Dismantling Hyper-Masculinity in the Indonesian Music Scene

Aris Setyawan
Aris Setyawan
Posted undermusic

The music scene is a scene that toxic and full of hyper-masculinity. Two writings argue quite strongly about this. First is the article entitled Contesting Sexism in Our Scene written by Anida Bajumi for Jurnal Ruang. Second, the article Looking for Women in Contemporary Music Criticism was written by Idha Saraswati for Serunai.

In the first article, Anida Bajumi challenges sexism in the music scene. In her view, female musicians often have to fight three to four times harder to get the same recognition as male musicians.

Sexism is often present in statements such as “Wow, the bass player is a girl, that’s cool.” Anida accused such statements of being a form of masculine sexism because women always seem to be just a kind of “sweetener.” Instead of discussing skills or female musicians’ abilities, sex appeal and physical appearance are always put forward.

In the second article, Idha Saraswati highlights the absence of a gender perspective in the contemporary era’s study or criticism of music. In fact, according to Idha, “Like other cultural products, to a greater or lesser extent, music also represents the values that apply in the society where it was born. Therefore, looking at gender aspects in music is interesting and important to do.”

Furthermore, Idha discovered that there are so many female musicians, but why is it so difficult to find contemporary music critics who review music composed by women?

The two authors’ arguments raise questions: Maybe it’s true that the music scene is toxic. A world of hyper-masculinity filled by men, lived by men?

In her thesis entitled Hyper-masculinity In The Heavy Metal Subculture, Whitney Doucette explains what it is hyper-masculinity. Hyper-masculinity is excessive stereotypical male behavior, such as emphasizing physical strength, aggression, and sexuality. This can be seen in the heavy metal culture through violent dance, moshing, and overt sexual aggression. Hyper-masculinity Most are intolerant of homosexuality, so it is worth noting that male sexual aggression in this context is targeted specifically at women.

Although the scope of Doucette’s research specifically targets the metal music community, hyper-masculinity can also be used to dissect the same phenomenon in the broader realm of music in general, which is still held hostage by hyper-masculinity.

Reflecting on two strong arguments and Idha, as well as Doucette’s ideas, we can reflect this in the stories of bands whose members are all women. Throughout the history of modern Indonesian music, many bands have been composed of women. However, the masculinity of the music industry and its derivatives, such as the scene, media, circle of friends, and even social media, makes these female bands seem less resonant.

However, if you think about it, from a musical perspective, attitude, or persona, these female-led bands have an extraordinarily central role in developing Indonesian music.

We can start tracing Indonesian bands with female members from Dara Puspita. This band, formed in 1964, consists of Titiek Adji Rachman, Lies Soetisnowati Adji Rachman, Susy Nander, and Ani Kusuma. This band from Surabaya is popular in Indonesia but has toured Europe for several years and is known as Flower Girls.

Like Koes Bersaudara (or Koes Plus), Dara Puspita is a giant of Indonesian rock music. Their struggles in the world of music are also no joke. As a band that played rock n roll music in an era when the Indonesian government banned perceived neoliberal cultural products and music because it was labeled as ngak ngek ngok music, which is being westernized, Dara Puspita was also affected by the plague. They had become victims of bullying. The police arrested Dara Puspita for playing a song by The Beatles. They were taken to the Prosecutor’s Office and required to report to the police for one month. They even have to face interrogation with strange and unreasonable questions.

Did this eradication then discourage Dara Puspita and make them give up? Not. Dara Puspita continues to work. Dara Puspita’s persistence in music ultimately made them a milestone and blueprint for female-led bands in the future.

For example, in the contemporary era, we can see traces of Dara Puspita in the band FLEUR! The trio consists of Yuyi, Tanya, and Tika, who have just released their first album, Fleur Fleur FLEUR!, a derivative of Dara Puspita. It’s natural because previously, this band was formed as a tribute band to Dara Puspita. Although then FLEUR! Disbanding themselves, they have continued the rock music relay with guitar riffs and vocal harmonization a la Dara Puspita.

Tracing back to the 70s, the fighting spirit of bands with female personnel emerged in an event called the Festival Band Wanita Se-Indonesia (All-Indonesian Women’s Band Festival). This festival, held in 1975, involved many female bands from various regions in Indonesia. A few are Pretty Sisters, Aria Yunior, One Dee, and Lady Faces.

The father of Indonesian music journalism, Remy Sylado, once wrote about this festival and described clearly how the stage performance of this female music group was truly extraordinary. For example, Remy said that Euis Darliah with the band Antique Clique had “a firm, sensual sway and a frenzied microphone-lifting action similar to Mick Jagger.”

Back to the contemporary era. The name Voice of Baceprot is no longer foreign to our ears. A trio from Garut, West Java, who play what they call a rock music genre, The Other Side of Metalism, became a matter of public discussion because of their extraordinary action. VOB became famous because of the concept they put forward. All band members wear the hijab in everyday life and when on stage. Widi Rahmawati, Firdda Kurnia, and Euis Siti Aisyah proudly emphasize that they are devout Muslims and play metal music. Metal has often been associated with things outside of religion.

The themes of VOB’s songs are also really brave; they pithily criticize patriarchal issues firmly entrenched in society, ignorance of thought patterns that prohibit music from being played, and educational issues that should liberate humans.

With such a mature band and music concept, it is natural that Voice of Baceprot achieved many achievements. Not only are they popular in their homeland, but their name is also heard throughout the Western world. VOB even toured Europe. Their names were often mentioned in international media, such as Spin and Metal Hammer, until Distorted Sound.

Recently, a qasidah group from Semarang, Nasida Ria, is also in the public spotlight. This is because Nasida Ria appeared on stage at the prestigious Documenta Fifteen Arts event in Germany. The group, whose members are all women and is famous for its hit songs such as “Bom Nuklir” (Nuclear Bomb) and “Perdamaian” (Peace), has succeeded in making the Documenta Fifteen audience dance.

Nasida Ria, who has been involved in the Indonesian music industry for decades, has proven that female-led bands from Indonesia are very talented and capable of making citizens of first-world countries dance, follow the rhythm of the music, and shake their hips even though they may have difficulty understanding the lyrics of the songs.

The list of all-female Indonesian bands would be very long if we wrote them all down. Apart from the bands I mentioned above, many names still need to be mentioned. For example, Wondergel, Geger, Boys Are Toys, SHE, and Nonaria.

There are so many Indonesian bands with all female members that cannot be mentioned in this short article, which indirectly proves that the music scene is toxic; there is something wrong with the music ecosystem in Indonesia, which is still controlled by hyper-masculinity.

Anida Bajumi and Idha Saraswati’s arguments are correct. The world of Indonesian music is very broad, with extraordinary diversity. It would be a shame if we eliminated the gender perspective in looking at the vast variety of music in Indonesia. With the absence of a gender perspective, we will be trapped in hyper-masculinity, which is toxic and glorifies the dominance of male (bands) in the Indonesian music scene and denies the existence and talent of female musicians.

“Regarding sexism, no matter the work of men or women, everything can be dissected with the same knife. This means there could be female musicians whose work is also sexist because patriarchal ideology is embedded in the heads of men and women. “Conversely, musical works that promote gender equality also need to be discussed so that they can provide a nutritious contribution to musical discussions,” explained Idha Saraswati in her writing.

It’s time we dismantle sexism and hyper-masculinity in the Indonesian music scene. I agree with Idha Saraswati; patriarchy is a gangrene that must be eradicated, both from the heads of men and women, and we must be more aware of the gender perspective so that we can organize, manage, and enjoy Indonesian music more balanced.

We can see this sexism and hyper-masculinity in the music scene if we reflect on the incident that happened to the twee-pop group from Lombok, The Dare. With all female members, this band has just experienced an unpleasant incident. An anonymous account made sexist comments on their vocalist’s Instagram post.

The Dare is an extraordinary female band that has just carried out an extraordinary tour around Java with the vision and mission of raising public awareness about the importance of applying a gender perspective when watching and enjoying musicians’ works. However, the ignorance of masculinity instead targets them through indiscriminate attacks on these disgusting anonymous accounts.

We must keep female bands on the Indonesian music scene from working in a lonely way. We must give them more appreciation, provide equal space for them, and talk about them as part of the discourse and discussion of Indonesian music. We must have the courage to dismantle hyper-masculinity and a patriarchal culture firmly entrenched in all walks of life, including in the music scene.

Closing questions: Have we interrogated the internalized patriarchal culture within ourselves? This includes music communities, too, whether they are gender-friendly or perpetuate hyper-masculinity.

Imagine what if an all-women band gave up because the music environment is still toxic and in the grip of patriarchal culture and hyper-masculinity! How boring the Indonesian music scene will be.

It’s time for us to dismantling hyper-masculinity, which is toxic in the Indonesian music scene. Quoting the song’s lyrics from Voice of Baceprot, “I just want to sing a song to show my soul. God, allow me please to play music.”

PS: Previously published in Bahasa Indonesia on Pop Hari Ini.

Taggedhyper-masculinityindonesia music sceneMusicsexism

More Stories

Cover Image for The End of Protest Music in Indonesia?

The End of Protest Music in Indonesia?

When Slank release a song called “Polisi yang Baik Hati”, is it the sign that protest music in Indonesia has been ended?

Aris Setyawan
Aris Setyawan
Cover Image for Netral – Koma (Cover Version)

Netral – Koma (Cover Version)

Iseng-iseng mainin lagu “Koma” dari album “Putih” milik Netral (sekarang NTRL). Maaf kalau enggak rapi, meleset-meleset, atau fals. Maklum, jarang latihan band-band-an. Hehehe.

Aris Setyawan
Aris Setyawan