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Balinese migrant masculinities

A trend of male outmarriage to female and male foreign nationals started in Bali with the rapid expansion of mass tourism in the 1980s. Now, in the 21st century, the practices of male outmarriage continue to increase, raising numerous concerns among Balinese cultural nationalists that “Balinese might become the other people”. 1Dragojlovic, A. 2016. Beyond Bali: Subaltern Citizens and Post-Colonial Intimacy, forward by Michael Herzfeld. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Such concerns are not surprising in the cultural context where it is predominantly women who, upon marriage, move to the homes of their husbands. Portrayals of Balinese and Indonesian men’s intimate encounters with foreign tourists in the beachside resorts in Bali in Amit Virmani’s documentary Cowboys in Paradise (2010), had brought about heightened concerns about moral order and respectability of manhood and masculinities in Indonesia, leading to police raiding beachside resorts and arresting men profiled as ‘beach boys’. The practice in which men mingle with foreign tourists and follow their wives, or male partners, to their countries, constitutes a major transgression to the Balinese gender order.

Marriage migration takes Balinese men to many different parts of the world, from Australia, New Zealand and Japan, to the various Euro-American nation states. My research on Balinese male outmarriage focused on the migration to the Netherlands, the former colonial empire of which Bali was a part, and where the establishment of the largest Balinese diasporic community begun in the late 1960s with the arrival of the prosecuted Indonesian left. 2Dragojlovic, 2016. How are migrant masculinities transformed in the context of transnational mobility? What are the ways in which these conjugal unions are changing gender relations and well-established structures of kinship and relatedness?

I began this research with the primary interest to study the transformations of gender relations and family life, by focusing on what constitutes non-normative heterosexual relations both in Bali and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, rhetoric about freedom around ways in which gender and sexualities are lived has been an important part of how the Dutch nation imagines itself, 3E.g., Farris, S. 2017. In the Name of Women’s Rights, the Rise of Femonationalism. Durham: Duke University Press, pp.115-146. yet the still existing expectation that middle-class women form families with men who are of equal if not higher educational and economic standing to them, means that marrying a Balinese man, who will likely come from an impoverished family, constitutes a transgression to the deep-seated heteronormativity that exists in Dutch society. Moreover, a rapid increase in xenophobia and Islamophobia following the 9/11 attacks in the US, and the murders of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn and Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh (in respectively 2002 and 2004), dramatically increased concerns about migrant men in the Dutch public sphere, and in particular about migrant men’s presumed lack of progressive views about gender relations. While such concerns primarily emerged in relation to Islam, over time they became strongly associated with people who are in the Netherlands designated as non-Western foreigners. 4Farris, 2017.

The residency of Balinese men in the Netherlands is processed under the family reunification scheme, a form of mobility that has often been portrayed by policy makers and right-wing politicians as the most dangerous, deceitful way to enter the country, and has been referred to as ‘backdoor migration’. 5Kofman, E., S. Saharso & E. Vacchelli. 2013. ‘Gendered Perspectives on Integration Discourses and Measures’, International Migration 53(4):77-89. Following their arrival in the country, Balinese men, like any other non-Western designated permanent residents, undertake Dutch language and integration courses. The latter are primarily focused on Dutch values with regard to, among other issues, gender relations and family life – in which, for example, both spouses undertake child rearing and are equally involved in domestic labor. 

The question of labor, both within the household and the labor force, has emerged in my research as a major factor in the transformation of Balinese migrant masculinities and gender relations in these unions. Qualifications such as middle or high school diplomas from Bali are either not recognized in the Netherlands, or are valued only by a very limited job market. Thus, most of the men can only find work in low-paid manual labor. In situations where a Dutch spouse has a much higher annual income than the Balinese spouse (one of the main requirements for family reunification with a non-Western national is that the Dutch applicant is able to prove that they can financially support two individuals over a period of five years), Balinese men often take on most of the domestic labor and child rearing duties and often work part-time outside the home. Some of the men take on casual domestic work. Grounded in understandings of ethnicized domestic labor that draws on the Dutch imaginary of colonial servitude and obliging Indonesian workers, Balinese (and other Indonesian) people have easier access to the domestic labor market. 6Dragojlovic, 2016. Thus, Balinese men take on domestic and caring work, which in Bali is considered ‘women’s work’. Such shifts in gender relations leads to an ongoing negotiation of the masculine self.     


Dr Ana Dragojlovic is a Senior Lecturer in Gender Studies at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of Beyond Bali: Subaltern Citizens and Post-Colonial Intimacy, Amsterdam University Press 2016, and co-author (with Alex Broom) of Bodies and Suffering: Emotions and Relations of Care, Routledge 2017. She is currently completing a book manuscript on Balinese migrant masculinities.

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