Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 28, March 2012

Married Men Behaving Badly:
Islam, Gender and Extramarital Relationships in Eastern Indonesia

Maria Platt[1]


      That's men, sometimes a man goes out and sees a woman, and then of course he can pacaran with her. That's male desire (Ari, married man, aged 28).

      We were told [by the Tuan Guru] to speak politely, don't be rude so that our husband would stop pacaran. We were told if we talk rudely to him it will lead him to pacaran lagi more often (Ani, married woman, aged 25).

  1. Ethnographic studies of marriage in Indonesia have, up until now, tended to focus upon issues such as courtship and entry into marriage,[2] divorce[3] and polygamy.[4] While the literature has noted often pervasive sexual double standards within Indonesian marriages,[5] very little attention has been paid to the issue of extramarital relationships per se. In this article I explore men's extramarital relationships, known locally in Lombok as pacaran lagi. This work stems from my doctoral thesis which involved an extensive study of marital relations among the Sasak ethnic group indigenous to Lombok. In the larger study, I explored marital relations along a dynamic continuum, which included premarital courtship and entry into marriage through to both male- and female-initiated divorce. Far from being a linear process, as this article demonstrates, the marital continuum is often marked by major disruptions such as pacaran lagi and polygamy. These disturbances are cited as common reasons for divorce and contribute to high rates of divorce and remarriage in Lombok,[6] a cycle that is known locally as kawin-cerai (lit. marriage-divorce).
  2. Ironically, high levels of divorce and remarriage are an indicator of the importance of marriage in Sasak society. Marriage provides young couples with the opportunity to explore romantic love and offers a legitimate institution for sexual intimacy. It also acts as a marker of adult status in Sasak society, a status that is further cemented by parenthood.[7] Thus it is assumed that part of 'growing up' necessarily entails marrying and having children. The taken for granted nature of marriage also fits with Islamic notions of the institution, which is recommended for all Muslims and correspondingly depicted in the Qur'an as 'a major source of joy and comfort for both spouses'.[8]
  3. Islam is held in the highest regard in Teduk and Sasak society more generally. Local Islam has been noted as syncretic,[9] incorporating a high degree of pre-existing rituals. These local social processes and customary rules known as adat co-exist alongside Islam and the two are in many ways inseparable.[10] Consequently, both adat and Islam play significant roles in shaping local gender relations in Teduk. In particular, they influence local ideals of male and female sexuality and the ways in which ideal gender characteristics are shaped. Islam and adat are also instrumental in mediating gender relations both before and within marriage, as well as legitimating marriage and divorce.
  4. The Indonesian state has also had a clear agenda in propagating 'concepts of proper manhood and womanhood'[11] both during the New Order era and the period since its demise in 1998.[12] The state understood gender roles as demarcated by a 'natural' binary which saw women adopt wifely roles whereas men assumed leadership positions, both within the household and in the public sphere.[13] While these official gender boundaries have begun to shift in the new era of democratisation, debates over gender roles and the regulation of sexuality, particularly in relation to women, are still fodder for public and political debate.[14] Nevertheless, potent, state-based gender ideologies have been far less significant in shaping the ways gender relations are understood and negotiated locally in Teduk, than have the interrelated influences of Islam and adat.
  5. In Teduk a great deal of religious authority is invested in local Islamic leaders known as Tuan Guru. Previous research has pointed to the influential nature of Tuan Guru upon their communities[15] with Sven Cederroth going as far to say that to the Sasak a 'tuan guru is regarded as a person above ordinary human beings. He is close to Allah and because of this cannot do anything wrong.'[16] Many women in Teduk attend weekly pengajian (Islamic study sessions) with the local Tuan Guru. In providing religious instruction to his audience, the Tuan Guru also advises women how to be 'good wives' according to his understanding of Islam. Although women have often received Islamic education in their earlier years, or may attend pengajian outside Teduk, Islam by and large remains a localised precept. Consequently, the Tuan Guru and other men in Teduk who are deemed to possess religious wisdom are the main transmitters of Islamic knowledge.
  6. Ari and Ani's quotes at the beginning of this article reveal that pacaran lagi is a highly gendered phenomenon, typically only open to Sasak men. While I do not deny the possibility of women engaging in such relationships, I argue that sexual double standards in Lombok make it harder for women to do so. In fact, I contend that the dominant constructions of gender and sexuality in Lombok coalesce with local interpretations of Islam to legitimise pacaran lagi for men. This article also highlights the repercussions of men's extramarital relationships upon families. These consequences are gendered, with women primarily bearing the emotional and economic costs associated with men's involvement in pacaran lagi. Ironically, these costs ultimately lead to the subversion of Islamically prescribed gender roles within marriage, with women, who are expected to be the primary caregivers, frequently also assuming the role of main economic providers.
  7. Pacaran lagi is a common occurrence in Teduk, and consequently represents an imminent threat for many married women. So widespread is pacaran lagi thought to be in the community, that one married man asserted 'if there were a thousand men, there would only be one who didn't pacaran lagi.' Nevertheless pacaran lagi assumes an ambiguous position in Teduk. On one hand the pervasive nature of the practice means that it is tacitly accepted by many in the community, including men and women alike. However, a gendered discourse regarding pacaran lagi also exists, where despite the overall tolerance of the practice, women express varying levels of disapproval. While some women, particularly wives of men who engage in extramarital relationships, are incensed by the practice, other women may tolerate pacaran lagi, particularly if it does not result in any change to their family income. This corresponds with Suzanne Brenner's work from the 1990s in Java which found that some women were more distressed at the financial insecurity their husband's extramarital affairs caused and the subsequent threat it posed to their children, rather than their husband's infidelity per se.[17] Men, as Ari's quote demonstrates, tend to view pacaran lagi as instinctive to males and many men in Teduk freely admitted engaging in the practice, although, men who indulge in pacaran lagi typically go to lengths to hide such relationships from their wives.

  8. This study is based on fifteen months of fieldwork conducted in 2007 and 2008 in the village of Teduk. Eighteen married women formed the key informants for this study and they were aged between 16 and 45 years. They had low levels of formal education: eight had never attended school, and only four had gone beyond primary school (including one who was attending university). Women's perspectives were augmented by those of a range of other informants including married men, older women, the local Tuan Guru and other key village leaders. The study drew on ethnographic methods including in-depth interviews, participant observation and focus group discussions to provide a broad perspective of how marital relationships were conceived and experienced in Teduk at the time.
  9. The residents of Teduk are almost exclusively Muslim and identify as Sasak. While the village is only fifteen kilometres from the provincial capital Mataram, it is worlds away in terms of access to employment and educational opportunities, infrastructure and technology. Teduk is one of the more socio-economically disadvantaged villages in western Lombok.[18] Amongst the participants in this study, the average monthly income available to the household was Rp 451,563, (approximately $AU2 a day). As people in Teduk tend to live with extended family this may be the only income to feed a family of four to eight people. With the prices of basic goods such as rice and sugar continually rising, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for families to make ends meet.
  10. Pacaran lagi as a phenomenon is not exclusive to Teduk. Other researchers of Lombok have noted the common occurrence of men's extramarital affairs and the deleterious nature of the practice upon marriages.[19] A wife's detection of her husband's involvement with other women has been observed as a major source of violence and conflict in Sasak marriages.[20] In Teduk, disclosure of pacaran lagi frequently leads to divorce, although this is not always the case. It is difficult to determine the exact rate of pacaran lagi in Teduk due to the often covert nature of the practice. Eleven of the eighteen women who became my key informants in Teduk had been married to men they knew had engaged in pacaran lagi. Some of these women had been married more than once and thus had experienced multiple marriages in which their husbands had engaged in pacaran lagi.
  11. It is important to note that the gendered nature of extramarital relationships may have a bearing on the willingness of married women to disclose their involvement in such liaisons. The stigma attached to women's extramarital relationships may have led to its 'underreporting' in my research. However it is precisely my point that the gendered discourse around the practice makes pacaran lagi more socially acceptable for men, therefore facilitating men's extramarital relationships.

    Defining Pacaran Lagi
  12. Pacaran lagi literally means to 'court again'. It is possible for both men and women to have a pacar (boyfriend or girlfriend). Yet, the notion of entertaining courtship again (that is after marriage) exclusively applies to men. As a practice pacaran lagi is difficult to neatly define. Yet intricately linked to the practice, as Ari attests, is men's desire (nafsu)—which he depicts as natural and unavoidable. This gendered construction of male desire goes a long way towards normalising the practice of pacaran lagi. As such, any activity with a woman to whom one is not married, if it is infused by a man's desire, can be considered pacaran lagi. This can include exploits that may be considered platonic such as sending a woman a flirtatious SMS or buying her a meal. At the other end of the spectrum pacaran lagi may also encompass more intentional and repeated liaisons whereby men sustain a relationship with a woman through formal courtship visits (known locally as midang). In more exceptional circumstances the couple may go jalan-jalan together. Jalan-jalan is a kind of non-specific journey, in this context the main purpose is to allow the couple to spend time alone together. What these activities all have in common, whether they are spontaneous one-off interactions or premeditated ongoing liaisons, is that they are all mediated by men's desires. Men often depict these relationships as fun, casual diversions from the burden of day-to-day life, and explain their motivations as entertainment (hiburan) or to reduce stress (menghilangkan stress).
  13. The gendered construction of male and female sexual desire is simultaneously shaped by indigenous sexual scripts, adat and the local interpretation of Islam.[21] Sasak adat views 'sexual aggression and potency' as positive markers of masculinity.[22] Accordingly, men's premarital or extramarital sexual relationships are often perceived to be a reflection of men's prowess. By contrast, Sasak women are expected to be virgins before marriage and to be sexually passive within the confines of a monogamous union. A good Sasak woman is also expected to be polite (sopan) and devoted (berbakti) to her husband. While women are acknowledged as possessing sexual desires (nafsu), dominant constructions of desire in Teduk depict men as less able to control their desires.[23] Therefore, women are expected to restrain their own desires and in so doing simultaneously constrain men's nafsu.[24]
  14. Islamic sexual mores in Teduk dictate that sexual activity other than that which occurs in a heterosexual marriage is zina (illicit sex). As such men and women who are not married or close kin are not supposed to be left alone, lest zina should occur. Even though pacaran lagi may encompass activities such as sending an SMS, which may not always technically lead to zina, it is believed that interaction with the opposite sex can increase the likelihood of it occurring.[25] Despite Islam's strong presence in Lombok, Linda Bennett[26] observes that, 'in reality zina for men is not condemned or punished but is often ignored or tolerated' in Sasak society. Prior to marriage, it is women who bear the responsibility of upholding their sexual reputations, both individually and on a communal level. This is also the case within marriage, where both local Islamic and adat-based ideologies coalesce to support sexual double standards.
  15. At the start of this paper Ani's quote highlighted how women are typically held responsible for both their own and their husband's morality. She recalled advice provided by the local Tuan Guru when women complained about their husbands engaging in pacaran lagi. Rather than condemning men's extramarital relationships, the Tuan Guru instead advised women to modify their own behaviour ordering them to be 'polite' so that their husbands might change their ways. Explicit in the Tuan Guru's advice is that the responsibility for men's behaviour rests squarely on women. His advice perpetuates dominant constructions of sexuality which juxtapose male sexual permissiveness with women's liability for their husbands' indiscretions. He also appropriates the notion of the good Sasak woman (that is one who is polite and devoted to her husband) to divert attention away from men's transgressions.
  16. While married women are expected to be the arbiters of their husbands' morality, young single women, known as gadis (virgins), are alternatively seen as vehicles for male desire. Although young single women are expected to maintain their sexual reputations, it is acceptable for them, within narrow limits, to be involved with a married man. Ironically it is actually their status as gadis which helps facilitate the practice of pacaran lagi. According to local interpretations of Islam, a man may undertake polygamous marriage and have up to four wives simultaneously. Therefore, a young woman's status as gadis reflects her marriageability and sustains the possibility that the relationship may result in a polygamous union. Correspondingly, there is no prohibition against young women engaging in courtship. Courtship is an accepted, even encouraged, activity for youth in Lombok and is seen as a necessary step before marriage.[27] Widespread acceptance of courtship means it is not uncommon for unmarried youth of either sex to have numerous pacar at any one time. Therefore, the number of pacar a young woman is able to attract is a testament to her desirability. As a result a single woman's relationship with a married man is not necessarily seen as untoward in Teduk. However, in keeping with cultural ideals regarding sexuality, young women must avoid drawing too much attention to their desirability if they are to guard their sexual reputations.[28] Thus, young women involved in pacaran lagi walk a fine line, embodying desirability whilst simultaneously performing sexual modesty in the public eye.

    Case 1: Pacaran lagi as a tacitly accepted practice
  17. One of my key informants named Ira told me how a few years back her husband had been courting a young woman from Teduk called Reny. At the time we met Ira was in her early twenties and she had been married for about three years. She recalled a period early in her marriage to Rachmad when she had just given birth to her first child—a son called Zainul. She told me that around this time she became aware of her husband's relationship with another young woman named Reny who was a similar age as her but not yet married. Rather than spending time at home with his new family, Rachmad began coming home late at night, sometimes not returning at all. Sasak cultural ideals link darkness with 'sexual danger'.[29] It is assumed that only men can negotiate the risks nightfall brings and for that reason males exclusively are permitted to travel alone after dusk. This spatial mobility legitimated Rachmad visiting Reny's house for midang until curfew.[30] It also provided him the opportunity to socialise with young men into the early hours to pursue youthful activities such as drinking and playing music.
  18. At some point during the extramarital relationship Rachmad brought a photo of Reny home and hid it on top of the cupboard. Upon discovering this photo Ira became upset and alerted her brother-in-law, with whom Ira also lived. Moved by Ira's distress her brother-in-law then proceeded to cut the photo into pieces and throw it away. Other members of his family, including his grandmother, also tried to warn Rachmad not to neglect his wife. One evening Ira said they even went looking for Rachmad who was at the time visiting Reny for midang. Regardless of his family's intervention, Rachmad did not want to listen and he continued his relationship with Reny even after he left Teduk to work in Jakarta. Ira heard from neighbours that as well as calling her, Rachmad was also making regular phone calls to Reny from Jakarta. Ira understandably felt angry and distressed about Rachmad's relationship with Reny. However, she told me that rather than succumb to anguish she chose to contain her emotions. The reason being, she was still breastfeeding Zainul and was worried that the emotional strain might cause her milk to dry up. In the end, after sometime in Jakarta, Rachmad and Reny's relationship faded out.
  19. Owing in part to the casual regard with which pacaran lagi is held, it is easy for courtships such as that between Rachmad and Reny to end without consequence. For instance, Reny, managed to negotiate courtship with Rachmad by maintaining her virginity (or successfully concealing any evidence if sexual intimacy occurred) and subsequently her reputation. For this reason, once their courtship ended, Reny was able to continue courting other prospective suitors, eventually marrying another man from Teduk while Rachmad was still in Jakarta. Although Rachmad was reprimanded by his family for conducting a relationship with another woman, especially as Ira had recently given birth to their first child, there was no ongoing stigma associated with his actions and Ira accepted him back into the marital home upon his return. As a result, he subsequently continued his pursuit of other women. Ira conceded that as she was still receiving financial support from Rachmad she was less inclined to protest about his behaviour.

    Case 2: Pacaran lagi to avoid adult responsibility
  20. Rachmad's behaviour is not uncommon for first time fathers in Teduk. Wives often complain that their husbands who are involved in pacaran lagi are reluctant to grow up. Women depict men as unwilling and unprepared for the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood. Given that couples tend to marry young and sometimes after only a few days of courtship, this is not altogether an unwarranted assessment.[31] Perhaps the most poignant example of a reluctance to assume adult responsibility was Una's husband, Fadel, who began to engage in pacaran from the first day of their marriage. Una joked that the more children they had, the more Fadel wanted to pacaran lagi. In Sasak culture, as well as other areas of Indonesia, once a couple has their first child, they dispense with their given names and adopt the name of their first child in their formal title.[32] Therefore, after the birth of their first child Harwati, Una and Fadel became known as Inaq (Mrs) and Amaq (Mr) Harwati. However, Una lamented that Fadel did not want to live up to his adult responsibilities:

      Una: He just wanted to be called Fadel. He just wanted to be called by his young name, it's prestigious to be called Amaq. But instead Fadel just wanted to be called by the name he had when he was still young (laughs) (Married woman aged 37).

  21. According to Una, by refusing to take on this paternal title, Fadel was rejecting his role as husband and father and instead choosing to cling to his youth. Fittingly, in Teduk a Sasak term for pacaran lagi is bajang lagi. Bajang literally means 'young' and can also mean 'handsome', therefore bajang lagi refers to a man who is engaged in the youthful pursuit of courtship with women other than his wife. Fadel was particularly brazen in his approach to pacaran lagi, sometimes inviting his pacar into the marital home where Una would politely receive them and provide them with tea and snacks. While pacaran lagi may be tolerated to an extent, to do it so publically and to bring women to their marital home was a major transgression on Fadel's behalf. When I asked Una about how she felt having these women in her home she told me 'I was boiling inside but I just smiled'. She then explained that her outward acceptance of the situation, through her tolerance of Fadel's guests, brought him a great deal of embarrassment. She recounted how when Fadel realised that Una was being gracious towards his pacar, he left the room mumbling shamefully that Una treated his pacar better than he did. Consequently, it was Fadel who 'lost face' in this situation.
  22. The idea that pacaran lagi assists men such as Fadel to main a sense of youthfulness highlights that the practice is more than simply a conduit for men's sexual desires. Pacaran lagi also constitutes a gendered lifestyle that is only available to men. This is partly due to the relatively low spatial mobility afforded to women in Teduk whereby for a woman (married or single) to travel outside the village alone or with a man who is not their relative is highly unusual.[33] After nightfall a woman's movements are even more restricted and travel is only possible when accompanied by her husband or male kin.
  23. Women also face other structural impediments to extramarital relationship such as the need to breastfeed and provide childcare. This was evident to one of my informants Dewi, a young woman in her early twenties who had been married to Mukas for about four years. Soon after they were married Dewi discovered that rather than working, her husband had been spending time with his pacar. A male friend of Dewi's called Adi, alerted her to this fact, and told her that he would take her to Mukas' pacar's house to catch Mukas out. It turned out that Adi's suspicions were right, and Mukas, who was shocked to see Dewi arrive, automatically ordered her to go home. Dewi, incensed by her husband's behaviour instead asked Adi to take her to the market in Cakra. While they were there Adi brought Dewi a blouse. Such exchanges are common between courting couples. While it is unclear if Adi had taken on a more intimate role in Dewi's life, their trip to the market mirrors that of pacaran lagi.
  24. Upon Dewi's return home a heated argument ensued between her and Mukas. She keenly observed the inequality inherent in pacaran lagi, complaining that even if she wanted to find another man it would be impossible for her to do so because of the responsibilities of motherhood. Dewi's criticism is consistent with Jutta Berninghausen and Brigit Kerstan's observations in Java, that in the context of extramarital affairs, a woman is faced with the reality of her family commitments and is therefore unlikely to leave them for another man, while 'apparently men feel less tied down by their responsibilities as fathers'.[34] These structural barriers combine with dominant constructions of gender and sexuality to virtually foreclose the possibility of pacaran lagi to women in Teduk.

    Case 3: Pacaran lagi threatens the economic and emotional wellbeing of women
  25. Pacaran lagi clearly also threatens the emotional well-being of women and their families. Another key informant, Eka, who was also in her early twenties and had been married for about three years, told me about what happened when she discovered that her husband was engaging in pacaran lagi. She recounted the sadness she felt when she found out 'I felt like he didn't love me anymore'. When she confronted her husband he denied any wrong doing, although later it became clear to Eka that he was indeed pacaran lagi. As a result a lack of trust enveloped their relationship and she became stressed. Her emotional distress was compounded when their daughter fell ill and they didn't have enough money to purchase medicine. In the following section I include a quotation in which Eka described how their household income was depleted by her husband's extramarital relationships.
  26. Other women whose husbands were involved in pacaran lagi also told of the emotional injuries that resulted from their husbands' extramarital relationships such as a loss of self-esteem and confidence. Many women experienced feelings of intense anger, which they sometimes suppressed to conform to cultural expectations of appropriate feminine behaviour. Other women said that they believed that they had no options but to accept the situation. Discovery of their husbands' relationships often lead to marital conflict and occasionally violence in a household. A small number of women also chose to leave their marital homes via a form of female-initiated separation (ngerorot) after detecting their husband's involvement in pacaran lagi.[35] The emotional injuries arising from men's participation in pacaran lagi further undermines men's religiously prescribed responsibility for ensuring the welfare of their families. According to the Qur'an men are required 'to lead and guide their family in physical (lahir) and spiritual (batin) matters, protect their wives and children [and] provide maintenance.'[36]
  27. In direct contrast to pacaran lagi, any relationship between a married woman and a man who is not her kin may be referred to as selingkuh (an affair) or zina (forbidden sexual relations). Selingkuh literally means dishonest or corrupt, therefore, unlike men, women's extramarital flirtations and desires are viewed as morally unacceptable. However, a relationship between a married woman and a man need not be sexual in nature to be deemed inappropriate. For example, women in Teduk told me how they believed that if they were discovered watching television alone with their male neighbour, it may be considered selingkuh. Pacaran lagi may involve similarly platonic social interactions; however it is the woman involved who must be vigilant to ensure her reputation remains intact. The stigma attached to selingkuh is almost exclusively borne by the women. Thus sexual double standards work to sustain and legitimise men's practice of pacaran lagi while simultaneously deeming such behaviour for their wives as morally reprehensible.

    The Role of Polgamy in Facilitating Pacaran Lagi
  28. Polygamy is an issue that sparks controversy across the Indonesian archipelago, and although rates of polygamy in Indonesia are low compared to other nations,[37] it remains a constant threat for many Indonesian women including many women in Lombok.[38] Despite opposition from women's movements at local and national levels, polygamy is officially allowed under Indonesian marriage law whereby men are permitted to have up to four wives simultaneously. Objectors to polygamy assert that the practice sustains a deep-seated sexual double standard which discriminates against women[39] and promotes marital inequality[40] as well as having detrimental effects on the wellbeing of women and their children.[41] However, proponents of polygamy often cite that fact that Nabi (the Prophet) had multiple wives, and therefore justify the practice on the basis that polygamists are following the prophetic tradition.
  29. Polygamy debates also centre on the issue of fairness. According to the Qur'anic verse 4:3 which is often cited in order to validate the practice of polygamy, a man should not enter into polygamy unless he can guarantee to treat his wives fairly or justly.[42] Opponents of polygamy claim that fairness cannot be achieved by ordinary men as only the Prophet himself was capable of meeting this requirement.[43] In Lombok 'fairness' is typically interpreted as equal division of time and money between co-wives. In Teduk the general view is that if a man can mampu (afford) to support more than one wife then he should be allowed to practice polygamy. In Lombok it is common for men who often do not even have the financial means to support one family, to secretly take another wife without the knowledge of his existing wife/wives. Therefore in this context, the practice of polygamy often contravenes the basic principle, that is, the resources to support multiple households.
  30. As Reny and Rachmad's relationship demonstrated, polygamy and pacaran lagi in Teduk are almost inseparable concepts. Both practices are linked by the common thread of male desire and are steeped in prevailing notions of Sasak masculinity whereby men gain kudos as active sexual agents. It is not surprising that Sasak men who take more than one wife are usually held in high regard.[44] Yet what we can actually glean from courtships such as those indulged in by Reny and Rachmad, the relationship between pacaran lagi and polygamy is largely causal. That is the potential for courtship to progress to a polygamous union essentially legitimises pacaran lagi. Thus, pacaran lagi is viewed by many as an Islamically permissible step toward polygamy.
  31. The irony is that while pacaran lagi is widely practiced in Teduk, polygamy is not. Of the eighteen women who were my key informants, only one named Nana had been in a polygamous marriage. In this case Nana's husband, who took a second wife without her knowledge, divorced Nana's co-wife after just one week of marriage. Another man, whom I interviewed named Ari also had two wives. Beyond these two men, I was only aware of a handful of other cases of polygamy in Teduk. While local interpretations of Islam condone polygamy, the Tuan Guru in Teduk told me that men who take a second wife must have the intention of taking them as wives from the outset. Therefore, engaging in pacaran lagi without a plan to marry the woman involved could be interpreted as contravening local Islamic edict. However, men in Teduk typically take a casual attitude towards pacaran lagi. One man in particular, Amdan, told me how he knowingly engaged in pacaran lagi without the intent of taking another wife:

      Amdan: For me, there isn't the possibility of marrying again. I pacaran only for the hell of it.…It's only to reduce stress (laughs) … my friends do that too (pacaran for entertainment's sake). Every day we hangout, especially when you work as a motorbike taxi driver. The passengers are sometimes women and they don't have a pacar yet. And then we smile at each other and she becomes our pacar. So there isn't any special plan (Married man aged 34).

  32. Amdan's statement demonstrates that his approach to pacaran lagi clearly disregards local Islamic precepts regarding polygamy. Men's practice of pacaran lagi are also incompatible with broader Islamic principles concerning polygamy in other ways. Gendered notions of Islam depict men as bearing the responsibility for sustaining the family[45] by ensuring both their material and emotional welfare.[46] Therefore, under Islam, polygamy has historically been concerned with the 'just treatment of each wife'.[47]
  33. In Teduk many families struggle to subsist on the couple's combined income. When a husband engages in pacaran lagi these households often experience even greater levels of economic stress. The stress emanates from the casualised labour market in Teduk, which means that time spent away from work reduces men's earning capacity. Self-employed individuals such as motorbike taxi drivers (tukang ojek) only receive income for the number of passengers they transport. However, employment as a tukang ojek affords men a degree of autonomy and therefore it provides great opportunity for men to spend their time with pacar rather than transporting passengers. Furthermore, men often use their income in a discretionary manner rather than for household expenses. Men who are inclined toward pacaran lagi tend to spend their earnings on gifts or outings with other women. John R. Bowen in his work on the coffee industry in Sumatra has observed that improved access to economic resources and greater spatial mobility has increased men's potential to be unfaithful to their wives.[48] Brenner has also commented on the link between men's apparent inability to manage money adequately in Solo, noting how this is perceived as merely a reflection of men's failure to control their passion.[49] This is also evident in Teduk where women often complain that their husbands' squander already limited resources due to men's 'natural' tendencies towards pacaran lagi.
  34. Thus in a context where endemic poverty already exists, pacaran lagi can constitute a major source of economic hardship for families. For instance one key informant, Tuti, told me that her previous husband 'wasted' Rp 500,000-600,000 per week on his pacar, while she received a mere fraction of this (Rp 100,000).[50] This is consistent with studies in Java, where it has been observed that men often avoid handing over their earnings or are unable to provide their family with adequate income.[51] Eka the wife of a tukang ojek who engaged in pacaran lagi attests to this.

      Eka: … he's a motorbike taxi driver … if he goes out he takes a pacar along … meanwhile we're suffering at home looking after children.… I'm thinking about what I can cook because there isn't any money … he gives me 5,000 rupiah meanwhile the other woman is given … 50,000 rupiah and we're at home suffering (Married woman aged 20).

  35. While gendered notions of employment commonly depict men as the primary income earners, women in Teduk also frequently engage in paid work. As Tuti and Eka explained, men's involvement in pacaran lagi depletes the family income, which further necessitates women's need to generate income. Dominant constructions of gender depict feminine occupations as those that comply with women's domestic roles. Home duties, cutting grass to feed livestock or working as petty traders are considered women's work. However, poverty also requires women to assume jobs as kuli or unskilled manual labourers, which involves strenuous labour such as carting and crushing rocks or collecting wood from the forest. Many women whose husbands are involved in pacaran lagi struggle financially and rely on support either from family or credit from local stallholders.[52] Thus, from the outset, even if a man does have the intention to take his pacar as another wife, the practice of pacaran lagi often creates economic conditions that are far from just or fair to his existing wife and children.

    Local Islam Supporting Pacaran Lagi—Local Islam Inverted by Pacaran Lagi
  36. In Teduk local interpretations of Islam assume an ambiguous position with regards to pacaran lagi. As this article has highlighted, pacaran lagi is legitimised by local Islamic ideology. Yet based on Islamic notions of gender, particularly with regards to economic roles and division of labour, pacaran lagi inverts key Islamic principles. Most interpretations of Islam commonly depict men as primary breadwinners while women's main duties are to manage the household and care for children.[53] Both males and females in Teduk largely concur with this view, describing that a Muslim husband's role is first and foremost to earn a living (mencari nafkah) for his family. In fact Muslim marriage[54] is conceived by some as a contractual arrangement in which women provide 'care for children in exchange, specifically, for economic support.'[55] While women in Teduk engage in paid work, prevailing notions of gender within marriage assume that it is men who should mencari nafkah.
  37. Increasing modernisation has transformed the ways in which Sasak men now earn a living. Older people in Teduk recounted how in the past the majority of men worked in the nearby forest, collecting wood and harvesting produce to support a largely subsistence lifestyle. Now as travel, both locally and globally, has become more accessible, men tend to work as tukang ojek or sometimes as migrant workers, periodically relocating to other parts of Indonesia or overseas. Generally speaking men's work, both in terms of the opportunities for spatial mobility and the income it provides, has important implications for pacaran lagi and the way that it is played out in Teduk. New sites of employment enable men to engage in pacaran lagi away from the watchful gaze of their immediate community. As Jocelyn Grace has observed elsewhere in Lombok, men's greater spatial mobility means that 'it is far easier for married men than married women to engage in … [extramarital relationships] as men have many more opportunities.'[56]
  38. Therefore, while men may be fulfilling their Islamic obligation to mencari nafkah, particular forms of employment and their entry into the cash economy has also facilitated men's relationships with other women. Furthermore, men's involvement in pacaran lagi frequently diminishes the income available to their families. The ultimate irony of this is that the economic hardship that pacaran lagi causes, commonly requires women themselves to financially support their families in often physically demanding jobs. In short, the practice of pacaran lagi leads to the inversion of men's Islamically-prescribed role as provider and women's primary role as homemaker.
  39. The inversion of Islamically-prescribed gendered roles also occurs within relationships between men and their pacar, with men occasionally taking advantage of these relationships for financial purposes. For example, when Ira confronted Rachmad about his relationship with Reny he confessed that he had only become involved with her because Reny had money which he had borrowed and failed to pay back. In so doing Rachmad used his romantic relationship with Reny to gain economically. Similarly Dedi, a married man in his late twenties, told of how he used love magic (guna-guna[57]) to attract a pacar in order to raise money when he was short of cash on a journey home from the neighbouring island of Sumbawa.

      Dedi: … I went to Sumbawa for work. When I wanted to come home I didn't have money or a ticket. The ticket seller felt sorry for me, so they let me owe the money for the ticket. And then on the journey I met a woman and even though I didn't have any money, my problems disappeared. On the journey I suddenly remembered what we used to do when we were young [to attract a woman]—use guna-guna. So I tried it on this woman and it worked. She shouted me food and drink until I couldn't eat anymore. She was happy to buy me cigarettes, food and drink without any expectation that I would pay her back. So guna-guna is really handy when you're in a bind (Married man aged 29).

  40. When men exploit their pacar for money it again subverts Islamic notions of male and female economic roles. Men's role as primary breadwinners often necessitates their travel to places such as Sumbawa for employment. In Dedi's case, he went to Sumbawa for work, yet came home empty handed. Not only did Dedi fail to mencari nafkah for his family back in Teduk, he also took advantage of another women's financial generosity. In doing so Dedi's use of pacaran lagi for economic reasons undermined his prescribed role according to the common interpretation of Islam. However, in doing so pacaran lagi augments an alternative site of gendered power—male desire. Male sexual prowess and expressions of desire conform to dominant constructions of Sasak masculinity. Even though pacaran lagi may reduce men's capacity to act as 'breadwinners' it typically does not result in a corresponding drop in men's status as their ability to attract women generally positively affirms their masculinity.

  41. In this article I have examined an often overlooked issue in studies of Indonesian marriage by exploring a phenomenon known in Lombok as pacaran lagi. I have highlighted the gendered nature of pacaran lagi in Teduk, showing how it is facilitated by dominant constructions of gender and sexuality inherent in local interpretations of Islam and Sasak adat which legitimise the notion that male desire is innately difficult to restrain. Correspondingly, the gendered division of labour and increasing globalisation have provided men with the spatial and financial means to carry out relationships with their pacar. Conversely, married women's opportunities for seeking out extramarital relations are more readily constrained by the responsibilities of motherhood and their restricted mobility. I have argued that local ideals of gender and sexuality in Teduk are underpinned by localised interpretations of Islam. Islamically-prescribed gender roles are compatible with the gendered division of labour in Teduk which help facilitate the practice of pacaran lagi. In keeping with broadly accepted Islamic teachings, local interpretations of Islam permit men to take up to four wives simultaneously. Therefore the possibility that pacaran lagi may lead to a polygamous marriage is used to justify men's extramarital relationships. Even though local interpretations of Islam are used to support pacaran lagi, the practice itself subverts core Islamic principles designed to protect the welfare of families. Ultimately this article demonstrates how indigenous sexual scripts, gendered notions of Islam and local adat can coalesce to disadvantage women and their children in Lombok, while also privileging masculine desires and male control over the public interpretation of Islam.


    [1] The author would like to acknowledge the support of an Endeavour Research Fellowship from the Commonwealth Government Department of Education, Science and Training, as well as two Postgraduate Research Fellowships from La Trobe University.

    [2] Linda Rae Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity: Single Women, Sexuality and Reproductive Health in Contemporary Indonesia, London and New York: Routledge Curzon, 2005, pp. 64–83.; Nancy J. Smith-Hefner, 'The new Muslim romance: changing patterns of courtship and marriage among educated Javanese youth, ' in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3 (2005): 441–59.

    [3] Nurul Ilmi Idrus, '"To take each other": Bugis practices of gender, sexuality and marriage,' unpublished PhD thesis, Canberra: The Australian National University, 2003; Megan Jennaway, 'Bitter honey: female agency and the polygynous household, North Bali,' in Women in Households in Indonesia: Cultural Notions and Social Practices, ed. J. Koning, M. Nolten, J. Rodenburg and R. Saptari, Richmond: Curzon, 2000, pp. 142–62; Hisako Nakamura, Conditional Divorce in Indonesia, Cambridge: Harvard Law School, 2006.

    [4] While the correct term for a man taking multiple wives is polygyny, the term polygamy is used in this article as it more closely reflects the Indonesian terms used for men taking multiple wives (poligami). Jocelyn Grace, 'Sasak women negotiating marriage, polygyny and divorce in rural East Lombok,' in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, issue 10 (August 2004), online:, accessed 26 July 2006; Ruth Krulfeld, 'Sasak attitudes towards polygyny and the changing position of women in Sasak peasant villages,' in Visibility and Power: Essays on Women in Society and Development, ed. L. Dube, E. Leacock and S. Ardener, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1986, pp. 194–208; Nina Nurmila, Women, Islam and Everyday Life: Renegotiating Polygamy in Indonesia, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2009; Bianca J. Smith, 'Stealing women, stealing men: co-creating cultures of polygamy in a pesantren community in Eastern Indonesia,' in Journal of International Women's Studies, Special Edition on Gender and Islam in Asia, ed. Huma Ghosh, vol. 11 no. 1 (2009): 189–207.

    [5] Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, p. 60; Susan Blackburn, Women and the State in Modern Indonesia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 120; Nh. Dini, 'The young divorcee' in The Indonesian Reader: History, Culture and Politics, ed. T. Hellwig and E. Tagliacozzo, Durham: Duke University Press, 2009: 378–83, p. 378; Jocelyn Grace 'Lacking education': young Sasak women and teenage marriage, divorce and polygamy in rural East Lombok,' presented at the Biennial Asian Studies Association of Australia Conference, La Trobe University, Melbourne, July 8–11, 2006.

    [6] Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, p. 26; M. Ismail Syafruddin and M. Mabhrur Haslan, Kajian Tentang Kultur Kawin-Cerai dan Pengembangan Model Pendidikan Pra-Nikah Sebagai Resolusi Meminimalkan Angka Perceraian di Masyarakat Suku Sasak Lombok (An Examination of the Culture of Serial Marriage and the Development of Pre-marriage Education to Minimise the Divorce Rate in the Sasak Community of Lombok), Mataram: Universitas Mataram, 2007; Smith, 'Stealing women, stealing men,' p. 193.

    [7]M. Cameron Hay, 'Women standing between life and death: fate, agency and the healers of Lombok,' in The Agency of Women in Asia, ed. L. Parker, Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2005, pp. 27–61.

    [8] Judith E. Tucker, Women, Family and Gender in Islamic Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 38.

    [9] Sven Cederroth, A Sacred Cloth Religion?: Ceremonies of the Big Feast among the Wetu Telu Sasak (Lombok, Indonesia), Copenhagen: NIAS Publications, 1995, p. 9. Indonesian Islam in general has also been observed to be syncretic in nature see: Clifford Geertz, Islam Observed: Religious Developments in Morocco and Indonesia, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1971, p. 12.

    [10] M.B. Hooker, Islam in South-East Asia, Leiden: Brill, 1988, p. 64.

    [11] Evelyn Blackwood, 'Regulation of sexuality in Indonesian discourse: normative gender, criminal law and shifting strategies of control,' in Culture, Health & Sexuality, vol 9, no. 3, (2007): 293–307.

    [12] The New Order era refers to the authoritarian rule of the Suharto government from 1965 to 1998.

    [13] Blackwood, 'Regulation of sexuality in Indonesian discourse', p. 295; Julia Suryakusuma, Sex, Power and Nation: An Anthology of Writings, 1979–2003, Jakarta: Metafor Publishing, 2004.

    [14] In 2008 an 'Anti-pornography Bill' was passed by the Indonesian parliament which caused intense debate over the representation of women's bodies and sexuality, see Helen Pausacker, 'Hot debates,' in Inside Indonesia, Issue 94,, accessed 13 March 2011.

    [15] Jeremy J. Kingsley, Tuan Guru, Community and Conflict in Lombok, Indonesia, Unpublished PhD Thesis, Melbourne: The University of Melbourne, 2010.

    [16] Sven Cederroth, 'Traditional power and party politics in North Lombok, 1965–99', in Elections in Indonesia: The New Order and Beyond, ed. H. Antlov and S. Cederroth, London: Routledge Curzon, 2004, pp. 77—110, p. 80.

    [17] Suzanne Brenner, The Domestication of Desire: Women, Wealth and Modernity in Java, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998, pp. 151–52.

    [18] Kasmiati, Personal Communication, 31 August 2007.

    [19]Grace, 'Lacking education,' pp. 1–16; Syafruddin and Haslan, Kajian Tentang Kultur Kawin-Cerai,

    [20] Syafruddin and Haslan, Kajian Tentang Kultur Kawin-Cerai.

    21 Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, p. 63.

    [22] Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, p. 26.

    [23] Paradoxically gender stereotypes inherent in local Islam and adat also construct men as being more rational and having greater levels of self-control than women. This contradiction has also been observed by Brenner in Java.

    [24] Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, p. 60; Brenner, Women, Wealth, and Modernity in Java, p. 155.

    [25] Smith-Hefner, 'The new Muslim romance,' p. 442.

    [26] Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, p. 22.

    [27] Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, p. 26

    [28] Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, p. 49.

    [29] Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, p. 97.

    [30] In Teduk curfew for midang is 10 p.m. Following this time a man who overstays his welcome may be warned or even beaten as a reprimand by village leaders. In addition a breach of curfew may also bring a young woman's reputation into question as it is often assumed that the couple has been engaging in premarital sexual activity.

    [31] The mean age of entry in to marriage amongst female key informants in Teduk was 17.72 years; no comparable data for men is available.

    [32] This form of naming, where the person becomes known as the parent the first-born child is known as teknonymy. For examples in Lombok see Sven Cederroth, The Spell of the Ancestors and the Power of Mekkah: A Sasak Community on Lombok, Goteborg, Sweden: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 1981; Judith Ecklund 'Marriage, seaworms, and song: ritualized responses to cultural change in Sasak life,' unpublished PhD thesis, Ithaca: Cornell University, 1977.

    [33] It is acceptable for women to go about their daily routine such as going to the market alone, but it is not common for women to go outside the village alone on social visits or to go jalan-jalan.

    [34] Jutta Berninghausen and Brigit Kerstan, Forging New Paths: Feminist Social Methodology and Rural Women in Java, London and New Jersey: Zed Books, 1992, p. 140.

    [35] This form of separation is known locally as ngerorot. See Maria Platt, 'Patriarchal institutions and women's agency in Indonesian marriages: Sasak women navigating dynamic marital continuums,' unpublished PhD thesis, Melbourne: La Trobe University, 2010.

    [36] Kate O'Shaughnessy, Gender, State and Social Power in Contemporary Indonesia Divorce and Marriage Law, Abingdon: Routledge, 2009, p. 99.

    [37] Gavin W. Jones, Marriage and Divorce in Islamic South-East Asia, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1994, pp. 272–73.

    [38] Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, p. 26; Nina Nurmila, 'Negotiating polygamy in Indonesia: between Islamic discourse and women's lived experiences,' in Islam in a New Era: How Women Negotiate their Muslim Identities, ed. Susan Blackburn, Bianca Smith, Siti Syamsiyatun, Melbourne: Monash University Press, 2008, pp. 23–43.

    [39] Kathryn Robinson, Gender, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia, Abingdon: Routledge, 2009, p. 178.

    [40] Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, p. 26.

    [41] Nina Nurmila, Women, Islam and Everyday Life: Renegotiating Polygamy in Indonesia, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2009, p. 138.

    [42] Verse 4:3 states 'If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice,' from Abdul Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur'an, London, Wordsworth Editions, 2000, p. 60.

    [43] Rof'ah Mudzakir, 'The Indonesian Muslim women's movement and the issue of polygamy: the Aisyiyah interpretation of Qur'an 4:3 and 4:129, in Approaches to the Qur'an in Contemporary Indonesia, ed. A. Saeed, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 175–92; Siti Musdah Mulia, 'Towards just marital law: empowering Indonesian women,' in Oasis, online:, accessed 28 August 2009.

    [44] Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, p. 26.

    [45] Nik Noriani bt Nik Badli Shah, 'Marriage, polygyny and divorce within the Malaysian Muslim community,' in Untying The Knot: Ideal and Reality in Asian Marriage, ed. G.W. Jones and K. Ramdas, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004, pp. 117–32.

    [46] Barbara Aswad, 'Economic Factors and Women,' in Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Family, Law, and Politics, ed. S. Joseph and A. Najmabadi, Leiden: Brill, 2005, p. 140.

    [47] John Esposito with Natana J. DeLong-Bas, Women in Muslim Family Law, 2nd edition, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2001, p 136.

    [48] John R. Bowen, Islam, Law and Equality in Indonesia: An Anthropology of Public Reasoning, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 202.

    [49] Brenner, Women, Wealth, and Modernity in Java, p. 150.

    [50] This estimate of income is rather high for Teduk. However it is based on Tuti's own assessment. Regardless of the actual amount, Tuti felt that she was being disadvantaged by her husband's engagement in pacaran lagi.

    [51] Diane L. Wolf, Factory Daughters: Gender, Household Dynamics, and Rural Industrialization in Java, Berkeley, Los Angeles and Oxford: University of California Press, 1992.

    [52] In this situation it is common for a woman to receive support from her husband's family, or failing this, her own family of origin.

    [53] Linda Rae Bennett, 'Health practices – Southeast Asia and Australia,' in Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Family, Body, Sexuality and Health, ed. S. Joseph and A. Najmabadi, Leiden: Brill, 2006: 191–97, p. 192; Norani Othman, Muslim Women and the Challenge of Islamic Extremism, Selangor: Sisters in Islam, 2005, p. 124.

    [54] It is not only Muslim marriages that have been conceived as a contractual arrangement. Carol Pateman views marriage as a patriarchal construct where women exchange access to their bodies for economic support. See Carol Pateman, The Sexual Contract, Oxford: Polity Press, 1988.

    [55] Clarissa Adamson, 'Gendered anxieties: Islam, women's rights, and moral hierarchy in Java,' in Anthropological Quarterly, vol. 80, no. 1 (2007): 5–37, p. 20.

    [56] Grace, 'Lacking education,' p. 16.

    [57] Guna-guna is also commonly referred to by its Sasak name senggegar, however use of the Indonesian term reflects its use in this particular interview.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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