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Representations of the Modern Malay Woman of the 1990s Issues such as resurgent Islam, polygamy, and even traditional healing have been raised by anthropologists studying the influence of modernity on gender and class in 19905 urban Malay society. Anthropologist Maila Stivens suggests that while contemporary Malaysian newspapers and other media may identify modernity with "Westernization," and may sometimes resist it for that very reason, perhaps we should understand Malaysian modernity somewhat differently (Stivens1994, 81)as a hybridized or alternative modernity. By "alternative modernity," I mean an assertion of Malaysian self-confidence that challenges the fundamental assumption of Western cultural domination, though the term also problematically reinforces notions of self-Orientalization.1 It all depends on who is looking at modernity, resurgent Islam, and polygamy. Stivens notes that various versions of resurgent Islam appeal to some sections of the contemporary Malay middle classes (including many women) and that "traditional" healers in urban areas are popular (1994,81). Taken together with "the occurrence of polygamy among the very men who might be seen as particularly 'modern,' entertainers, academics and other members of the intelligentsia ," such instances "in different ways begin to illustrate some of the specifics of modernity (and perhaps postmodernity) in the country" (ibid.).2 Uncertain of the productiveness of the word "postmodern," she suggests"neomodern " instead (1998, m). Thethree issues sheraises - modernity and neo/ post-modernity, resurgent Islam, and polygamy - will be taken up in my 125 5 reading of the literary and cinematic texts produced by the modern Malay middle class. While "traditional" healing, an element of adat, will be considered, the focus here is on resurgent Islam and polygamy. While this exploration of the modern Malay woman is inspired by Stivens's remark, my choice of texts indicates a different segment of the Malay middle class or bumigeois than the one she observes. I'm interested in those who are not as enthusiastic about the types of resurgent Islam Stivens mentions, though some of the men take advantage of its opportunities to be polygamous. Anxieties related to modernity and tradition are often projected onto women. Deniz Kandiyoti suggests that we consider "the perils of a 'modernist' position on women and gender relations in many post-colonial societies," adding that "tensions between modernist and organicist, anti-modernist strands in nationalism found a natural focus around the personal status of 'modern' citizenry and, more particularly, around the place and conduct of women" (1994,379). Focusing on Malaysianmodernity and Malaywomen, WazirJahan Karim concludes that young women factory workers have been victimized by their participation in industrial development in the same way as other women have been victimized by their support of resurgent Islamic movements (1992,228). Aihwa Ong, too, discusses "the ways in which competing state and Islamic resurgent discourses use women as symbols of motherhood, Malay vulnerability, and as boundary markers in their visions of Malaysian modernity " (1995, 163). In other words, women end up bearing the burden of nationalist, ethno-religious representation in the (male) politics of modernity , which usually places them at a socio-economic and political disadvantage . At a discursive level, "Women ... are deployed as metaphors for often conflicting aspects of modernity in popular, religious and official discourse" (Stivens 1998, 93).As examples, Stivens refers to the varied images of "the new woman" (the successful career woman) as well as the dangerously sexualized woman, asembodied byMinah Karon (literally, "Electric Minah") - the female factory worker, or the boh sia teenage girl who engages in sexual promiscuity (Stivens 2000, 2002).3 To say the least, the prevalent ideology and feeling involving women and modernity is ambivalent. For example, the dominant subtext of Malay women's magazines "is that Malaysian women are being centrally placed as producers of contemporary urban culture and middle classness" (Stivens 1998,109). However, these magazine images are not monolithically uniform. They include a range of identifications such as ibu muthali (ideal motherhood), corporate women, working supermoms, "chaste, modern Muslim wives" who are "keepers of the family and Malay modernity," as well as glamorous cosmopolitan-looking models (ibid., 108). Under the umbrella term of cultural studies, and forging links 126 Representationsof the Modern Malay Woman of the 19905 between anthropology and literary and film studies, my concern is whether the range of images and issues is supported by the works of Malaywriters and filmmakers like Karim Raslan,Dina Zaman, Shahnon Ahmad, and Shuhaimi Baba. These four offer the perspectives of the Malay middle class or bumigeois in the urban areas (most of whom are either local...


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