Beyond the Femina fantasy: female industrial and overseas domestic labour in Indonesian discourses of women's work

30 November 2016

In the late 1990s, scholarly attention turned to glossy publications such as Femina, the premier Indonesian women's magazine, for insights into what it means to be a woman in Indonesia. When Brenner analysed the visual and verbal images of the 'many incarnations' of the modern Indonesian woman, she found that, in addition to being a 'happy consumer-housewife, devoted follower of Islam '" model citizen of the nation-state and alluring sex symbol', the modern Indonesian woman is a wanita kaner, working as a business executive, secretary, lawyer or civil servant (Brenner 1999, 17-24). Sen, too, has noted the increasing dominance of images of professional, working women in 'official and commercial texts emanating from metropolitan Jakarta' (Sen 1998, 35). Unlike Brenner, however, who argues that the Sum of representations of women in these middle-class texts 'offer[s] a bewildering array of lifestyle possibilities' (Brenner 1999, 17), Sen privileges images of the working woman - asserting not only that 'working woman' has replaced 'housewife' as the 'new paradigmatic female subject in political, cultural and economic discourses in Indonesia', but that the new 'iconic figure' of the 'working woman' is a professional who legitimises Indonesia's position as a modern nation, not a working-class woman labouring on the factory floor (Sen 1998, 35).