“My Wife is the Boss”: Muslim Men Negotiating Masculinities in Australia

Meta Ose Ginting | CRCS | Wednesday Forum Report
1-img_4926“Like the study of feminism, masculinity can be an important approach in religious studies. The study of masculinity emphasizes how man superiority has been graded or perceived from time to time that in turn it becomes a norm for society.”

Rachmat Hidayat, a Project Director in Kalijaga Institute for Justice, State Islamic University Sunan Kalijaga, who shared his research in the weekly CRCS-ICRS Wednesday Forum, September 14, 2016, is and experiences about Muslim men from three Southeast Asia countries—Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia—living for years in Australia. His research questions are grounded in the problem of masculinity in Islamic studies.

In Muslim majority society, the figure of man is portrayed as the “imam” or, in a very general sense, the leader of the family. In the Muslim based society, the doctrine that male is the leader is embodied in the daily practices. The role as man in Muslim families anchors their responsibility in leading the household but, in contrast to the men living the non-Muslim society, the meanings and understandings change.

Building a framework that can help masculinity to be accepted in Islamic studies, Hidayat argued that just like the study of feminism, masculinity can be an important approach in religious studies. In general, the study of masculinity emphasizes how man superiority has been graded or perceived from time to time that in turn it becomes a norm for society.

The problem of masculinity in Muslim men living in Australia is in the sense of manhood within the family structure. In such context, the challenges are coming from the liberal and secular societies. Before explaining more about that problem, Hidayat described masculinity and how it works in the society. Masculinity is taking man as a gendered subject and perceiving men’s identity as related to but different to women. Men’s identity was constructed within certain historical, cultural, and social process. But this construction and the identity itself changes from time to time.

Furthermore, Hidayat asserted that gender construction and the meaning of the self is something that people define and negotiate every day because the discourse of the self is related to other. There are valves imply in Men’s identity. The gender construction adding the values such as bravery, toughness, rationality, to men’s identity and make people unconsciously define men in those values. In doing so, in Muslim community, being a man means being religious and strong at the same time. The practices of being a man in Muslim based society are included the practice of competition, dominance, and fathering.  It shows that performance as a man cannot be separated to the relation with woman and kids.

Masculinity only can be defined and identified in the relationship therefore to study about masculinity in Islamic Studies, the approach must be done by examining men also as religious gender actors. In the context of secular of Australian society, the Muslim men identify challenges by some unfamiliar condition. Muslim men need to negotiate their position under the relation that lies between the Muslim women-Muslim brotherhood-the divine and the society itself.

With their various background, the 25 Muslim men in Australia whom he interviewed compromise and negotiate their position as Imam in their daily basis which relates to the men’s role as bread-winner in family. Facing the adversity and limitation, the Muslim men build their survival mechanism. In that survival mechanism, men need to share the authority, responsibility, and power to their partner who have more opportunity to get the money. Hence, some Muslim women replace the role of Men as bread-winner.

Responding to those facts, Samsul Maarif from CRCS asked whether women might also have masculinity and thus the term masculinity is not exclusive for men. “Masculinity, like feminine, is construction and it shows particular quality rather than embedded on sex,” said Hidayat. Within this framework, Muslim Southeast Asian women in Australia who perform their role as bread-winner also have masculine quality. However, as Hidayat underlined, men’s role as Imam is a non-negotiable status for men. Thus, responding to the challenges in every day live in Australia, Muslim men adopt some norm and apply it to the family as an act of negotiation. For example, the practice of partnership and individual freedom equality. Even when the wife becomes the bread-winner, the husband still has authority to manage the family. Furthermore, by giving permission to the wife for working, a husband serves their role as humble and just Imam because he aware of its limitation and humbly accept it. Hence, now Muslim men understand the role of Imam differently: as an act to love, to sacrifice, to share, and not being selfish with their family member.

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