The development of immigration, social, and sexual regulations between men and women administered by the VOC and later Dutch government was not planned nor linear relative to certain other spheres of government interest. It experienced many modifications and corrections before it reached a more final form in the early 1900s. The government regulated many parts of gender and familial relations from marriage, immigration, children, domestic life, etc. This changing set of regulations was due to government responses to social pressures, modernization, efficiency, and organized society based on European ideals. These factors eventually produced a set of more liberal regulations like those existing during the colony’s early history. To discount the process as having little affect in the end would be incorrect since the government genuinely had to modify its regulations initially to achieve the kind of “civilized” society it wanted to portray to the natives and to manage a society based on the ideas of European colonialism. In addition, from an economic and political perspective, during the 1800s such revisions and changes of policies were necessary in molding a colonial society corresponding to its state of economic progress as viewed by the Dutch government in Batavia and upholding a sense of European prestige in the East Indies. The course of development of gender relations was controlled by the colonial government and reflected government policy. The essay recounts the revising of regulatory codes in gender relations chronologically from the ban on female immigration in the mid 1900s, to the promotion of concubinage, and finally the policy of European marriage and promotion of a strong European society in the East Indies in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
Influence of Political Goals on Gender Regulation in the Dutch East Indies
Dutch colonialism in Southeast Asia beginning in the 19th century had two main driving factors: political and economic power. Although these and othe factors affected the process of gender regulation in the Dutch East Indies, the policies of the Dutch colonial government regarding this issue show that political goals were the predominant force in governing European male relationships with either native or European women. By gender regulation what is meant is the governing of the sexual, conjugal, and domestic lives of Europeans and specifically European men. These political goals often conformed to economic or religious ideologies, but major changes in gender regulation had the primary purpose of satisfying political ends. These ends were those for the furthering of colonial power in the Dutch East Indies through the control of population (both native and European), fulfilling the “civilizing mission”, and the expansion and assertion of Dutch power over the Netherlands East Indies (Loos). examination of the process of colonial government policies concerning gender regulation and how they changed results in two main time periods, that of the mid to late 19th century when native concubines were emphasized and that of the early 20th century when marriage between Europeans was promoted and concubines discouraged. However, before understanding what happened during this period and how the Dutch colonial government policies changed in the 20th century, the political goals of the government during the 19th century must be examined.
During the 19th century, the Dutch colonial government like other European colonial governments in Southeast Asia executed their plans to civilize and modernize the region. The ideology held by these governments was that there was single evolutionary path to modernity and Europe was at the highest point of human development (Loos). Because of this view, which matched with concepts of imperialism and colonialism, the colonial government felt it necessary to portray the superior elements of European society to the natives and clearly delineate the separation between the colonizer and the colonized (McClintock et al. 348). The ability to achieve these political goals was due to the colonial authoritarianism that existed in the Dutch East Indies throughout most of the colony’s history (Taylor 7). In her essay “Making Empire Respectable”, Stoler argues that the part of the colonial government’s goal to preserve European superiority was through “sexual” (European male) dominance in domestic affairs (McClintock et al. 346). As a result, Stoler states that sexual prohibitions were “racially asymmetric and gender specific” (McClintock et al. 366). This resulted in male dominated Dutch populations such as the 2:25 women to men ratio in Sumatra during the late 19th century.
The regulation of gender in the Dutch East Indies that first appeared in the early 18th century was specifically targeted at restricting female immigration to the colony either by preventing female immigration or refusal of employment of married men by colonial Dutch companies (McClintock et al. 349). The reason for this policy was due to the nature of the women who had come to the colonies previously. Many of these women came from the lowest elements of European society and it was government’s view that these women “scandalized” the natives through their actions by misrepresenting European society. As a result, the colonial government placed a ban on female immigration exempting only wives of officials. The Dutch colonial government then went further to secure its goal of portraying the Europeans society as superior by banning European males from returning to Europe unless they had financial capabilities to provide for their natives wives forever. Since many of these men were poor workers or soldiers, it was essentially a disincentive to marry native women (Loos). Therefore, by the late 18th century, women in the Dutch East Indies faced more rigid social regulation in Southeast Asia than in metropolitan Europe (McClintock et al. 344). The government’s answer to the “needs” of European males was concubinage. Stoler defines concubinage as the “cohabitation” of European men with native women for domestic and sexual affairs (McClintock et al. 348). The government and Dutch colonial companies adopted a policy to promote and accommodate such a lifestyle to compensate for the lack of European women in the colony. Concubinage suited the colonial political goals at the time and encouraged a cheaper, healthier, and more stable lifestyle for European males corresponding to the development level of the colony. As a result, the policies mentioned above and native concubines were the core gender regulations of the Dutch government before the early 1900s.
Dutch gender regulation started to change in the early 20th century from it previous policies due to several factors including changing ideologies, medical knowledge, technological improvements, and crises. Already in the 1870s, political and economic stability in the Dutch East Indies along with technological improvements of the steamboat and the Suez Canal increased immigration of European families (and thus female immigration). This trend of growing female immigration continued into the 20th century and changes in political goals and thus Dutch colonial gender regulation were due to several reasons. Bankoff in his essay “Europe’s expanding Resources Frontier: Colonialism and Environment in Southeast Asia” sites one reason for general policy changes which is that in the late 19th century, Southeast Asian colonial governments increasingly looked to a long-term occupation of the region including minor materials processing and markets instead of short-term resource extraction (Barrington 86). This meant that the Dutch colonial government had to increase it control over the colony and this idea was physically reflected in military campaigns and on a domestic level reflected as gender regulation. Another reason for political goal changes was the supporting of a strong European family setting in colonial society where women were viewed as the “custodians of family welfare and respectability and as dedicated and willing subordinates to and supporters of, colonial men” (McClintock et al. 355). Along with these views supporting female immigration to the Dutch East Indies, another factor that changed Dutch views of gender regulation was the serious problem of “degeneracy” as viewed by the Dutch colonial and home government. The degeneracy of European colonials was defined through elitist and racist standards as being “unlike one’s race” and moral corruption due to long periods of time in the colonies. (McClintock et al. 355) The supporters of this idea in the government felt the need to guard against degeneracy by increasing the European population in the colonies and essentially using women for the sole purpose of reproductive activities (McClintock et al. 356-7).
the early 19th century, overall, the colonial government felt that through the promotion of families, it could build a strong, stable, and influential European population in the colony through European families. European superiority could be achieved and maintained by increasing the Dutch population growth. The reason for this need for control by Europeans had economic reasons, but also strong political reasons to continue the authoritarianism and imperialism of the past colonial government (Barrington 85). This move was also reflected in the takeover of production and exchange by Europeans, which previously had been left to the natives (Barrington 94). The colonial government implemented its new gender regulation policy by lifting family restrictions, sponsoring European families on various Sumatra plantations, and keeping surveillance of native men for the protection of European women. The colonial government desired an increase of European influences in agriculture and raw materials processing and European families were seen to be able to achieve these goals by producing hard-working and stable family workers (Barrington 85). Stoler states “redefinitions of sexual protocol and morality occurred during colonial crises” (McClintock et al. 365). One colonial and global crisis that added to the need to reform gender regulations and overall governmental policies was World War I. After 1918, the Dutch East Indies witnessed a movement that questioned the superiority of European society. As a result, colonial political policies were geared towards increasing and asserting Dutch power in the colony. Thus the decline of concubinage in the early 1900s coincided with the standardization of the Dutch colonial administration that served to strengthen the Dutch hold of the colony. Also, by this time medical experts along with an easy journey from Europe to Southeast Asia confirmed the benefits and possibilities of well-defined European society in the Dutch East Indies (McClintock et al.366). A lesser driving force in the political process to promote European families and discourage concubinage but nonetheless important was the European women themselves. Stoler contends that the influx of women in the Dutch colony helped clarify racial lines and brought about a decline in unrestrained social freedom enjoyed by men prior to a large amount of female immigration (McClintock et al. 352). Therefore, the change in political ideologies further were strengthened by the presence of women thus creating a policy of gender regulation promoting European families and discouraging the previous practices of concubinage and bans on female immigration.
The process of gender regulation in the Dutch East Indies from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s reflects the change in colonial political ideologies because changes in the regulation of European male-female relationships were primarily brought about to achieve political goals. These goals at first were to portray a superior European colonizer to the native populace that was reflected in European male dominance in domestic affairs and carried out by policies encouraging concubinage and selective banning of female immigration to the colony from Europe. Due to ideological changes, crises, the problem of degeneracy, and the efforts of women, the political goals of the early 20th century had changed from those of the 19th century to a more European orientated colony where Europeans where not only superior in race but were in control of economic affairs and had a strong stable society based on families. As a result, old policies where discarded in place of new regulations allowing more liberal immigration practices, the sponsoring of European families financially, and the provision of the necessary European amenities to support such a colonial society.
Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat. Eds. Dangerous Liaisons. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
Barrington, Brook Empires, Imperialism, and Southeast Asia: Essays in Honour of Nicholas Tarling. Clayton: Monash University, 1997.
Loos, Tamara. “Colonial Modernity in Netherlands East Indies.” Cornell, Ithaca. 26 Feb. 2001.
Stivens, Maila ed. Why Gender Matters in Southeast Asian Politics. Glen Waverley: Aristoc Press Pty. Ltd., 1991.
Taylor, Jean Gelman ed. Women Creating Indonesia. Clayton: Monash Institute, 1997
Great job! U made this student very very happy! 😀 I wonder what uve studied, and why u wrote this essay. Thank u again. My study is South South East Asia Studies 😉
Happy to hear the essay helped with your studies and school work! You’re welcome and feel free to use the material 🙂 Just make sure to cite this internet page for your work.
Like you, I was studying South East Asia at the time and was interested in the topic due to a similar analysis of women’s roles in Rome ( https://justintung.wordpress.com/women-in-roman-politics-during-the-first-half-of-the-1st-century-bc/ )