Women, Islam and Modernity
by: Linda Bennett
Published by: Curzon Press
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Reviewed by Muhammed Hassanali
Subtitled: Single women, sexuality and reproductive health in contemporary Indonesi
Author Dr. Linda Bennett is a Ph.D. Research Fellow with disciplinary expertise in Medical Anthropology, Reproductive and Sexual Rights, Public Health, Health Education, Southeast Asia, Islam and Health and Youth Health. She is on the staff of LaTrobe University.
Contemporary Indonesian society draws upon Islamic ideals, pre-Islamic customs, and Western models, all of which form a complex web of social norms that are manifested in varying degrees by families and individuals. Bennett artfully narrates how the youth--especially young women--negotiate the boundaries of acceptable social behavior to achieve greater personal autonomy, specifically autonomy over their bodies.
Bennett focuses exclusively on maidenhood, which she defines as the time between puberty and marriage. She starts by providing a background on Indonesian cultural ideals in general, and focuses specifically on ideals of sexuality and gender. She then discusses sexual double standards, the role of women's sexual reputation, its reflection on family honor, and the grave consequences (real or perceived) for sexual transgression.
Bennett provides enough background detail and narrates real experiences to present notions of love, desire and attraction in spiritual and profane realms as they are understood by young women. She then discusses premarital relationships--specifically courting practices. Her examples also illustrate how youths use elopement and love magic for manipulation and resistance
Towards the end of the book, Bennett outlines a framework that uses Islamic principles to enshrine gender equality, and thus promotes reproductive rights of women--particularly those of single women. Her framework does not start with Western ideals of human rights, but draws upon Islamic religious texts and outlines a gender-based equality of the sexes. Bennett recommends discussing roles and responsibilities in specifically gendered terms rather than within the notion of human rights. She claims that this approach would be sensitive to Indonesian culture and would draw inspiration from indigenous cultural ideals.
Bennett's work is unique in that it focuses specifically on single women. As Bennett resists demographic classifications, she fully explores maidenhood--its challenges and opportunities. She discusses the competing ideals, their complex interactions in Indonesian society, and their sway on Indonesian women. She presents her findings clearly and cogently discusses their implications within the broader framework of young women's lives. The examples peppered throughout the text serve not only to underpin generalizations, but also personalize the issues.
Armchair Interviews says: Bennett's work evokes both an intellectual and emotional response from the reader.
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