ZOE MCLAUGHLIN, U-M Center for Southeast Asian Studies
Zoë received her Bachelor’s in biochemistry and creative writing from Oberlin College before spending three years in Central Java, Indonesia, first as a Shansi Fellow and then as a participant in the Darmasiswa program. She received her Master’s from the University of Michigan’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies with a focus on Indonesian literature and translation. She is currently studying library science in the University of Michigan’s School of Information.
During the past thirty years, public attitude toward the veil in Indonesia has rapidly changed. While at one time wearing a hijab-style veil was a controversial choice, today it has become accepted and widespread. Along with this popularity and normalization has come a certain amount of policing of women’s dress. In August 2014, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) released a fatwa against the wearing of a veil along with tight clothing—popularly termed “jilboobs.” MUI’s fatwa immediately sparked discourse and debate on women’s clothing and its regulation. This paper investigates current attitudes toward veiling in Indonesia by examining the debate surrounding jilboobs. There is a good deal of solidarity amongst women, with calls from women who veil stating that those who are seen as veiling improperly should not be judged as they are still in the process of learning how to veil. However, a deeper examination of these women’s statements reveals a consternation concerning jilboobs and a desire to be seen as separate from those who would choose to dress in this style. The veil in Indonesia acts as an easy visual symbol for a woman to advertise and emphasize one aspect of her identity. Through the discourse surrounding jilboobs, this symbolism and performativity become evident. While it remains to be seen what impact MUI’s fatwa will have on the future of veiling in Indonesia, the fatwa itself and the ensuing debates do reveal the current, nuanced state of public opinion toward veiling. The issues discussed in this paper, while specific to Indonesia, provide a case study for considering how dress is regulated and how this relates to culture and religion. These ideas, using the case of jilboobs as an example, can be used in classroom activities to develop and transform lessons addressing issues of gender and religion.