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Re-defining the Stay-behind Indonesian Men: Changing Masculinities in the Context of Women’s Transnational Migration

Redéfinir la masculinité des hommes indonésiens restés au pays dans le contexte de la migration transnationale des femmes
Herbary Zhang
p. 187-211

Résumés

Au cours des quatre dernières décennies, la migration internationale de personnes engagées dans des travaux intérimaires est devenue une stratégie de subsistance majeure pour les habitants des zones rurales en Indonésie. Plus de 80 % des migrants contractuels enregistrés par le Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Trainin (BMET) étaient des personnels soignants et des femmes de ménage embauchées à Taiwan, à Hong Kong, en Malaisie et à Singapour. La féminisation de la migration a catalysé une profonde transformation des relations entre les sexes dans les communautés traditionnelles, car les hommes qui restent au pays sont de plus en plus contraints de réviser leurs conceptions traditionnelles de la masculinité en l’absence de leurs épouses. Basé sur une recherche ethnographique de 12 mois menée à Hong Kong et en Indonésie, cet article rend compte des changements qui s’opèrent dans les relations entre les sexes dans le contexte d’une nouvelle économie mondiale qui intègre de plus en plus les femmes de la classe ouvrière à l’exclusion des hommes. La thèse qui y est developpée est que les hommes au foyer restés au pays, en dépit de la précarité économique, peuvent assumer de nouveaux rôles tels ceux d’acteurs principaux de l’éducation et du soin des enfants ou encore celui d’assurer de manière secondaire les finances du foyer, compensant ainsi leur incapacité à jouer le rôle de pilier de famille traditionnel. En partant de la littérature féministe anglophone sur les « failed patriarchs » qui suppose que les hommes de la classe ouvrière, ne pouvant pas rivaliser avec leur épouse devenue pourvoyeuse de la famille, évitent dans le même temps les travaux ménagers, cette recherche soutient que certains hommes restés au foyer, en effectuant les tâches traditionnellement dévolues aux femmes, expérimentent ce qui est considéré comme un rôle dévolu à la femme dans leur société traditionnelle. Ils participent à la garde d’enfants, au ménage et à la gestion financière, ceci en plus d’effectuer un travail salarié en dehors du foyer. Cette étude, en bref, engage la littérature naissante sur les masculinités et la migration en conceptualisant la manière dont les hommes de la classe ouvrière incarnent une pluralité de masculinités marginalisées – c’est-à-dire des masculinités subordonnées en raison de facteurs tels que la classe, le pays ou la communauté d’origine, la sexualité, le genre et d’autres axes de domination – en réponse à l’érosion du modèle du soutien de famille masculin.

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I thank the Editors of Moussons and the anonymous reviewers for their excellent and critical comments on the article. I also thank the participants in this research.

Introduction

1Nur, a 36-year-old native Javanese, began working abroad as a caregiver at the age of 17. With savings from additional stints in Singapore and Hong Kong after marriage, Nur purchased a plot of land, and financed the building of her parents’ home as well as her own. When Nur’s Hong Konger employer died, her left-behind husband implored her to take a break. Agreeing to rest in her village for a year before returning to Hong Kong, Nur comments on her husband’s positive masculine qualities:

I have a lot of friends working in Hong Kong who all ended up divorcing their husbands because they were such spendthrifts, but my hubby isn’t like that. Maybe that’s because I’m naughtier, or my hubby is afraid of me and my dad. He used to like playing cards and drinking, but after getting married to me, he stopped doing so. He’s very dedicated… He loves to work, to build homes, and in the afternoon, he works in the fields.

2Nur is among the numerous domestic workers propelling Indonesia’s burgeoning contract migration over the past three decades. As the second-largest labor-exporting country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia boasts more than 6.2 million migrants employed in over twenty destinations across the world, primarily in Asia newly affluent economies (International Organization for Migration 2010). As in the Philippines and Sri Lanka (Gamburd 2000; Parreñas 2001; Constable 2007; Rodriguez 2010), Indonesia’s contract migration has been dominated by independently mobile women, whose families must stay behind, since the Labor-Export Program’s inception in 1982 (Hugo 1995; Silvey 2004; Ananta 2009). As Parreñas (2001) and Lan (2008) have argued, the feminization of migration is structurally inscribed in the “new international division of reproductive labor,” which has absorbed women from the Global South into the international labor market as caregivers and housemaids. The expansion of cross-border movements by unaccompanied women has even surpassed those of men in several sending countries, leading observers to proclaim the decline of the male breadwinner model (United Nations 2007; Oishi 2005).

3Guided by masculinities and transnational migration frameworks, this paper questions the gender-migration nexus by exploring how stay-behind working-class men reconstitute their gender identities in the process of negotiating with women enjoying privileged access to the international migration labor market.

4Migration studies scholars Linda Basch, Nina Glick Schiller, and Cristina Szanton-Blanc refer to “transnationalism” to describe “[…] the processes by which immigrants forge and sustain multi-stranded social relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement” (1994: 7). In their view, the idea that migrants are those who move from one country to another without maintaining their relationship to their country of origin is no longer adequate to describe today’s migration patterns (Basch, Schiller & Szanton-Blanc, 1994: 4). Instead, they use the term “transnational migrant” as a concept to explain a new type of migrant, one who constructs social fields that connect their home countries and host countries (Schiller et al., 1992: 1). Building on the work of Basch, Schiller and Szanton-Blanc (ibid.), sociologist Peggy Levitt and anthropologist Nina Glick Schiller define “social field” as a set of multiple interlocking networks of social relationships through which ideas, practices, and resources are unequally exchanged, organized, and transformed (Lewitt & Schiller [2004: 1009]; see also Schiller & Fouron [1999]; Schiller [1999, 2003]).

5Arguing that women’s transnational migration is a gendered process, Floya Anthias, a scholar specialized on social divisions and identities, explains that gender is an essential marker of boundaries. She also asserts that women are often burdened with the responsibility of reproducing the national imaginary, national discourses, and practices. Women have a crucial role in the ideological and cultural reproduction of the nation. They do not only physically give birth to national subjects but also produce nationalized subjects through the transmission of national and cultural values and practices. Thus, women often symbolize the nation (Anthias 2006). Anthropologist Constance R. Sutton proposes that the rethinking of migration from a gendered perspective must go beyond the consideration of how the experiences of migrants differ for women and men. She suggests that we also need to know more about the following: how women’s and men’s roles in the global economy differ in both the sending and receiving countries; what their gender-specific roles are in sustaining and transmitting cultural traditions; and the work and caretaking experiences of immigrant women (Sutton 1992).

6Obviously, many of the existed studies focus on female migrants, however, little attention has been paid to study the left-behind men, especially in the Southeast Asian context. Therefore, my research aims to re-define the stay-behind Indonesian men by investigating how they change their masculinities in the context of their wives’ transnational migration. To speak of masculinities is to speak about gender relations. Masculinities are not equivalent to men only; but also concern the position of men in a gender order. According to Connell (1995) “there is abundant evidence that masculinities are multiple, with internal complexities and even contradictions; also that masculinities change in history, and that women have a considerable role in making them, in interaction with boys and men.” In alignment with Connell’s study, in this paper, I use “masculinities” in a plural form, as I saw it exhibited in different forms, changing within different contexts and associated with different positions of power.

7Drawing on ethnographic and interview data gathered over one year of multi-located research in Hong Kong and Indonesia, in this research, I aim to contribute to migration and gender studies by developing a typology of stay-behind men’s masculinities. My study thus complicates representations of downwardly mobile men as “failed patriarchs” (Kabeer 2007; Radhakrishnan & Solari 2015) by revealing how masculinities are reimagined in multiple ways when international contract migration dislocates the nuclear family structure to empower women.

Female Migration and Masculinities

8Feminist scholars have examined the manner in which transnational migration reshapes gender performativity. Students of Latino immigration to the United States maintain that gender relations undergo a transition when women and men migrate separately and eventually settle jointly. Encumbered by the second shift at home, Hondagneu-Sotelo (1994) contends, stay-behind, working women in Mexico experience personal efficacy, developing female networks to sponsor their own immigration despite their migrant husbands’ initial opposition. This transformation in consciousness has elevated women’s ability to foster more egalitarian gender relations in the United States. Others, however, caution that immigrant women remain bound by hegemonic gender ideologies that valorize feminine domesticity. Whereas immigrant men’s role is fulfilled through economic provision, women are expected to be nurturing mothers who withdraw from the workforce once their husbands are no longer compelled by necessity (Pedraza 1991; Menjívar 1999; Dreby 2006; Parrado & Flippen 2005; Abrego 2009).

9These studies have provided vital insights about the gender gains and losses brought about by international migration. Yet, because they study cases of spousal reunion, scholars tend to stress the durability of gender domination in recipient societies. Because men continue to dominate as breadwinners, inequality in the household division of labor remains intact notwithstanding their wives’ participation in the labor market. This line of inquiry suggests that, when men initiate the migratory process and are the primary providers, women’s bargaining position tends to be limited (Parrado & Flippen 2005). Consequently, though migration partially dismantles patriarchy (Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994), immigrant women’s dependence on men may be reproduced in a transplanted setting.

10Cross-border migration in East and Southeast Asia, unlike in North America, is shaped by state-regulated guest worker programs that bar family resettlement, as workers’ overseas presence is rendered legally temporary and tethered to employment contracts (Hugo et al. 2008; Lan 2006). Mounting demand in Asia newly industrialized societies for migrant women’s reproductive labor, rather than migrant men’s productive labor, has meant that it is women who are incorporated into a new global economy centered on care and service work (Hugo 1995; Parreñas 2001; Chin 1998; Constable 2007). Because the context of reception in Asia reinforces migrant women’s prolonged absence from their own families, the mechanisms by which non-migrant men perform gender are qualitatively different from migrant men in North America. Female migration, in fact, has the potential to transgress gender boundaries as it throws into question men’s socially conditioned role as providers (Elmhirst 2007; Hoang & Yeoh 2011). Whereas in immigrant communities in North America men may rule the roost, in Asia’s migrant-sending communities men are simultaneously dependent on migrant wives and unable to compel the latter to take on the second shift at home.

11Studies of gender and migration in Asia, nonetheless, generally overlook shifts in gender relations occasioned by women’s newfound role as breadwinners. In countries where female migration is pronounced, Gamburd (2000), Loveband (2004), and Rudnyckyi (2004) find that employment agencies’ involvement in managing labor weakens women migrants’ structural leverage. Furthermore, recipient and sending states discursively construct feminine domesticity to facilitate women’s involvement in the international labor market as unprotected care providers (Chin 1998; Silvey 2004; Rodriguez 2002). While acknowledging that female migration breaks gender barriers, analysts emphasize the persistence of patriarchal norms: female migrants are confined to lowly paid reproductive labor (Parreñas 2001; Lan 2008), and their migration decisions are constrained by ideologies valorizing motherhood (Parreñas 2009; Paul 2015). Rather than exchanging housework for their wives’ incomes and adopting egalitarian gender ideologies (Thebaud 2010), men who stay behind outsource childcare to extended female kin as a means to defend their masculinity (Parreñas 2009; Hoang, Yeoh & Wattie 2012).

12Because the lack of workplace autonomy and women’s subordination has informed debates in the literature on migrant domestics, the manner in which government-facilitated migration has unintentionally undermined male status in sending countries remains little understood. Some argue that men have become “failed patriarchs”, reacting aggressively to female empowerment in the labor market by refusing to take on reproductive burdens, engaging in domestic violence, and pursuing extramarital affairs (Radhakrishnan & Solari 2015). Without investigating how women and men reconstruct masculinities in sending communities, however, scholars may underestimate the extent to which gender ideologies are subverted in a global economy that enables working-class women, not men, to migrate internationally.

13Adopting the standpoint of men, I expand the burgeoning literature on migration and masculinities (Margold 1995; George 2005; Elmhirst 2007; Broughton 2008; McKay & Lucero-Prisno III 2012; Montes 2013) by investigating how men’s engendered practices change when women leave them behind. Connell (2005: 77) contends that one way to understand how gender domination is reproduced is to examine hegemonic masculinity, or the configuration of normative gender practices that “guarantees […] the dominant position of men and the subordination of women.” In industrialized capitalist societies, hegemonic masculinity is usually associated with men’s participation in paid, productive labor and the allocation of unpaid, reproductive labor to women (Thebaud 2010). Ethnographers (Ong & Peletz 1995; Brenner 1995; Blackwood 2005) have, nevertheless, consistently documented disparities between gender ideals and practices in the Global South. This is, in part, because working-class men in developing countries are often stranded in insecure employment, necessitating the support of women’s waged labor to meet the family’s financial needs (Gutmann 2006; Elmhirst 2007). In their studies of left-behind men in Sri Lanka and the Philippines, Gamburd (2002) and Pingol (2001) have shown that, while productive labor, along with detachment from the domestic sphere, constitutes hegemonic masculinity, economically precarious men engage in more housework than commonly assumed. Mounting financial pressures in a rapidly modernizing society, coupled with labor-market insecurity, has meant that working-class men may not live up to the ideal of male breadwinning even if they aspire to.

14The literature on migration and masculinities discussed above underscore how the intersection of gender and class has generated myriad strategies for immobile men to cope with the erosion of the male breadwinner model. Similar to George’s (2005) finding in her study of Indian American immigrant men married to female nurses, my previous research (Zhang 2018) on Thai female migrants in Hong Kong also suggests that when married women migrate first or independently, a more egalitarian gender division of labor is more likely to result. In the face of economic deprivation, some Indonesian men, failing to live up to the breadwinning ideal, resort to drinking, sexual philandering, squandering wives’ remittances, and becoming absentee fathers. Others, however, make pragmatic contributions to the family by taking on non-normative gender roles as secondary providers, caregivers, or both. I expand Hoang and Yeoh’s (2011) study on Vietnamese stay-behind husbands by exploring how Indonesian women and men mutually reconstruct masculinities in the course of negotiating how to allocate labor in the family. My study thus contributes to theorizing the plurality of marginalized masculinities (Connell 2005; Schippers 2007; C. Cheng 1999)—masculinities that are not hegemonic due to class, race, sexuality, and other forms of subordination—that is often overlooked in scholarship on gender and migration.

Research Methods and Setting

15This paper is based on 12 months of multi-sited ethnographic research in Indonesia and Hong Kong, in a broader project exploring Indonesia’s contract migration program and migrant subjectivities. In the first stage, from June 2018 to December 2018 I was employed as an unpaid language instructor by two licensed Private International Placement Companies (Perusahaan Penempatan Tenaga Kerja Indonesia Swasta) in Surabaya. Under this circumstance, I have conducted participant observation in these companies to collect my ethnogaphic data. To understand the effects of migration on rural livelihoods, I also carried out informational interviews with members of 15 households while resident for five months in two migrant-sending villages in Surabaya.

16In the second phase, from January 2019 to March 2019, I worked as a volunteer by attending weekly play group activities to conduct participant observation in a Hong Kong based NGO, the Hong Kong Society for Asylum-Seekers and Refugees (HKSASR) . The main goal in the second phase participant observation is to understand the effects of migration on domestic workers, refugees, and asylum-seekers’ life experience in Hong Kong.

  • 1 Jakarta is the capital and largest city of Indonesia. Situated on the northwest coast of the world’ (...)

17In the third phase, from March 2019 to June 2019, I went back to Indonesia to conduct my follow up participant observation at two additional employment companies in metro Jakarta and in Surabaya. With the consent of the two companies, I got a chance to work as a volunteer to teach Mandarin, and to collect my research data. I also got chances to revisit one of the firms from my first stage of fieldwork, spending two more months there. All four firms annually deploy around 300 to 1,000 women to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia to work as live-in housemaids, nannies, and elderly caregivers. Following informed consent procedures, from March to June 2019, I carried out 50 semi-structured interviews with female domestic workers, their husbands and family members. They were recorded in Bahasa Indonesia at Jakarta and Surabaya1 in Indonesia. In this research, Surbaya in East Java is my main fieldsite, as rural districts in East Java is known to have high levels of transnational outmigration. High outmigration is a result of the irregular nature of work afforded by the agrarian economic structure of Surabaya, which supports the seasonal employment of two thirds of the population (Khoo et al. 2014).

18Through referrals from villagers, women leaders from the local community, and employment agency staff, I recruited male informants to investigate how they change their masculinities in the context of their wives’ transnational migration. To safeguard the privacy of human subjects, I asked informants to offer pseudonyms or created them on their behalf. The bulk of the data on which this paper is drawn is based on interviews, carried out in informants’ homes in villages and at training centers, with 25 prospective or seasoned women migrant domestic workers and 25 men to supplement the participant observation and informal interviews which I have conducted previously in Hong Kong and Indonesia in phase one and two.

19Training centers in particular constitute central sites where Indonesian contract migrants in the domestic care sector are recruited, re-socialised, and deployed before they are permitted to work abroad. I build on the ethnographic strategy of “following the migrant” (Lindquist 2010; Rodriguez 2010; Lindquist, Xiang & Yeoh 2012; Killias 2014) by examining all the key steps, from recruitment to training and pre-departure orientation that prospective migrant domestics must traverse before they are able to secure overseas contracts.

20As a researcher who speaks English, Thai, Chinese and Indonesian fluently, I spent two to three months at each training center as an unpaid language instructor for Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore bound migrant domestics. My previous research experiences on Thai and Indonesian migrants in Hong Kong provided me the backgrounds and insights of their life experiences and stories abroad, therefore, as an ethnographer, it is not difficult for me to know their situation and understand their life. My own life experience in Hong Kong and my daily encounter with these Indonesian domestic workers also offer me an advantage to better understand their interactions with each other and with other people during the fieldwork, therefore, it helps me collect more in-depth and solid data from my participant observation.

21At the Jakarta-based firm, which has gender-segregated instructional facilities, with permission from the firm director, I have a chance to give Mandarin lessons to both male migrant factory workers and female migrant domestics, who were required to stay at company boarding facilities (penampungan) during the course of training—a process that may last anywhere from two to 12 months. I spent on average 8 hours a day, for 4 to six days a week, at each of the training centers to examine migrant experiences of the re-socialization process and of their relations with families left behind. I spent 1 days per week at the Hong Kong Society for Asylum-Seekers and Refugees as an unpaid volunteer and language instructor for female migrants and their children.

22Although this is multi-sited ethnographic research conducted both in Indonesia and Hong Kong, my main research focus was Indonesia, especially the stay behind men in Surabaya. Surabaya is my main field site, and here I will describe the site setting of it. At the end of the war for national liberation in 1949, Surabaya was similar to other regions in Java where overpopulation and agrarian stagnation were acute (Mortimer 1969; McVey 2006). Given the city’s proximity to a large state-owned sugar refinery, sugarcane cultivation, performed by an abundance of wage producers on peasant or communally owned land, was once a pillar of the rural economy alongside paddy. Since the 1970s, in spite of a marked improvement in wet-rice cultivation brought about by the “green revolution,” Surabaya has witnessed exceptionally large waves of outmigration, Taiwan and Hong Kong, rather than Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, are the largest recipients of contract migrants from the city.

23From the mid-1980s to 1990s, rural men in Surabaya experienced declining employment prospects. Although Malaysia had been a popular destination for male migrants from Surabaya until the early 2000s, access to the country deteriorated due to successive closures of the border between Malaysia and Indonesia. According to village informants, for much of the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was relatively easy to secure employment as undocumented migrants in Malaysia’s booming agroindustrial, construction, and lumber sectors. Overtime, however, the Malaysian government launched various deportation campaigns (Arifianto 2009). Around the same time, the Indonesian government began to take an increasingly active role in promoting its formal contract migration scheme. Similar to what Rodriguez (2010) has argued about the role of the Philippine “labor-brokerage state” in facilitating migration, the Indonesian state sought to enhance the employability of its legal migrant workforce in response to the growing global demand for reproductive labor. The Indonesian state implemented guest worker programs with new destinations in the Asia Pacific, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan (Yeoh & Huang 2000; S.-J. A. Cheng 2006; Palmer 2013). The dramatic expansion of overseas opportunities for women in the contract migration scheme thus coincided with Malaysia’s gradual tightening of the labor market for Indonesian men. Changes in the global economy that have generated a high demand for reproductive labor have meant that rural men in Surabaya are increasingly compelled to defer to their wives for migration decisions.

Hegemonic Masculinity in Indonesia

24Ethnographers (Geertz 1961; Tanner 1974; Siegel 2000; Brenner 1995; Elmhirst 2007) have long argued that productive labor is central to Indonesian men’s identities. As a multicultural and multiethnic country which has been deeply influenced by both the traditional values and the colonial culture, Indonesian gender roles, however, are not rigid, especially from the 1980s, after Indonesia began to send female domestic workers abroad. As Indonesian women’s remittance increase and economic status improves, they exercise high levels of autonomy in the rising labor market and in the family.

25Although Javanese men are accorded greater prestige as symbolic heads of households, in practice, women enjoy significant economic autonomy as many works as market traders, agricultural laborers, and industrial workers (Brenner 1995; Wolf 1994). Women, in other words, are not barred from, nor are they unaccustomed to, participating in waged labor. Married women also hold the authority to make major decisions pertaining to the management of the nuclear household. Men are socially expected to surrender most, if not all, of their earnings to be disposed of as their wives see fit (Geertz 1961; Wolf 1994).

26My interviews involving Javanese Muslims and Minahasa Christians in Jakarta and Surabaya have revealed that providing for the family through waged labor is a crucial role for men. Women’s decision to work outside the home, including overseas, is not considered a social obligation as it is for men, but an effort to help the family. This gendered distinction between providing for and helping the family is especially critical for Indonesian Muslims in their evaluations of men and was repeatedly emphasized to me by both female and male informants. In the Indonesian Religious Court that settles marital disputes involving Muslims, women have the right to file for divorce when husbands fail to abide by their role as providers. A male official at Surabaya’s Religious Court told me thus:

There are many Indonesian [women] migrant workers who are divorced. Actually, based on national laws, the husband is obligated to provide for the wife economically and psychologically, but in reality, many men don’t abide by it. They become drunkards and gambling […]. If the wife works, but the husband is lazy, it becomes a problem. Providing for the wife is an obligation for men: the husband has to take responsibility to educate his children and wife. But when the wife isn’t home [due to migration], sometimes the husband has temptations, and in the end, the marriage is no longer harmonious. When the wife goes away, sometimes men develop low morals and abandon their families, even though providing for the family is their obligation.

27Obviously, from the office’s talking, we can find that the national law in Indonesia sets out obligations and responsibilities as a husband, a father and a man. However, due to different and diverse political, economic and cultural factors and the actual situation in different families, it is not easy for all the Indonesian men to meet their gender role expectations and perform the traditional model of masculinity.

28Indonesia’s open unemployment rate slightly dropped to 5.01 percent in February this year from 5.13 percent in the same month last year thanks partly to an increase in employee recruitment by the trade sector, according to the latest unemployment data released by Statistics Indonesia (BPS) in 2019. However, the unemployment rate in rural areas was 6.3 percent, almost double the rate in urban areas, which was only 3.45 percent (The Jakarta Post 2019 ). Rising costs of living and labor-market precarity in the Indonesian countryside, however, have meant that working-class men do not always have the option to be sole providers for their families. Although the stay-behind men in my sample had full- or part-time jobs when they were bachelors, they became economically insecure with the birth of a child. This pressure was compounded by the fact that, though these men had initially resided with their natal families, they aspired to home ownership. Despite its exorbitant expenses, home construction in Java is viewed as a sign of social mobility and financial autonomy for young couples (Geertz 1961; Jay 1969; Firman 1994). The desire to form a stable nuclear family, separate from natal families, compelled men to turn to their wives to augment the family income. All of my female informants were able to convince their husbands to allow them to pursue overseas care work at a time when unprecedented numbers of rural women were being recruited to work in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and Hong Kong. Despite initial hesitation, men eventually conceded to wives’ migration decisions. Irfan, a man in his mid-30’s who was left behind for 8 years, recounted how he coped with his wife’s decision to work in Hong Kong:

Ummm, what to make of it? I myself, personally speaking, was the one who signed [the spousal agreement]. I granted her permission though it weighed heavily on me… But the biggest [phenomenon] happening in Indonesia right now is the sending of Indonesian women migrant workers, and she followed [the wave]. I realized I needed to be emotionally mature, so, if I were too caught up by overthinking, then we wouldn’t be able to progress economically, right? I felt bad about my child [not having his mother around], but we had to think about the future.

29Based on the conversation above, it can seem awkward to elaborate on Indonesian women’s autonomy in the job market. However, the “autonomy” here is situated, even there is a spousal agreement needed for Indonesian women to work abroad, after they get out of the place, they have the right to make their own choice and enjoy the autonomy and freedom in the host country.

30The inability to subscribe to the hegemonic gender ideal for Irfan and my other male informants was emotionally challenging. Yet, the ways in which men compensated for their removal of manhood were more complex than portrayed in popular and scholarly tropes about the delinquent man. I examine how left-behind men coped with their eroding status in the family via three distinct, albeit not mutually exclusive, patterns of gender practices. While productive labor was the most valorized form of masculinity, most of the men I interviewed also partook in some or all forms of reproductive labor. In some cases, my male informants were unable to work outside the home for several years as they had to take care of young children. While women generally appreciated men’s taking on a nurturing role in the family, they were ambivalent about their husbands devoting full time to performing reproductive labor once their children no longer needed intense childcare. I discuss how immobile men resorted to engaging in productive labor, despite their recognition that their role was highly tenuous as secondary providers. As I had no access to the voices of men who display failed masculinity, I relied on female informants to recount their experiences dealing with their husbands who are portrayed as irresponsible or considered having failed to fulfill the traditional model of Indonesian masculinities.

31Therefore, I have developed a threefold typology of stay-behind men’s masculinities: 1) the kind of masculinity as a caregiver, 2) the kind of masculinity as a provider, and 3) failed adaptation to the traditional model of masculinity, which will be elaborated in the following sections. Stay-behind men who exemplify the kind of masculinity as a caregiver is here understood as men who reconstruct their gender identities by taking on unremunerated domestic burdens traditionally borne by women. Men who exhibit the kind of masculinity as a provider, by contrast, engage in productive labor to support the subsistence needs of left-behind family members despite being secondary providers. Finally, men who embody failed adaptation to the traditional model of masculinity do not live up to culturally legitimate masculine ideals; they are negligent in performing both kinds of labor even in the face of social shaming. Womanizing, binge-drinking, taking on second wives, and spending away wives’ earnings are some typical characteristics of failed masculinities. Unlike men act such as providers and caregivers, failed men abandon family obligations, a stigmatized behavior inducing strains that may eventually result in women seeking a divorce.

The kind of masculinity as a caregiver

32What is distinctive about men who embody the kind of masculinity as a caregiver is that they take on most of the gendered tasks in the household conventionally reserved for women, from housekeeping and childcare to cooking, laundry, and financial management. Half of my male respondents devoted full-time, ranging from two to four years, performing childcare at home, at times being completely unable to pursue waged labor and reliant on their wives’ overseas remittances for daily subsistence.

33Krisna, a 40-year-old who had worked for several years as a construction worker and a field assistant for an international maid agency before marriage, initially resisted his wife’s desire to work abroad. The birth of his first child in 2002 motivated Krisna to pursue migration to Malaysia. He found out, to his dismay, that job placement fees for migrant men were far higher than those for migrant women bound for Hong Kong. To support the family’s growing financial burdens, Krisna eventually deferred to his wife, who would leave him and their 1.5-year-old son behind to work abroad. Krisna stated:

I didn’t have money. I didn’t have any capital at home. At the time, my wife also had to pay to work in Hong Kong during her first time to Hong Kong, paying 2.5 million [rupiah, about 165 euro] to her labor broker, but it was less than what I had to pay [to work in Malaysia]. If there weren’t any fees, maybe I would be the one to work in Malaysia, and my wife to care for our child. I didn’t have money, and didn’t dare to borrow it because I was afraid that interest would pile up.

34Without female kin to support him other than his younger sister, Krisna spent most of his days doing housekeeping chores, washing clothes by hand, sweeping floors, bathing and feeding his son. Despite initial ambivalence, Krisna agreed to take on caregiving rather than provider role. Domestic burdens, however, made it difficult for Krisna to seek waged work for the first four years of his wife’s departure. His financial instability was further compounded by his wife’s sporadic remittances and infrequent communication during her first contract. Krisna recounted the difficulties of caring for a child on his own:

It’s super troublesome taking care of a child who’s a year and half old! Super challenging, for real! My gosh, I often managed [the child on my own] […] Gradually, after 6 months, I began to adapt. But for the first two months the workload was extremely heavy […] For a long time, at most [my wife would] remit 1 million, or 2 million rupiah [about $100 to $200] after several months, as she had to accumulate savings first […] I often didn’t have enough money to buy snacks for him! He was still little […]. Because our son was still little, only a year and a half old, he couldn’t be left home alone. [Taking care of my child] really stressed me out! […] Everywhere I went, my son would tag along, that’s why I couldn’t work! [...] I began to work only when my son was 3.5 or 4 years old, but even then I couldn’t work full-time if my child got finicky.

35While his wife was working in Hong Kong on three employment contracts for 9 years, Krisna alternated between taking care of his child and working part- or full-time as a construction worker. It was only around 2010 that Krisna was able to run his own welding shop on the second floor of their new home. Still, his wages were only sufficient to support his and his child’s subsistence needs. To fulfill his promises to his wife, Krisna compensated for his inability to take on a providing role in the early stages of his child’s growth by partaking in the reproductive burdens traditionally borne by rural women. He also became a manager of household finances, using his wife’s remittances and his labor to build a two-story structure on a plot of land he inherited.

36Ros, a 43-year-old woman, also recounted how her husband, who used to work as an internal migrant and left her and two children behind, contribute to family welfare when she departed for Hong Kong in 2008. For two years, Ros’s husband was unable to find gainful employment upon returning to his village in East Java. When asked whether he did not pursue waged labor because she was the breadwinner, Ros came to her husband’s defense by stating that he was unfamiliar with employment options in the countryside after working for many years as a taxi driver outside Java. Ros’s husband coped with his downward mobility by devoting full-time to domestic work during her absence. Ros stated thus:

He didn’t work because he was confused about what to do after moving back from Balikpapan to Java. He didn’t have confidence in himself… So, he was unemployed for two years, he told me himself, “I was unemployed at home for two years!” [While unemployed] he took care of the children, washed clothes, sent kids to school. He washed clothes when the children were still little. Yes, he could do laundry [by hand] and cook! [...] He would ask his neighbors for tips on how to use spices to make vegetable dishes. At the time, he didn’t know how to look for money. He was unemployed, but he could cook for himself and for our children.

37Not only did Ros’s husband take on a reproductive role, like Krisna, he also became the manager of household finances, even though this is traditionally considered the domain of wives rather than husbands (Geertz 1961). Although Ros eventually regretted her decision to remit all her earnings to her left-behind husband, she appreciated his responsibility for managing her remittances for the construction of the home, especially after finding out what happened to her migrant neighbors:

He asked me for money to build a kitchen and a bathroom, because he felt bad that the kids didn’t have a place to bathe … Luckily my money eventually materialized into a home [chuckles]. He wasn’t a spendthrift. Our neighbors told me [when I was working abroad], “Your husband is an honest person, you can see for yourself. The money you’ve been sending has turned into a kitchen. Did you know what happened to the neighbor next door? Her husband was good for nothing. All he built was a foundation, but there was no house on top of it! In the end, she filed for divorce!”

38Similar to the husbands of Krisna and Ros, Andi, a 35-year-old vocational school graduate, devoted full-time to reproductive labor and financial management when his wife left him and their 2-year-old son behind to work in Hong Kong:

When my wife left me behind, I already knew that I had to care for my son… When he was little, I spent loads of money. For two years, I didn’t get to work at all as I had to take care of the child. Thank God, my wife provided me with financial resources. If my wife sent me 3 million [rupiah, about $300] a month, I would divide it up. I’d spend 1.5 million for my child, as young kids required a lot of money. The other half I would use as an installment for buying construction materials. In four years, I was able to build our home. I’m not boasting here, but if my wife didn’t work abroad, I probably wouldn’t be able to have a home.

39Although not all of my male informants were heavily involved in managing their wives’ remittances, those who embody reproductive masculinities engage in most, if not all, of the domestic burdens that rural women traditionally take. Unlike many other studies that suggest that left-behind men outsource reproductive labor to extended families to avoid taking on “women’s work” (Gallo & Scrinzi 2016; Lan 2008; Lam and Yeoh 2018), in this research, many of my male informants saw their performance of childcare and housekeeping as crucial for legitimating their non-material contributions to the family, especially in the context of high divorce rates involving migrant women. Andi, for example, told me that he partook in childcare and monitored how he spent his wife’s remittances as a means to avoid marital discord that often emerged when wives became breadwinners:

Usually, men even if they work, their income isn’t a whole lot. If they get remittances, they often forget who they are. They forget who they are. They know their wives are breaking their necks over there as domestic helpers, but they are keeping asking for a handout, so they can spend it away… The vast majority of men are like that, the wife will divorce him, 75% [of the cases] will end in a divorce. Yes, definitely!

The Kind of Masculinity as a Provider

40Stay-behind men who exhibit the kind of masculinity as a provider primarily engage in waged labor to reconstruct their gender identities in the face of breadwinning wives. While all of male informants were fully aware of their status as secondary providers and were ambivalent about their low wages, they elected to engage in productive labor as a means to reduce their economic dependence on their wives. Many who pursued full-time childcare eventually took on remunerated, productive labor to support their daily subsistence needs, reserving wives’ remittances for major household expenditures such as home building, children’s education, land and automobile purchases, and start-up capital for small businesses.

41Susanto, the stay-behind husband of Nur in the opening vignette, exemplifies productive masculinities. Though Nur was the primary provider, Susanto contributed to family finances when he worked for many years on a lucrative, albeit dangerous, job he had landed as a bachelor. In 1989, after years of internal migration, Susanto started his career as a labor recruiter working for a Chinese-Malaysian boss with ties to Malaysian employers desiring undocumented migrants. Together with two partners, they scoured villages across Indonesia for men wanting to purchase their overseas passage at a low cost. Though often caught, Susanto and his companions would gain entry to Malaysia after bribing naval patrol agents. Susanto commented thus:

In the past I used clandestine means. From Sumatra I would use a small boat [to transport undocumented migrants] via the sea, through Batam or Tanjung Priok [way stations to Malaysia] … If there were police… that used one of those big ships [to patrol the seas], and we didn’t stop, our boat would be immediately sunk down. But if we stopped, we must give them money.

42Year after year, the profit margins became thinner and the risks higher. In the late 2000s, Susanto’s smuggling operations became difficult to sustain, as the men they dispatched to Malaysia were being deported. Growing hurdles of running a precarious business, along with an aging physique, convinced Susanto to retire from his 21-year career in 2010: “I took a break to come home. My boss ordered me to get back to work, but I was beginning to feel a little jaded […]. Every month I would bring people back and forth. I was tired.” Upon returning home, Susanto tended the family farm and foraged for grass to feed the family’s two cows. At the time of interview, Susanto was working as a construction laborer nearly every day, from 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Looking at Nur’s path as a mobile career woman with access to relatively secure employment, Susanto was reserved about the path that he had forsaken: “Sometimes I also wanna go abroad because it’s difficult to earn money here, and costs of living are high.” But, now in his mid-40s, he was too old for overseas employment. He took on odd jobs in the village to support the family while Nur awaited a work visa on her third contract to Hong Kong.

43Irfan also embodied productive masculinities when his wife left him behind to work in Hong Kong. Though he also took on childcare, the primary way in which he legitimated his contributions to household finances was through productive labor. Irfan initially sold clothes in the night market in the city’s town square, but closed down his business, as he was not making a profit. After trying part-time construction work, Irfan landed a job as a full-time construction labourer, working for 8 hours in the daytime. Despite having a stable income, wages from construction, which were paying about $7 a day, were inadequate to meet the subsistence needs of himself and his child. Irfan decided to enhance his income to prove his worth as a husband and a father by taking on a side job selling toys in the town square. After a half-hour break from his construction work, Irfan would ride his motorcycle to the town square to set up a tent selling plastic toys in the night market from 5 to around 9 p.m. When inquired about his motivation for working over 12 hours a day, Irfan described the joy that came from earning a respectable income despite being a secondary provider:

I have to work to make myself feel what it’s like to [provide for] my wife and child. I feel happier that way. It’s better to have my own money from construction. I get paid once a week on Saturdays. After wage day, I can give my money to my son and go, “Hey, here’s pocket money for you.” It makes both of us happy, right? For a man, it’s important to give [money] to your wife and child, even though in reality our money is so little. For people like me, from the working class, what’s important is that [my wife and I] work together so that we can accumulate money faster… Although my wife is over there, here at home I need to keep working to stray away from negative thinking, to keep myself busy, so that I feel I’m working together with my wife.

44This sentiment was also shared by Mus, a former migrant factory worker in Hong Kong in the late 1990s who chose to stay behind while his wife worked abroad. Although Mus had had extensive migration experiences, he found it difficult to find a desirable overseas job after returning home to get married. Seizing growing opportunities for rural women, his wife, who had worked for 5 years in Singapore when she was a bachelorette, joined others to work in Hong Kong as domestic workers. During 6 years of her absence, Mus took on a variety of income-generating pursuits, from being a labor broker for women migrant domestics to growing paddy, driving passengers, and selling second-hand cars. But unlike the men in my sample who embody reproductive masculinities, Mus avoided directly managing his wife’s remittances, preferring to keep separate bank accounts as a means to avoid marital discord and to demonstrate his responsibility as a provider for his son. He used his earnings from paddy production to fulfill the subsistence needs of himself and his son, and surrendered his income as a driver to his little son. Mus described how he avoided handling his wife’s remittances and made it a point to instill the value of financial management to his son:

My wife’s earnings went into her own bank account directly. I intentionally didn’t spend the money I earned from driving passengers and renting out cars. When my son was little, I taught him to save money. Thus, from when my child was in elementary to junior high school, if I got money from driving passengers, sometimes I’d give [$30] to my child and I’d tell him to save it in his bank account […]. For daily needs, God willing, income from agriculture should be more than enough. I would work in the field, drive passengers to the airport, and buy and sell [second-hand] cars. If I were managing my field, I’d at most check on it briefly in the morning […]. Then I’d send my child to school if there was no job.

45Men who exemplify productive masculinities, in short, cope with their wife’s breadwinning status primarily through engaging in waged labor. In my sample of left-behind men, all 10 men had, at least for some time other, taken on odd jobs, from construction to agriculture and furniture-making, that did not earn them a stable income, but nevertheless proved that they were proactive in seeking waged work in the eyes of their families and the community.

Failed Adaptation to the Traditional Model of masculinity

46Unlike men who act as caregivers and providers, failed men completely neglect their family responsibilities and are unable or unwilling to aspire to change notions of masculinity brought about by female migration. In this study, some of the left-behind men considered as “failed” by female migrants because those men don’t conform to the traditional model of masculinity in Indonesian context, for example, they did not meet the gender role expectation traditionally assigned to men by Indonesia society, and therefore “failed” to be a traditional man in Indonesian society. Below, I will provide accounts of two informants whose experiences with their former husbands exemplify man who failed adaptation to the traditional model of masculinity and considered as failed man in their eyes, or in their own words, the “null”.

47Mita, a 28-year-old Indonesian single mother of two, recalls her father’s desertion when she was 5. He left the family for another woman, a decision that compelled Mita’s mother to take her two toddlers from their migrant settlement back to their ancestral village in Surabaya. Mita dropped out of school at the age of 12 to support her mother and illiterate sister, and worked in the provincial capital for five years as a babysitter. Under her mother’s pressure, Mita returned to form a union with a man she did not love. Mita ceased migrating for some time, selling homemade snacks to supplement her husband’s income.

48At a relative’s suggestion, Mita and his sister-in-law applied for helper jobs in Hong Kong. Mita’s goals for working abroad at the time were twofold: to build a home independent of the in-laws, and to be financially independent. In 2010-2015, Mita cared for a 92-year-old woman in Hong Kong island. Although Mita had instructed her husband to utilize her remittances for home construction, Mita found out, upon her return, that he squandered most of her earnings. Mita raises her voice as tears well up in her eyes:

He drank arak [locally brewed alcohol], liked to get drunk, and slept around […]. Besides, he didn’t take care of me and my children […]. Instead, it was I who became the family’s backbone! [...]. I was surprised when I came home [to find] that my bank account had an empty balance. Literally null!

49In 2016, Mita’s husband left her to live with his girlfriend. Mita was determined to take action. “After the divorce [my heart] feels more at ease,” Mita says, though she remains broken-hearted. Mita has decided that it is time to work in Hong Kong again because “I’m still young, and have had experiences in Hong Kong,” and because “my mother hopes that I can change my fate.” Her goal for working abroad this time is to build a new home for her mother and children, rather than to look for a partner.

50Same as Mita, Yuni, a 37-year-old single mother from Indonesia who has two twin sons with autism, tells me her story with her divorced husband. Yuni got married to her ex-husband who comes from the same village at 20 years old, after that they open a small grocery store in hometown, life is not easy but still happy. However, after gave birth to the twin sons with autism, Yuni found life has become very hard for her, she has to spend most of her time to take care of the two sons, and the grocery store business got worse because her ex-husband is not a careful person and has many bad friends. However, Yuni loved her husband and sons. After discussing it with her family, Yuni decided to work in Hong Kong to make more money to support the family. To save the air tickets and travel expenses, Yuni didn’t go back to Indonesia for more than 6 years, she remitted most of her income back home to her husband and told her husband to save the money and use the money for their sons. She never doubted her husband, although there are a lot of gossips about him which she could hear from other friends from Indonesia, she still believes her husband will take care of their sons.

51However, what broke Yuni’s heart finally happened, one of her best friends sent her many photos of her husband and the other woman who has very intimate behaviors and told her what happened to her husband there. Upon Yuni return to her hometown, she found out the grocery store is closed, her husband lives together with the other woman and he spent out most of her earnings. What she couldn’t accept most is her husband didn’t spend her money on their two sons and didn’t take care of them much, and the children’s condition became worse and worse.

52Yuni told me with her tears, she said:

He is an unqualified husband, an unqualified father, and even an unqualified man. I think he is a failed man, a parasite who only knows how to steal money from the woman, but never fulfill a man’s duty and obligation.

53In my sample of female informants, 3 women admitted to me, despite some embarrassment, that their left-behind husbands displayed some of the undesirable traits as recounted by Mita, from partaking in domestic violence, squandering wives’ earnings, to taking on second wives or mistresses or even abandoning their children. In Asuncion Fresnoza-Flot’s (2013) study on Filipino transnational families, she suggests that the Filipino transnational family arrangements are gendered and dominated by women, reflecting the inequalities in transnational families. In alignment with Zhang’s (2020) study on Thai female migrants in Hong Kong, I suggest that when migrant women arrived in the host country, their experiences with a new sense of autonomy and freedom will also empower them to question and challenge gender inequality in their home country. Such realizations present the possibility of negotiating their gender role expectations and the reconstruction of their womanhood, however, along with their transnational migration and reconstruct their womanhood, female migrants may rethink or redefine the concept of masculinities as well, these inevitable comparisons, therefore, lead them to categorize their men into failed masculinity or in their word, as “null”.

Conclusion

54Mita and Yuni’s narratives about their ex-husbands are reminiscent of what scholars have said about failed patriarchs: men who are incompetent in rebuilding their masculine identities in the face of economic adversity, or in this study, men who are failed adaptation to the traditional model of Indonesian masculinity. Kabeer (2007) stresses that downwardly mobile men across the world have experienced a “crisis in patriarchal authority”, responding to gender role change in defensive ways, such as “refusal to share domestic and childcare responsibilities […] drinking, violence, withdrawal of their financial contributions, divorcing their wives, abandoning their families, taking second wives or returning to their natal families” (ibid.: 51). Pingol (2001) and Gamburd (2000) also suggest that, just as there is stigma attached to women migrating abroad, men are not completely free of it, either. Villagers view “slothful husbands” in extremely negative terms: as emasculated men who fail to channel their loss of prestige in positive ways. Yet, as these authors point out, representations of delinquent men do not always capture the fluidity of gender identities on the ground. In both the Philippines and Sri Lanka, they find, stay-behind men participate in childcare and wage-earning activities to a far greater degree than commonly acknowledged. Other ethnographers (George 2005; Gutmann 2006) also emphasize marriage as a negotiated partnership, showing how men defer to breadwinning women to fulfill their responsibilities as fathers and husbands.

55My article has investigated how gender roles shift when women work abroad and men are left behind. Feminist scholars such as Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, Deborah Boehm and Patricia Pessar have emphasized how Latino immigrants in the U.S. reproduce patriarchal norms, despite the partial gains made by immigrant women. Study of Asian migrant domestics by Lam and Yeoh (2018) by contrast emphasize how institutional patriarchy in the form of governments, local communities, international placement agencies, and employers perpetuates the vulnerability of migrant domestics in the host state. Looking at gender relations on the sending side, I have shown that international contract migration, rather than reinforcing female subjugation, has unintentionally weakened male status in the household division of labor.

56My study shows that female migration has destabilized normative gender ideals in communities of origin, as economically productive men find themselves trapped by labor-market precarity, unable to meet the family’s financial needs. Consistent with ethnographic findings on working-class and migrant communities in the Philippines, Mexico, and Sri Lanka (Pingol 2001; Gutmann 1993; Gamburd 2000), I argue that Indonesian migrant women’s status as primary providers have induced transformations in the gender scripts of masculine breadwinning and feminine domesticity. As women increasingly eke out a living outside the confines of the home and the nation, left-behind men are forced to grapple with their insecure position in the family and to redefine their sense of self.

57Studying gender dynamics in sending communities contributes to theorizing how men’s identities change amid negotiations with breadwinning women. Although feminist scholarship increasingly attends to the experiences of men, it often restricts the analysis to whether men take on women’s conventional role as “nurturers” in the course of migration (Dreby 2006; Abrego 2009; Hoang, Yeoh & Wattie 2012). By focusing on men on the sending side, I have analyzed the emergence of three types of marginalized masculinities—as a caregiver, as a provider, and failed adaptation to the traditional model of masculinity—that do not coincide with the notion that breadwinning is intrinsic to working-class men’s sense of self. Rather than a general pattern of failed patriarchs, I show that left-behind men in Indonesia reconstitute masculinities by partaking in housework and lowly remunerated wage labor to compensate for their inability to play the traditional breadwinner role. I thus follow calls by gender scholars (Thai 2002; Hondagneu-Sotelo 2003; Elmhirst 2007; Broughton 2008; McKay & Lucero-Prisno III 2012) to better understand how migration influences the social construction of masculinities beyond the binary of feminine dependency and masculine breadwinning.

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Note de fin

1 Jakarta is the capital and largest city of Indonesia. Situated on the northwest coast of the world’s most populous island of Java, it is the centre of economy, culture and politics of Indonesia. Surabaya is the capital of the Indonesian province of East Java and the second-largest city in the country. The city has a population of over 3 million within its city limits and over 10 million in the Surabaya metropolitan area, making it the second-largest metropolitan area in Indonesia.

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Référence papier

Herbary Zhang, « Re-defining the Stay-behind Indonesian Men: Changing Masculinities in the Context of Women’s Transnational Migration »Moussons, 35 | 2020, 187-211.

Référence électronique

Herbary Zhang, « Re-defining the Stay-behind Indonesian Men: Changing Masculinities in the Context of Women’s Transnational Migration »Moussons [En ligne], 35 | 2020, mis en ligne le 13 août 2020, consulté le 27 octobre 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/moussons/6226; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/moussons.6226

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Auteur

Herbary Zhang

Herbary Zhang is a researcher in Anthropology and Development Studies. His main research interests include identities and belonging, gender and migration, cosmopolitanism and nationalism, and Hong Kong-Southeast Asia connections. He has published articles in the Journal of the Siam Society, South East Asia Research; and The Regional Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. He is currently preparing his monograph, entitled “Engendering Migration Journey: Identity and Belonging of Thai Migrant Women in Hong Kong”.

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