more critical pre-Reformasi campus press (Abid, 2008).

The burgeoning of teenlit since the beginning of the 21st century indicates the success of the strategies mentioned above. In addition, this also suggests that the publishing industry has recovered quickly. Some significant factors that contributed to the booming of the genre were the more relaxed regulations in the publishing industry, and the government's less control in determining what reading materials are "suitable" for young people.

In their titles, their publishers, and the sex of the authors, these publications share common characteristics. Most use titles that mix Indonesian and English, or are even written fully in English, and reflect contemporary consumerist culture. Some examples of these titles are Cintapucino (echoing the word cappuccino, now widely available in Western-style cafes in Indonesian big cities), Eiffel I'm in Love, Boylicious (reminiscent of the term "bootylicious," the title of a chart-topping song by the American group Destiny's Child, which has now become a popular African-American term referring to sexually appealing women), Indiana Chronicle, and Dealova. A number of publishers now seem to publish the teenlit genre continuously, reflecting the lucrative side of the genre in Indonesia. A few of these publishers are old players in the industry, such as Gramedia, but many others, such as GagasMedia, mediakita, and Akoer, are newcomers in the Indonesian publishing industry. The booming of teenlit can be clearly seen from the abundance of books belonging to the genre in local bookstores in big cities across the country. Most of these books are written by young women in their 20s, some of them even in their teens. The subject matter of the novels mostly revolves around teenage girls: their romance with cool guys in high schools, and the fun they have in attracting boys' attention.

As mentioned previously, teenlit is characterised by the frequent use of Jakarta vernacular language, the focus on high school and university life, the dominant presence of middleclass protagonists, light romantic themes, and a humorous tone. Jakarta slang, the language commonly used in teenager's blogs, is used pervasively in both narration and dialogues. As Dwi Noverini Djenar (2008) notes in her socio-linguistic study of the colloquial writing style of teen literature, the use of colloquial Indonesian reflects both the young target audience and the age of the writer. As well as the use of Jakarta-inflected colloquial Indonesian, the teenage literature is marked by more frequent insertion of English. In comparison to a similar genre in the New Order Indonesia (e.g., Hilman's Lupus), English is used more intensively in current teenage literature. This may indicate Indonesian teenagers' greater exposure to globalised media. The lightness of the themes covered in the category is visible through the scope of settings and topics being discussed and that are influential in shaping the narrative line. Settings are generally confined to school or campus, home, boarding house, mall, cafe, and fast food restaurants. Prevalent topics are those related to girls' or boys' attempts to attract the attention of the opposite sex, rivalry among girls to win the heart of the school's most wanted boy, and vice versa. In a small number of novels by male authors, topics related to male sexual potency have begun to emerge. Themes that have a larger social scale, such as poverty, corrupt bureaucracy, and generation gap, barely exist. This substantially differentiates the genre from a number of best-selling titles for teenagers written during New Order period.

Considering the increasing number of young female writers who write about themes appealing to girls and present assertive, outspoken, and independent female protagonists, it can be said that the booming of teenlit marks a turn to the girls' world. This is also visible in a number of teenage films released during the first decade of the post-Suharto Indonesia. Among these films, Rudy Soedjarwo's Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? (What's Up with Cinta?), released in 2001, achieved commercial success and was viewed positively by film critics. The success of the film was followed by the release of several teenage films in the following years, such as Upi Avianto's 30 Hari Mencari Cinta (30 Days Looking for Love) (2004), and Nasri Cheppy's Eiffel I'm in Love (2003). The latter film was adapted from a popular teenage novel of the same title by Rachmania Arunita. Since then, popular teenage novels presenting middle-class girls in urban settings have become a trend. A number of commercial publishers, as mentioned previously, have taken a bigger role in promoting the publication and commercial success of this type of writing. Gramedia declared the year 2004, the year for teenlit (Haryanto, 2004). As an editor at Gramedia, Pustaka Utama, indicated the profit element of the genre is quite promising: 3000 copies can be sold in just a few months (Rose, 2008). Moreover, a teenlit novel can be reprinted

several times if the market demands. This commercial consideration shows how much the genre has been heavily commodified; both publishers and mainstream teenagers' taste have been influential in shaping the content and the writing form. An example of the level of success teenlit writer can achieve is shown by Dyan Nuranindya, a twenty-two year old writer whose debut novel, Dealova, has been reprinted fourteen times between 2004 and 2008 and adapted into a motion picture in 2005 (Rose).

Similar to the situation in many non-Western societies, where models from Western popular culture are frequently recreated and adapted into local settings, the burgeoning of Indonesian teenlit has been partly triggered by the huge popularity of Western chicklit (a form of popular novel intended for more mature females, which has similar characteristics with teenlit). Novels such as Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary, Laura Wolf's Diary of a Mad Bride, Emma Mc Laughlin and Nicola Kraus' The Nanny Diaries, Jane Green's Jemina, and Sophie Kinsella's Confession of a Shopaholic were welcomed enthusiastically in Indonesia. Indonesian translations of a number of these popular novels, such as Buku Harian Bridget Jones (Bridget Jones's Diary) and Pengakuan Si Gila Belanja (Confession of a Shopaholic) appeared in early 2003 and were reprinted several times (Setiadi, 2004, p. 2). Following the financial success of these translated novels, young Indonesian women writers were inspired to write novels in the same genre (Setiadi, p. 2).

As these examples indicate, the dominance of young female writers, as well as young female protagonists, in the booming of teenlit in the Indonesian Reform era reflect the much greater role women are playing in cultural landscape of contemporary Indonesia. Since 1998, awareness of the issue of gender equality has been growing and gender roles have become increasingly fluid. In this context, it is important to see whether or not the emergence of the teenlit genre and its predominantly female writers and readers has been accompanied by a shift in the representation of masculinity.

Masculinities in Indonesian Teenlit by Female Writers

The presentation of assertive and outspoken young female protagonists in recent Indonesian teenlit is contrary to the dominant ideal notions of femininity promoted by New Order gender ideology. As is mentioned in the above discussion, a large number of Reform Era texts further forms of femininity that were considered non-normative in New Order gender discourse, but are now widespread in contemporary Indonesia. This is evident in Maya Sutedja-Liem's analysis of examples of Indonesian teenlit (Sutedja-Liem, 2007).

Sutedja-Liem (2007) found that the advancement of tomboy girls as the "ideal teenage woman" in the novels produced an alternative form of femininity that is no longer positioned as "the other" of dominant masculinity norms. Rather, it has introduced a degree of diversity into the discursive notions of femininity by juxtaposing tomboy girls with other types of femininity, such as the "super-feminine woman" and the motherly and submissive type of woman (p. 167). However, as Sutedja-Liem observed, the diversity did not reflect more democratic gender views because it involved the marginalisation of super-feminine girls by presenting them as being aggressive toward their male peers. The ambivalent presentation of teenage female protagonists echoes the paradoxical nature of the construction of female youth in Indonesian society. As Suzie Handajani (2005) found in her study of the representations of adolescents in Indonesian female teen magazines, the view that Western influences are homogenously harmful to the perceived sexual innocence of Indonesian females, serves to construct a distinct division between the asexuality and morality of Indonesian female teenagers and the moral degeneracy of the West. This implies a patriarchal view that perceives women as the moral guardians of a society facing the challenges of modernity.

Another way of approaching the question of whether Indonesian teenlit has incorporated more democratic views of gender ideology is to look at the construction of ideal forms of masculinity in the narratives. Of the five novels to be discussed in this section, four of them, Esti Kinasih's (2002) Fairish, Maria Ardelia's (2004) Me Versus High Heels! Aku vs Sepatu Hak Tinggi, Dyan Nuranindya's (2004) Dealova, and an anthology of short stories by young female writers, known as First Readers Team, entitled Cowok di Mata Cewek (Boys in the Eyes of Girls) (2007), display quite similar ways of presenting teenagers. They are linear narratives about upper middle-class and highly modernised teenagers. This type of narrative represents mainstream Indonesian teenlit that can be easily found in most book stores in large Indonesian cities. The other novel selected for discussion here, Farida Susanty's (2007) Dan Hujan pun Berhenti (And the Rains Stop) employs a distinctive writing style that is not common in Indonesian teenlit. Rather than taking up the usual themes surrounding high school romance, this novel explores the main character's inner struggle to reconcile himself with the painful reality of his life. The style of writing is also non conventional, in that it moves forward and backward in time, before readers finally become aware of the whole picture of the story.

There is a tendency in the novels to further masculinity norms that are both authoritative and introverted. The advancement of these normative masculinities is implicit in the ways male protagonists with these characteristics are portrayed as being both mysterious and appealing to girls. They are usually good at sport and become stars in the school's sports team. Their mysteriousness, indifference, and conscious detachment from girls are what make them distinctively attractive to girls. Most male protagonists have hidden pasts that contribute greatly to their present solitude. Davi in Fairish does not talk a lot and seems to avoid girls or be indifferent (cuek) toward girls: "Dia cuek banget ama cewek. Terlalu cuek. Sadis malah [He is very indifferent to girls. Too indifferent. Even cruel]" (Kinasih, 2002, p. 8). The reason for this apparent "indifference" is that Davi's former girlfriend was killed in an accident when he was riding a motorbike with her at a high speed. Dira of Dealova is similarly quiet and does not have much interest in girls: "Cowok itu cuek banget. Tangannya membanting-banting bola ke lantai. Tatapannya lurus ke depan tanpa memperhatikan kedua cewek yang ada di sebelahnya [The boy is very indifferent. His hands dribble the ball. He looks straight ahead without paying attention to the two girls next to him]" (Nuranindya, 2006, p. 60). His indifference has to do with his attempts to avoid a romantic relationship with a girl because he suffers from an incurable chronic disease. In Me Versus High Heels!, Arnold is so charismatic that Sasha, a girl who falls in love with him, is willing to change her androgynous appearance and fashion style to attract him to her. Yet Arnold's apparent preference for a feminine girl is not his genuine taste. It has been orchestrated by his real girlfriend, Dina, as she takes revenge on her former boyfriend, who does not really love her and has secretly fallen for Sasha. Although the relationship between Arnold and Sasha breaks off after the revelation that Arnold and Dina are scheming to outwit Sasha, the fact that a mysterious and quiet boy is desirable is undeniable in the text. Sasha finally accepts the love of Arnold's best friend, Roland, who is intelligent, a skilful drum player, and well-built.

The text that shows clearly the writer's deliberate attempts to employ a notion of hyper-masculinity is Dan Hujan pun Berhenti (Susanty, 2007). This form of exaggerated masculinity is often valorised in a large number of Western popular cultural products, such as in the films Rambo, Batman, and Superman, and is commonly seen as the embodiment of a "real" man. In Dan Hujan pun Berhenti, it is recognisable in descriptions of the male character's fearlessness, a high level of self-confidence, and a certain level of violence in attacking or defending himself from enemies. The protagonist, Leo, is highly temperamental, but at the same time he is also analytical and solitary. A brief description of Leo mentions:

Namanya Leo. Matanya seperti ember di tengah Sahara. Kering. Kosong. Penuh debu. Tapi, sangat kuat. Dan sangat gelap, walau lensanya berwarna cokelat. Wajahnya tenang, bernuansa baik. Tapi, picingan matanya menunjukkan bahwa ketenangannya terlalu imitatif. Bibirnya tampak sering terluka, tanda ia adalah orang yang mudah bermusuhan. Aura yang campur aduk. Yang membuat orang lama mengamatinya, berusaha mengerti. Walau tidak akan pemah bisa.

His name is Leo. His eyes are like a bucket in the middle of the Saharan desert. Dry. Empty. Dusty. But, very powerful. And very dark, although the pupils are brown. His face is calm, conveying a good impression. But, when he closes his eyes it is clear that calmness is fake. His lips often look injured, a sign that he is prone to fighting. A mixed aura. Which makes people spend a lot of time observing him, trying to understand him. Even though they will never do so. (Susanty, p. 2)

The protagonist's name is the first indicator of the writer's attempt to present an image of an aggressive and irritable (garang) young man. His hard-to-please character and detachment from people around him is related to a number of disappointments in his life. His late girlfriend, Iris, one-sidedly breaks off their relationship after she finds that she has contracted AIDS. His Japanese father is a rich businessman who does not pay much attention to his family. His mother becomes involved in an affair with a man much younger than herself after finding out that her husband is having an affair with his secretary. Even the girl who has recently captured his attention lately, Spiza, has hidden the fact that she was involved in the car crash that causes Iris' death. The novel's frequent use of straightforward (sometimes coarse) language, the non-linear narrative, and the intense exploration of Leo's character all serve to differentiate Dan Hujan pun Berhenti from typical teenlit. The straightforwardness of the language effectively conveys Leo's disillusionment with life and his rebellion against rules and norms. This is seen, for instance, when the novel expresses Leo's defiant inner feelings about a gang fight. Coolly distancing himself from the fight other members of his gang are involved in, Leo silent expression is directed at his opponents:

Silakan bunuh semua temen gue. Silakan. Gue nggak peduli. Gue memang membenci dunia. Membenci sistem-sistem. Membenci pertemanan. Membenci keributan. Membenci semuanya.

Kill all my friends. Kill them. I don't care. I hate this world. I hate systems. I hate friendship. I hate fights. I hate it all. (Susanty, p. 16)

The writer herself, in the preface of the novel, acknowledges that she based the characterisation of Leo on typical representations of men in films. She does not mention any specific film titles, but it can be inferred from her portrayal of Leo that she is referring to films that feature extreme forms of manliness. In the preface, she states that she researched ways of being male from these sources after her friends suggested that the initial construction of Leo still reflected female perspectives. The result is that Leo is an extremely assertive and sometimes violent young man. This also signifies the extent to which a particular masculinity norm has been perceived as an appealing construction of masculinity.

A further examination of the construction of masculinity norms in teenlit by male authors will enable us to understand whether or not they offer an alternative to the masculinity constructs of female writers.

Alternative Male Norms in Teenage Literature by Male Authors

Despite the predominance of fashionable middle-class settings and assertive young girls in teenage literature, there are a few texts that specifically talk about boys' worlds. Some of the them that are discussed in this section are Adhitya Mulya's (2006) Jomblo (Singles), Wibi A.R.'s (2007) Big Size Sebuah Novel Tentang Keperkasaan Lelaki (Big Size a Novel About Male Virility), and Zaenal Radar T.'s (2007) Johan Playboy Kampus ( Johan Campus Playboy). Jomblo has been spectacularly successful, having been reprinted 19 times by 2007 and adapted into a motion picture in 2006. All these narratives revolve around male university students' experiences in finding girlfriends. In a few texts, the theme of male adolescent sexuality is visible, including humorous description of the effects of biological changes on adolescent boys. Pre-marital sex is another issue that starts to be discussed openly in this literature. As the previous chapters have indicated, topics such as these never emerged in previous examples of Indonesian literature for young people. The most extreme example is Big Size, a novel about male university students who are obsessed with their desire to have big penises.

Instead of the advancement of male heroes who are considered to be good role models to emulate, these novels often present male protagonists who are oddly behaved and frequently emerge as objects of fun. They are reminiscent of the Pak Pandit figure, well-known in Sumatra and Malay folklore, and the Kancil tales, although in the traditional narratives, this type of male protagonist is usually presented as a mature and older man. Yet despite the existence of these antecedents, the presence of these characters is more dominant in teenlit than in any previous examples of Indonesian literature for young people. This reflects the changing function of this literature in the post-Suharto period. As it is commercially driven, writers are more concerned with entertaining their readers than with the pedagogical mission that determined the character of the literature in earlier periods.

Rather than presenting superhero-type male protagonists, these narratives promote male subjects who are less domineering and controlling. The advancement of these less assertive masculinities, which is apparent in works that will be discussed in the remaining part of this section, is in line with the narrative form of most of the texts. Through comedy, the cause and effect relationship that results in linearity of the text is not the primary concern. Unlike in conventional stories in which the conflicts are commonly built-up from the presence of an "enemy" or evil forces against whom the hero or protagonist fights until the end (usually resulting in the victory for the protagonist), the boundary between the good and the bad is not always clearly defined. Rather than focusing on escalated conflicts between the hero and the villain, the narratives mostly revolve around humorous dialogues and incidents that arise because of the naivety of the protagonist. Whereas constant struggle between the hero and the villain can stimulate the hero's desire to defeat the enemy and push the storyline forward, the story line in the humorous texts tends to be stable and static, not linear and goal-oriented. Most of the texts, such as Big Size, Jomblo, and Johan Playboy Kompleks revolve around small neighbourhood environments (such as a university campus, football club, students' boarding house, or a local residential area). These texts do not chart the linear movement from innocence to knowledge or chaos to order. Rather, they move cyclically around the characters' everyday lives.

The cyclical movement of the story line can be elaborated by examining the narrative movement in Jomblo. As is explicitly mentioned in the sub-title of the book, a romantic comedy (sebuah komedi cinta), Jomblo narrates humorous incidents and experiences in the romantic lives of the protagonists, four male university students, Doni, Bimo, Olif, and Agus. Some of them win the affections of the girls they have fallen for, others are rejected. The text also recounts the way matters related to sexual intimacy and pre-marital sex are intertwined with their romantic and sexual experiences, issues that did not figure prominently in previous examples of this literature.

Jomblo deals extensively with sex-related issues in heterosexual pre-marital romance and the male protagonists' obsessions with finding girlfriends. There is no other issue that is taken seriously in the narrative. Neither is there any antagonist that can sustain conflicts between characters. Doni seems to resemble an antagonist as he is the most sexually unrestrained male among the four protagonists. He is described as a typical Jakarta young man who indulges in sex and hedonism:

Dia adalah tipikal anak gaul daft Jakarta yang kehidupannya dipenuhi dengan seks dan hedonisme. Mantan anak band ini berkulit cokelat dan berbadan gempal. Penuh percaya diri, ...

He is a typical modish guy from Jakarta whose life is filled with sex and hedonism. This former band boy is brown-skinned and muscular. He is full of self-confidence. (Mulya, 2006, p. 5)

However, he is not presented as a morally flawed character who should be avoided. In terms of his sexual experience, it is surprising that he has only made love once to his girlfriend, Asri. Meanwhile, Olif, who has pursued Asri for two years but does not dare to express his love for her, is broken-hearted after discovering that Doni has won her heart.

Many comical incidents in Jomblo are developed through relatively open accounts of premarital sex among young people. An example of these humorous episodes occurs when Agus is about to have his first sexual encounter with Lani. As Agus has not come prepared with a condom, Lani asks him to buy one in a nearby shop. The humour is built around Agus's trip from Lani's boarding house to a number of shops where the shopkeepers frequently mispronounce the word "durex" (the condom brand) with "durek" (as Sundanese does not recognise the sound "x"), forcing Agus to repeat the brand name loudly to make sure that both he and the shopkeepers are referring to the same item. In addition, his accidental meeting with Agus's female friends in one of the shops makes him very embarrassed, as he tries to hide the fact that he is buying a condom.

Besides sexual intercourse, Jomblo also touches upon other issues dealing with adolescent male sexuality, such as wet dreams and masturbation. The absence of judgmental views on sex among young people and the presence of sexually active girls suggest shifting views on sex and the notion of femininity, although this is weakened by Agus's preference for a more motherly girl. Nevertheless, detailed accounts of the protagonists' private lives and sexual affairs that they share during their friendship are relatively new in Indonesian literature for young people.

Another text that similarly narrates the private and sexual life of male university students is Big Size sebuah novel tentang KEPERKASAAN LELAKI (Big Size a Novel about Male Virility). Of the texts discussed, this is the most blatant expose of the most private element of sex. The main issue in the novel is its protagonists' obsession with having large penises. The three protagonists, Lasimin, Dodi, and Saim are close friends who belong to the same football club on their campus. Although Salimin is a football star, he feels inferior when it comes to the size of his penis. Dodi and Saim, who consider penis size as an important indicator to measure the level of male virility, always tease and encourage him to undergo penis-enlargement treatment, as they regularly do.

As in Jomblo, humorous incidents in Big Size mainly result from the naivety of one of the protagonists (Salimin) in matters related to sex. A humorous incident that arises because of Salimin's innocence, for instance, occurs when Salimin decides to massage his genital organ regularly by himself, instead of having it massaged in a penis-enlargement clinic as Dodi and Saim suggest. Salimin feels a tremendous sexual stimulation when massaging his penis, something similar to masturbation that he has never experienced before (Salimin used to live in a pesantren where sexual matters were rarely discussed publicly). The progression in the narrative line and Salimin's self-actualisation come through his marriage to a formerly disabled girl, Elis. Her seemingly incurable disease makes her vow to marry a man who can heal the disease. Eli's cousin, Dodi, collaborates with his friend, Saim, to cheat Salimin by telling him that he will be paid if he is willing to massage her to heal the disease. Salimin accepts the offer. As Salimin is an innocent village young man who is genuinely interested in curing Elis' disease, he is able to be manipulated by Dodi and Saim. As Elis' broker, they receive financial benefit by secretly taking a cut from the money Elis gives Salimin. Regardless of Elis' illogical recovery after being massaged by Salimin, the marriage takes Salimin to a new phase in his life. But, the use of marriage to change Salimin's life (including an unbelievable fact that his penis size is suddenly increased during his first act of sexual intercourse with his wife) and push the narrative line forward reinforces the domesticity of the text as a whole. In other words, as is also shown by Jomblo, the narrative line of Big Size revolves around domestic and extremely private issues. It can be said that in regards to content and narrative line, Big Size is characterised by a circular, rather than linear and straightforward structure.

A way of conceptualising masculinity that is characterised by enclosing, stable, and protective qualities is elaborated in an article by Arthur Saint-Aubin (Flannigan-Saint-Aubin, 1994). He asserts that in fictitious narratives and lived experiences dominant male norms tend to resemble characteristics similar to those of the penis or phallus. Thus, male characteristics have traditionally been associated with phallic qualities, such as penetrating, straightforward, linear, and thrusting. Meanwhile, metaphoric associations of the testicles, an equal part of men's genitals, have been rarely employed to characterise men. These nonphallic qualities are not in line with phallic male characteristics. Therefore, they are considered as other (read feminine). According to Saint-Aubin, these phallic notions of masculinity represent a distorted view of male subjectivity as they do not recognise certain norms of masculinity that are also contained in the construction of pro-feminist masculinities. These "testicular masculinities" have been consciously neglected as they are commonly perceived to be potentially emasculating of the dominant views of being male. In Saint-Aubin's view, when aspects of masculinity metaphorically related to testicles are employed to construct a certain form of maleness, what emerges is a completely different notion of masculinity. This "testicular male norm" includes characteristics such as "passive, receptive, enclosing, stable, cyclic ... qualities that are lost when male equals penis" (Saint-Aubin, p. 239). Saint-Aubin further argues that the foregrounding of phallic masculinity may indirectly reflect the fact that in many cultures and societies real or perceived threats to masculinity are serious concerns for men, while women are generally less concerned about threats to femininity (Saint-Aubin, p. 244).

The texts discussed in this section commonly present male protagonists who are protective, funny, yielding, understanding, and accommodative. Their characteristics clearly reflect non-phallic qualities of being male, which are in contrast to male norms characterised by authority, seriousness, domination, rationality, and goal-directedness. The latter may characterise a significant number of male protagonists in New Order literature for young people, such as Ali Topan, Imung, and Roy. By contrast, post 1998 public discourse offers more diverse alternative ways of being male.

A book that illustrates perfectly the foregrounding of "testicular" masculinities is Big Size. Although at face value, the text seems to show the male characters's phallic obsession, more detailed analysis of the narrative reveals the advancement of male norms that are the reverse of the phallic ones. In this story, Salimin is constantly ridiculed by his close friends, Saim and Dodi, because he has a small penis and is presumably lacking in male sexual prowess. Coupled with Salimin's lack of sexual knowledge, his presentation in the text initially suggests his marginal masculinity. However, as the story unfolds, it is apparent that his less intimidating presence, naivety, religiosity, and patience are, in fact, strengths. Unlike Saim and Dodi, who are presented as sexually adventurous males, Salimin is a devout Muslim who believes in sexual abstinence before marriage. As a pious Muslim, he finally realises his mistake in being obsessed with a big penis, which indicates his ingratitude for his God-given original body. He finally gives up massaging his private organ, although Saim and Dodi keep provoking him to try other methods of enlarging his genitals. The last part of the story clearly indicates what forms of masculinity are seen as ideal in the narrative. The fact that Saim and Dodi are finally infected by a sexually transmitted disease while Salimin ends up happily married to Elis indicates the desirability of those masculinities embodied in the characterisation of Salimin.

As these examples indicate, there is a significant difference in the construction of masculinities between texts written by males and those by female writers. Male authors tend to foreground masculinity norms that are understanding, yielding, and less authoritative. This is significantly different from the ways female writers present male protagonists. Ideal male norms in their writings are those that construct men as authoritative, mysterious, less sociable, and rational. As females understand male subjectivities from what they see, including the representation of them in popular culture, this also implies the prevailing construction of masculinity in mass-produced texts. The advancement of this dominant masculinity undermines the diversity of masculinities that are experienced by male subjects.

The less authoritative masculinity norms advanced in texts by male writers are closer to what has been popularised under the notion of "metrosexual" males. The so-called metrosexual identity is "one of style, sophistication and self-awareness ... just as strong and confident as his predecessor but far more diverse in his interests, his tastes and most importantly his self-perception" (Flocker, 2003, p. xii). It is a manifestation of a growing popularity of gender options available to men in contemporary societies, which enable men to choose a profession, personal interest, or fashion style that were formerly perceived as feminine without being labelled as gender deviant. According to this new norm, men do not necessarily have to be authoritative and overbearing to display their masculine identity. Being sensitive, protective and caring can be an alternative way of demonstrating masculinity. In the words of Stephen Whitehead (2007), men can also have "emotional intelligence" (Whitehead, 2007, p. 30).

While in the West, the term metrosexual was first coined in The Independent by a British journalist, Mark Simpson, in 1994 (Dowsett, 2005), it has been in popular use in Indonesia for about ten years. The Indonesian marketing analyst, Hermawan Kertajaya (2004), maintains that the term started to become known in Indonesia around 2001 when the number of men's boutiques in big shopping-centres and malls increased significantly. In addition, according to Kertajaya, the popularity of the metrosexual was also triggered by the increasing number of male's magazines in Indonesia, such as FHM, Popular, Maxim, and Male Emporium around this time. In these magazines, which tend to be local versions of foreign magazines, there are usually sections on fashion and body care for men. As a result, the metrosexual phenomenon in Indonesia tends to be predominantly associated with physical style (such as fashion and body care), and pria pesolek (well-groomed men) has come to be another term for the metrosexual male in popular discourse.

In commercial teenage literature by male writers, however, the metrosexual phenomenon extends to the concept of emotional intelligence. In all the examples of this literature discussed above, forms of masculinity associated with domination and the competitive urge are subordinated to the importance of sensitivity and gentleness.


Just as the broader political climate of the post-1998 period is characterised by a tension between liberalisation and the continuing influence of New Order authoritarianism, literature for young readers in the post-Suharto period is characterised by both continuity and change. Changes are apparent in the emergence of new themes and forms of literature. Rather than being triggered by a state-generated pedagogical approach, popular contemporary texts display the influence of market-driven forces. However in terms of images of masculinity, a subtle form of continuity with the New Order period is still pervasive.

In this popular teenage literature, freedom of expression is manifest in different ways. It can be seen that themes dealing with teenage sexuality start to emerge, in addition to the depiction of middle-class lifestyles and urban popular culture that have been common themes in popular literature for young readers since the New Order period.

A new way of presenting male protagonists is identifiable in this type of text. This is apparent in the presence of male protagonists who are funny and oddly behaved. This differentiates them from well-known examples of literature for young people in the previous period (such as Ali Topan Anak Jalanan and Balada Roy), which feature male subjects engaged in more serious issues, such as negotiating a dysfunctional family, or a womanising father, and the quest for identity.

Despite this new way of portraying male subjects, post-New Order literature for young readers continues to further the less assertive masculine norms that were common in the literature of the previous period. Instead of being domineering, authoritative, and self-centred, this masculinity form shows characteristics that are closely associated with sensitivity to others, emotional responsiveness, and gentleness. In the post-New Order period, texts share common vocabulary to describe this form of masculinity that revolves around keywords like bisa diandalkan (reliable), sabar (patient), dewasa (mature),penyayang (loving), and bertanggung jawab (responsible). This results in the promotion of an androgynous masculinity that bears similarities with what is popularly known as metrosexual masculinity. Using a more local term, these masculine norms constructed mainly on the basis of self-regulation and collectivism accord with ideal Javanese priyayi masculinity. This demonstrates the cultural domination of the Javanese ethnic group in the construction of Indonesian masculinities. The public persona of the current Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, can be said to represent this ideal manliness in his focus on order rather than dynamism and change. His absolute victory in the last election indicates the acceptance of this type of personality in contemporary Indonesian society. The fact that this form of masculinity is not structurally imposed by state authorities, such as government-affiliated publishers, and is equally valorised in literature promoted by non-government publishers suggests that the masculine norm is regarded as an inherent form of Indonesian masculinities.

DOI: 10.3149/jms.2102.149


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NUR WULAN, Faculty of Humanities, Universitas Airlangga, Surabaya, Indonesia.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Nur Wulan, Fakultas Ilmu Budaya, Universitas Airlangga, Jalan, Dharmawangsa dalam, Surabaya 60286, East Java-Indonesia. Email:
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Author:Wulan, Nur
Publication:The Journal of Men's Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:9INDO
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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