The Pleasure of Protest: Piety, Performance and Pretty Policewomen in Indonesia

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:45
Location: Seminar 33 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Sharyn DAVIES, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
This paper explores a move within Indonesia’s police to deploy its prettiest policewomen to engage protestors. When asked why he deploys pretty policewomen (polwan cantik) to protest sites, Indonesia’s Police Commissioner responded that people angry at increasing fuel prices, for instance, will be easily calmed by a cadre of beautiful women performing a Gangnam Style dance and handing out sweets. Such deployment reinforces the importance of the selection criteria women recruits must meet, namely walking on a catwalk and being deemed literally ‘pleasing to the eye’ (enak dilihat).

 The fact that people attending protests in Indonesia now expect performances by pretty policewomen opens a site to explore the dynamics of pleasure. Protestors speak of how such events have become enjoyable given performances by pretty policewomen. Policewomen also talk about how they derive pleasure from subsequently becoming social media stars – policewoman Eka Frestya, for example, has 18 000 Twitter followers. There is also a new dynamic to pleasure seen since 2014 when Muslim policewomen were for the first time in Indonesia’s history allowed to wear a veil on duty.

 Juxtaposed to these sites of pleasure, however, are sites of extreme displeasure. The beauty of policewomen is determined not just by outward appearance but by embodied morality; women police recruits are forced to undergo a two-finger virginity test. Drawing on the work of Saba Mahmood (2005) and Arjun Alvi (2013) the paper explores ways in which sites of pleasure and displeasure entwine in the creation of an ethical self.