Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Magelang Royalty

Two weeks ago my presence was "requested" at the Women's Meeting by the Walikota's wife. The Walikota is essentially the mayor of Magelang. He's kinda omnipotent and his power extends to his wife. She demanded my presence rather than requested it. Now, I'm sure this is my Western upbringing rearing it's ugly head, but I rather dislike and resent being commanded to do anything. This is unfortunate because Indonesian society is very power-structure/"respect your superiors" oriented and I'm commanded to do things quite frequently. I've learned to swallow my response and proceed as demurely as possible. Unless it's something that I really don't want to do. I really did not want to go to this Women's Meeting. I was tired and feeling ill and did not want to sit through 3-4 hours of women talking in Javanese and pose for 100s of photos and struggle to keep a smile pasted on my face. Theoretically, being personally invited by the Walikota's wife was a huge honor, but I still wasn't into it. I pointed this out to my principal...And an hour later I was being videotaped walking into the Women's Meeting.
Ibu Murwani, a SMK N1 math teacher, was sent to accompany me. I was grumpy and trying to suppress it until we arrived and I was told that it was going to be a batik show designed and modelled by SMK K Magelang--our sister vocational school where girls learning cooking, beauty, and sewing. That sounded much better than listening to Javanese lectures on feminine hygiene or how to properly care for a household. I started to relax. I had my picture taken with all the important people of Magelang--Mr. & Mrs. Walikota, Mr. & Mrs. Wakil Walikota [vice mayor], Mr. & Mrs. Head of Police, the list goes on and on. There was a lengthy photoshoot of me with Mr. & Miss Magelang. Seriously. The city voted on the two most attractive 20-somethings and make them dress up and greet people at events like this to promote tourism and the wonders that are Magelang. The tourism office thought it would have double the effect if I was shoved in with them too.
Miss Magelang, me, Runner-up Miss Magelang [They look just about as thrilled as I felt to have all these pictures taken]

Mr. Magelang, Miss Magelang, me, Runner-up Miss Magelang, Runner-up Mr. Magelang [Mr. Magelang is actually pretty cute. Where has he been hiding these last 8 months?]

Despite the unnecessary amount of photos, I was enjoying the event. There was a booth where this nice little old lady showed me how to make batik. Ibu Murwani and I each bought a batik sarong courtesy of SMK N1. Thanks Pak Heru! Then it was time for the fashion show to start. As the first SMK K models hit the stage, all my comfort fled. Batik show it was...batik lingerie show!?!? Something of the sort. The girls were wearing little tiny batik shirts and batik bustiers. They were strutting their stuff on the catwalk. And everyone was enjoying it...everyone except me. I was sitting there thinking, How is this okay? This is a Muslim country, this is definitely a Muslim town, and these are 15-17 year old girls, in bustiers, on a catwalk. There are men in this room, people are taking photos, and no one is bothered? This is not Yogya, this is not a cosmopolitan city; this is the place where I can't wear sleeveless shirts or my hair down in public because that is too risque. The female portion of the audience was all wearing jilbabs. I was, and still am, confounded. The show ended and I left feeling rather dirty and confused. I heard people on the way out talking about the creativity and the beauty of the designs. Many people were having their photos taken with the models. I wanted to wrap them all in batik sarongs. Maybe conservatism has rubbed off on me, but I couldn't help feeling that these high school girls were being exploited. They didn't look upset--they looked happy. But how is it okay to wear lingerie in a fashion show when the other 99% of the time you get criticized for showing your elbows?

1 comment:

  1. I'm guessing that a key criterion--whether stated or not--for Mr. Magelang is height. Those guys look like giants in the photo.

    Fascinating that the rules of clothing and body decorum which are so much in effect in all other mixed-gender settings seem to have been so totally set aside for this event. And what a surprise. I'm ransacking my brain for memories of similar exceptions in strongly sex-segregated cultures I've lived in and can't come up with any parallels.

    Of course, rules for little kids are often very different. In rural India, nudity (for both genders) till about 5, uncovered hair until puberty (for girls). In Egypt and Goa: midi-skirts for Christian women. And in female-only settings all over the world: rules much freer than in spaces where men are present.

    Did you share your doubts and questions with others to see what their takes on this are?