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What occupies us in this volume is how women at all social levels devise their own coping mechanisms to deal with the impact of externally imposed pressures. Their stories reflect the creative solutions with which they have come to terms with some of the resulting problems, but always in a very personal way and without recourse to any form of collective action or organization. With a few exceptions, most of these women are still committed to traditional roles and the perception of obligations, even if the content of the role has changed. At least these "core" roles seem ideologically more resistant to change, such that there is a considerable lag between changing social conditions and the values underpinning them (cf. Goody, 1984). Apparently, it is only when women have become exposed, either through education, overseas travel or scholarly professions, that outside ("Western") notions of feminism and gender equality emerge. It is the highly unique and privileged upper middle class who agitate and raise the consciousness of their "deprived" sisters, and who also initiate women's organizations and support centres. If an awareness of womanhood for itself, a gender-as-class type of feminism has yet to surface in most of the societies of Southeast Asia, it is still legitimate to pursue the question of situation of women as a group-in-itself, as a potential action group. If we focus on the kinship system, as we have seen above, there is little in the ideology, distribution of resources and male-female relationships in traditional Southeast Asian practice (the immigrant Chinese here being something of an exception), to suggest an undue exploitation or oppression of women as a whole. In the domestic arrangements of most of them, a modus vivendi had been struck, an acceptance of role complementarily whether labelled the "myth of male dominance" (Rogers, 1975; Hirschon, 1984), or the false consciousness so readily perceived by many outsiders. Operating from the domestic core, women devise all manner of individual strategies to pursue their interests, influence their kin and turn events towards their chosen direction. Whether within or outside the household, such strategies are in the broadest sense political and can have substantial impact upon the male world (Collier, 1974). Commonly, women act or achieve their goals indirectly through men, particularly by the manipulation of husbands, brothers and sons, so that even the Chinese woman may eventually come into her own as a mother-in-law. In this collection of stories, Chat is the supreme example of this kind of successful manipulator. Satisfaction may even be had vicariously, as in Tok Nyam's pleasure in seeing her husband and sons make the pilgrimage to Mecca ahead of her. All of these women have managed to make, within their own small worlds, a choice of action between two or more options: Maimunah and Ah Ling opted for a non-traditional life of their own in the city, while Zainab chose to retreat from it and ease her family into compliance with her choice. The Singapore women's solutions to their working situation constantly result in a creative tension and some changes in the original Chinese family organization. For all the poverty of her family, even Yurni has been bold enough to spurn employment with and dependence on Ibu Ica, whom she dislikes, taking up alternative sharecropping and embroidery jobs instead. Rufina left Manila to marry the man of her own choosing, and in the most desperate of circumstances, devises a constant series of strategies of survival, while she and Tia Lilia are both victims of a system of rural proletarianization endemic in the Philippines. The deprivations of the latter two women stem, not from their position in a kinship, domestic or male-dominated system, but rather from the inequities of the wider society beyond them. In the case of the Muslim women in particular, some "interference" or even conflict emerges between the ideologies of their religion and kinship customs. In matrilineal Minangkabau society, Islam's main impact on Yurni has been in diverting the girls to an inferior or less modern type of education in favour of preparing the boys for a profession or other career. Islam moulded the sequence of Tok Nyam's divorce, remarriage and such important events in her life as the pilgrimage, but in no way prevented her from enjoying an active community life and the profits of her pandanus mat trade. Zainab happened to be growing up at a time when Islam was on the upswing in her social set and the immediate pressures of her social environment undoubtedly provided some coercive effect. Yet the final choice was still her own: Maimunah, living in the same time and place, charted a different path for herself. In the final analysis, it is probably to the world beyond the kin and family group that we must turn to seek the locus of the real inequities and the sources of oppression as they affect women, both in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. As noted above, the origins of most of the problems of the disadvantaged women of our collection lie in their overall class position, or in the political situation of their country. Rufina and Tia Lilia are the most dramatic examples here, and to a lesser degree, Yurni. In these cases, it must be recognized that the men, alongside the women, are also in positions of dependence and deprivation lacking the means to take control of their own lives and condition. It is a fallacy to assume that women represent an undifferentiated common interest group on the basis of their gender alone, for factors more powerful emerge on the backs of such distinctions as wealth, status, class, ethnicity and religion. Even the "advantages" of involvement in modern economic development, employment and education institutions are dependent upon these same distinctions, such that, for example, elite women may benefit more than those of lower status, as shown by Ibu Ica and Yurni, or women of one ethnic origin may be eligible for certain employment opportunities less available to those of other backgrounds for political reasons, as the urban careers of Maimunah, Zainab and Ah Ling illustrate. In the Philippines, it is to the destructive process of increasing rural proletarianization and poverty affecting the country as a whole that Rufina and Tia Lilia owe their pitiful existence, of which their menfolk are equally victims. Women in their own daily lives take cognisance of these various roles in devising strategies of action and charting paths to particular goals. None of this is quantifiable in any reliable way and to attempt to do so is to reduce the women actors to the anonymous shadow, dependent role occupants that most feminists would strenuously avoid. The alternative pursued here is the biographical method which allows us to present more of the individual richness of the situations of a small sample of selected women, as seen through their own eyes. In this exercise, the observer/biographers have deliberately refrained from passing judgment of a cultural, feminist or other variety, instead using the opportunity for interaction with their subjects to gain insights into both cultures through a process of defamiliarization and refamiliarization simultaneously.


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