Women in Indonesian History Historiography

Women in Indonesian History Historiography

Wildan Insan Fauzi

Note Peter Burke (2015: 72-74) shows that feminist theory is more helpful in asking questions than finding answers. Feminism encourages the many studies of women’s history that provide new regency about history. Some historians who wrote about women’s history include Natalie Davis, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Olwen Huffon, Joan Kelly, Helena Cixous, Nancy Chodorow, Elaine Showalter, and Joan Scott. The role of women in the XX century feels increasingly thickened, along with the presence of the concept of feminism in various parts of the world. Some author figures such as Simone de Beauvoir, Margueritte YourCenar, or the appearance of Edith Crsson as French Prime Minister, although only in a short period, are some evidence of the strengthening of gender equations (Michelet, 2006).

The existence of women is barely visible by historians, daily work until their political role is often raised (Burke, 2015, p. 73). Around the 1970s, the movement to create a thorough history of women began to look in shape, thanks to the rise of women’s studies and feminism. This weakens every assumption of the unity of ‘subordinated classes’ (Burke, 2000, p. 442; Supardan, 2008). A more significant concern to display women in history emerged in 1989 with Juranal History and Gender issuance.

The study of feminism raises new patterns in historical studies such as social and cultural gender construction processes, for example, Bynum’s studies (1982) about the debate in the history of God’s gender, Rogers’ studies (1975) and Semelan (1980) regarding the myths of male dominance of women against women, Dias study (1983) about poor female workers in the 19th century Paulo; The study of Thomas (1971) on female shamans in medieval Europe; Dekker’s writing about 119 Dutch women who lived as men in the Dutch military, and others (Burke, 2015). Lyn Hunt (1989), in his book The New Cultural History, sees how important the role of gender as social and cultural history

The study of the women’s movement in France shows that the changes in several government regimes could not boost women’s role. Transformation of the Absolute Monarchie Regime (Monarchie Absolue), which the Republic replaced after the French Revolution in 1789, did not bring essential changes to the role of women. The second era of the Republic of France in 1848 still did not permit women to have the right to vote. This right was only obtained during the fourth Republic of 1944 (Vovelle, 1988). A historical irony that occurs in such a society glorifies democracy and has a symbol of women as one of the main foundations.

What about the historiography of women in Indonesian history? Writing the history of women in Indonesia seems to be still quiet and escapes the attention of historians. Seeing the development of historiography in the world and Indonesia, it can be said that history belongs to men. (Kuntowijoyo, 1994: 99). Writing history that is centred on this man is also called Androsentric; Bambang Purwanto said that “both consciously or not, the historical reality of women has been ignored as a process of Indonesian history ‘(Purwanto, 2006, p. 35).

Since 1997 more than 1,700 Indonesian history books have been published; of the many, only 2 per cent discussed and mentioned women (Hartiningsih, 2007). Bambang Purwanto (2006) describes several factors causing the neglect of writing history in Indonesia, namely: The wrong paradigm of women’s history, the problem of methodology, the wrong perspective of the world of women are very influential on other factors and the difficulty of finding sources about the past related to women as historical actor.

Wiriaamadja (2003: 90) conveyed several alternative studies of women’s history in Indonesia, namely the study of female leaders and women’s history in various aspects such as economics, policies, society, and culture. It can be described regarding the role of women in organizing and efforts to improve the degree and life of women. Studies about women are still limited and are dominated by the themes of women’s empowerment, and there are still many “gender biases”. This means that men dominate almost the whole event expressed in Indonesian history as the leading actor (Fatimah, 2006).
For Indonesia, the feminist movement began to be championed by R.A. Kartini (1879-1904), whose letters were published under the title Door duisternis tot Licht or the Indonesian translation “After Dark Comes Light” by Armijn Pane (Suaprdan, 2008). Ratna Utami (2007) describes the role of women’s organizations during the national movement in Indonesia, namely the “Putri Mardika” association, which at the time of the national movement also published newspapers to advance women in particular and the Indonesian nation in general. Poetri Mardika newspaper contains views on the emancipation of women in Indonesia. Poetri Mardika is the name of a newspaper published once a month by a women’s association organization, Putri Mardika, in 1914 in Jakarta, precisely on Jalan Batu Tulis No.21, Weltevreden (present-day Gambir area), Jakarta. The women’s association, Putri Mardika, was founded in 1912 and aimed to advance Indonesian women by seeking financial assistance for women (especially girls) who wish to continue their education.

The works of historians raise women in the context of historical figures and national heroes. In historical descriptions, there are many reviews about the figure of Ratu Sima from Kalingga, who was firm as a leader, the beauty of Ken Dedes, Cut Nya Dien and Martha Christina Tiyahahu’s resistance against the Dutch, the struggle for women’s education by Maria Walanda Maramis, Rachmah el Yunusiyah and others (Wiriaatmadja, 2003, pp. 87-88). In his book “The Hero in History”, Sidney Hook describes the concept of “the vent-making woman”. The event-making woman is a woman whose actions result from her intellectual capacity, strong will, and character, and thus not only because of the woman’s position in society (Wiriaatmadja, 2003). Female figures considered “the event-making woman” in the history of Indonesian nationality include Kartini, Raden Dewi Sartika, and Rohana Kudus (Lubis, 2002, pp. 163-172).

Historians’ writings still show the dominance of the male role in the advancement of women, such as the Insiwi Febrianti Setiasih Study (2010) regarding the role of Mangkunegara VII (1916-1944) in women’s education in Surakarta. Mason C. Hoadley (2007) analyzed the position of women in the social structure of Javanese society in the early 20th century. Hoadley said that the position of Javanese women was under the subordination of their fathers or husbands to the point of losing all freedom. Women are prohibited from pawning their productive capacity through debt bondage institutions. While women generally have ownership and inheritance rights to movable property, especially jointly acquired property, they have almost no means of production. Women in the “non-free” category generally lose control of their offspring. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to argue that women were autonomous in early modern Java.

The description of women in domestic affairs still colours the historical narrative of women in Indonesia. In the history of the Indonesian revolution, women are most often exposed to their role in soup kitchens. It is not easy to find writings from the many works on the history of the revolution that reveal women in other forms. However, many works show the superiority of women in the archipelago, especially during the revolution and in Aceh.

Ayu Wulandari (2020) revealed that in the Indonesian revolution, women even had a critical role in the Indonesian independence revolution, especially in the affairs of soup kitchens and treatment for injured fighters and joined the Indonesian Women’s Army. Men and women dominate the Acehnese people’s heroic and patriotic characteristics, so many have given birth to good sultanahs in the kingdom; Peureulak, Samudra Pasai, and Aceh Darussalam. Sultanah in question, namely; Sultanah Safiatuddin Shah (d. 1675); Sultanah Nurul Alam Naqiatuddin (1675-1678 AD); Sultanah Inayat Zakiatuddin Shah (1677-1688 AD); Sultanah Kamalat Zainatuddin Shah (1688-1699 AD) (Sofyan, 1994). Aceh also gave birth to fighters against Western colonialism: Cut Nyak Dien, Cut Meutia, Pocut Baren, Pocut Meurah Intan, and Admiral Keumalahayati.


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