Hello Dolly! – In Praise of Lokalisasi

Apr 18th, 2008, in IM Posts, Opinion, by

Timdog enthuses over the brothel district of "Dolly" in Surabaya.

Hello Dolly! - In Praise of Lokalisasi

On the high ground among the graveyards and working class kampungs above the Banyu Urip canal is Surabaya's most notorious corner.

Mention the East Java capital to people anywhere in Indonesia and they are likely to rattle off a handful of associations: historical heroism, good food, violent soccer fans, and as often as not - with a snigger, a raised eyebrow and an obscene hand gesture

Dolly, mister, tahu Dolly? Sering ke Dolly, mister? (Nudge nudge, wink wink.)

For the upright, decent citizens of Surabaya it is a cause of some shame that their city is perhaps most famous as the home of a semi-mythical, much sniggered-over, much fantasised-about place: "Asia's biggest red light district" - Dolly.

It is worth stripping away a little of the mythology of Dolly, the best known example of lokalisasi (prostitution tolerance zoning), for the place has attained epic proportions in more than a few grubby little minds. For a start, it is categorically NOT the biggest red light district in Asia (that dubious accolade goes to the grim and gargantuan Kamathipura slum in Bombay); connoisseurs of the grimier fringes of the night assure me that it's not even the largest in Southeast Asia. But it is famous.

The old story goes that the quarter (which consists of a pair of interlocking streets, Jl. Jarak and Jl. Dolly) was named after the Eurasian madam who ran one of the area's first brothels though I've come across nothing but anecdotal evidence for this. Dolly was first recognised as a tolerance zone by the city authorities in the 1960s, but there had been an unofficial "bordello kampung" along the nearby canal pre-independence. And of course, the graveyards had always been a place of late night commerce and assignation.

Dolly is not a glittering palace of illicit pleasure - it's just a couple of rough and ready streets pulsing to a dangdut soundtrack. But neither, surprisingly, is it an utterly grim place. Anywhere else in the city it is all but impossible to convince "the man on the street" that you are not

  • a) a regular patron of Dolly,
  • b) a habitual user of prostitutes, and
  • c) in possession of six or more girlfriends.

But strolling along Jl Jarak of a night, the idea that you're just there for a beer and a wander, and perhaps - depending on the quantity of beer - a bout of karaoke, is readily accepted. For Dolly is not only about prostitution: it is also the only place to find an alcoholic drink after 2 am, and it is the only real working class drinking district in the city. There is little streetside solicitation along Jl Jarak; in the pubs and dangdut bars, filthy as they are, you'll be left to your beer and your drunken dancing. Outside there is a bustling industry of kaki lima, becak and taxis, cigarettes stalls, parking lots, and a general atmosphere of bleary-eyed cheer to a soundtrack of terrible dangdut.

Jalan Dolly itself is more businesslike. Narrow and lined with glass-fronted "guesthouses", clinging touts prowl the pavement, and you don't need to go more than a few metres to realise that if you really did just come for a beer and a stroll, then you should stick to Jl Jarak.

The whole quarter supports a huge industry: estimated numbers of working girls range from 1000 to 2500, but there are easily as many people again employed in the associated service industries.

The strangest thing about Dolly is how quickly - if you walk a little too far beyond the last bar or guesthouse - you return to normal kampung life: family homes, little shops, businesses and mushollas, apparently oblivious to the roaring trade going on nearby.

As a port city Surabaya has a long history of prostitution, and the idea of semi-official tolerance zones is not new. In the 1850s the Dutch authorities started a program of registering prostitutes, having them undergo regular medical checks, and confining "the oldest profession" to a handful of brothel kampungs. This was in an attempt to stem the epidemic of venereal disease among soldiers and sailors. Of course, it was never entirely successful, and there were other unofficial red light districts (the thoroughfare of Surabaya's Chinatown, Jl Kembang Jepun, the Street of the Japanese Flowers, gets its name from the days when Japanese prostitutes were available in bars and hotels there), but it was far, far better than nothing. This was amply demonstrated as stern - and hypocritical - 19th Century European morality began to make itself felt in the colonies.

In British-run Singapore - a notorious hotbed of vice - prostitution was outlawed in 1887 to appease disapproving Victorian moralists back home. Previously it had been very effectively administered, with all brothels registered and all prostitutes given regular medical checks. After the end of supervision, inevitably, venereal disease rates rocketed. When the Dutch followed suit a few decades later - ending medical inspections in 1911 and outlawing prostitution altogether in 1913 - the same thing happened in Surabaya.

Post independence, registration and lokalisasi was officially re-established, along with occasional enlightened public health efforts (such as mass penicillin treatment of all registered prostitutes in an attempt to wipe out gonorrhoea in the 1950s). And this situation essentially continues. There is tolerance, and there is so-called police supervision, although in practice this is usually nothing more than extortion. I was told - and I cannot confirm this - that each brothel in Dolly must pay a full THIRD of their nightly takings in kickbacks to the police.

It is very important not to romanticise a place like Dolly, or to consider it an ideal situation. The disingenuous and self-deluding justifications of some otherwise decent men for prostitution simply don't stand up.

These women choose to do it; they make a great living; if they weren't doing this they'd be planting rice in some village.

Yes, but that doesn't mean that it's not fundamentally wrong that they have only the choice of planting rice or THIS, does it? On the occasions when the police do a little more than simply collecting the money, they frequently rescue trafficked and underage women from the "guesthouses" of Dolly. AIDS is an ill-understood threat, both among the workers and the patrons, and most of the health and education work in the field is left to NGOs rather than the authorities.

Prostitution IS an ugly business.

However, it's not called the "oldest profession" for nothing. It exists; it is; and as previous experiments have shown, you cannot stop it. Due to "religious sensibilities" Dolly (and most of Surabaya's nightclubs) now shut down for the duration of Ramadan. It would be foolish if things ever went further than this.

Whether your disapproval is based on old-fashioned morality, religious extremism, feminism or all-encompassing liberalism, you have to acknowledge that when it comes to controlling prostitution you can never achieve better than "out of sight, out of mind".

Given this, lokalisasi is absolutely the best policy, but it needs to be properly, officially administered. Unofficial police kickbacks should be halted in favour of real policing; free, comprehensive medical checks should be not just available, but compulsory; massive sex-education programs - for workers and clients - need to be instituted, by the authorities, not by charities. And above all, the "forces of morality" should - on the powerful basis of past evidence - always be utterly ignored when they voice their opinions on this topic.

There are thought to be 2000 prostitutes in Dolly, but a 1998 estimate put the total number for the whole city at at least 10,000. It is probably more now. You see them - sad, flickering shadows under the trees beside the main roads. These women are beyond control, beyond medicine, and beyond help. If tolerance zones were ever abolished there would only be more of them.


39 Comments on “Hello Dolly! – In Praise of Lokalisasi”

Pages: [1] 2 »

  1. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:
    April 18th, 2008 at 9:23 am

    Timdog,

    Great stuff. Great article — real reporting and information and head and shoulders above the silly crap I’ve put on IM.

    When you say, “it’s an ugly business” — could you elaborate a bit ? What about the sex trade ? Some NGOs report girl are trafficked into it. True ?

    Also, I hope I’m not out of line in pitching some feedback on the writing. (As most of my writing is songs for the Ukuele).

    Para 1: I’d suggest something colourful and dramatic, say a bustling scene in Dolly, something which gets to the point of the article — say describe Jl from 2 a.m. having a quiet beer, where you’re not whoring.

    Para 2 & 3: Two paragraphs summing up your whole article

    - It’s a good place to hang out, atmospheric, rich in history (as well as VDs),
    - Misconceptions
    - Portrait of the industry as not-so-nice a place.

    Alot of people just wouldn’t read more than, say, 300-400 words, so good to catch them before they move on.

    Just my two Rupiah’s worth.

    Thanks for a great article.

  2. avatar Rob says:
    April 18th, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Written / spoken like a true professional or is that connoisseur of the Dolly scene!

    A piece on prostitution that is both informative and educational…

  3. avatar timdog says:
    April 18th, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Achmad – absolutely valid comments on the structure of the piece – duly noted… I think I’m still feeling for the correct tone for IM – I can do both pop-writing and serious; perhaps I fell into the gap between with this one!

    As for trafficked women – yes, very much so, there are trafficked women in Dolly. The police raid there fairly regularly, and when they do, they almost invariably “rescue” trafficked or underage women (at least that is what is reported in the local press). Most are from Inonesia, but occasionally they are Fillipinas. Given the business of police kickbacks I assume that brothels are only raided when they fail to comply with their payments. Also, given the high-profile, almost respectable nature of Dolly, I imagine that there are far more trafficked women in the “off-Broadway”, unrecognised brothels elsewhere…

    Rob – most writings on prostitution that appear – not specifically here, but everywhere – are either stern pieces of bemoaning moralisation, dry post-feminist accademia, or sniggering titilation… I try to strike a balance. I don’t personally like the idea of prostitution, but as I say above, I recognise that it is an unavoidable fact of life. I also recognise that its history in a given place, society, country or region can be a grounding point for a wider historical narrative. And of course, the titilation value catches the attention of the casual passerby…

  4. avatar Lairedion says:
    April 18th, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    timdog,

    Nice piece.

    I’m not familiar with Surabaya but I regret Bandung’s Saritem has been closed by authorities. From 1995 to 1998 I lived in Bandung and I loved to stroll through the neighborhood and having a chat with locals (men, women, sometimes I couldn’t see the difference) about anything. Red Light Districts, grim as they can be, give so much color to a city, community or society albeit prostitutes are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by pimps, criminals and customers.

    I have great respect for these men/women who are often driven by poor background and lack of education and don’t always have a choice. Shutting down brothels in essence is a violation of human rights. Prostitutes are regarded as second or third class subhumans and this is not limited to Indonesia.

    I do hope Dolly can continue to operate and won’t face the same fate as Saritem.

  5. avatar David says:
    April 19th, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Achmad, there’s always a place for funny stuff, get busy.

    Lairedion, apart from Saritem there was also Puger in Jember getting closed, there have been some other red light districts going that way as well, I think I heard about one in Banyuwangi about to be closed. But as far as I know there is little or no agitation in Surabaya to close down Dolly – maybe there’s too much money in it – or the several other lokalisasi in the city.

    Timdog, great piece. I can’t help but think the view is a little too rosy though, I mean about the position the women are in. Well if you go up Jl. Jarak past the noisy dangdut bars that you mention you get to an intersection, go left and it’s back to the real world, go right and it’s Putat Jaya, which is the sort of low class end of Dolly (people often call this part “Jarak” I think, to confuse things), the women are older and sometimes astonishingly ugly, I guess they are there by ‘choice’, they could just get up and leave if they wanted.

    But in Dolly proper, where the young pretty girls, aren’t they more or less owned by the brothel guys? If they want to go outside the area they need an “escort”? And sometimes they are moved to other cities, like Ujung Pandang – so sounds like trafficking, slavery, false imprisonment, etc. And I’m not sure how often there are police raids. I have heard though about people taking the initiative themselves and going in and rescuing girls – just takes money.

    And how do the girls end up there? Do their parents sell them, do their parents know exactly where they are and what they’re doing?

    About the writing style, but, if you write something that’s going to be read on a pc screen you need to break it up a bit, that’s why I added the blockquote and the bullet list but what it really needs is sub-headings – people often don’t read end to end, they just skim and scan and using sub-headings is a kind of courtesy to them, it lets them see very quickly which parts are going to be interesting to them and which not. But still, a great piece.

  6. avatar timdog says:
    April 19th, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Patung – it wasn’t intended to be all that rosy – I do not like prostitution at all; I think it is inately exploitative, even in the very best of conditions, and despite the old urban myth/bullsh*t of the good middle class girls/suburban housewives who do it “COS THEY LOVE IT!” I think it cannot be anything but demeaning…

    But, as I argue above, it does exist, and as previous experiments with outlawing the trade have shown, lokalisasi is by far the best option available. It would be nice if it really was properly patrolled and administered, but in the meantime at least there is a degree – perhaps only a small degree, but a degree none the less – of security in the visibility that women in lokalisasi have. And putting them all in one place means that healthcare/education can, if someone takes the initiative, be readily delivered…

    The closing down of lokalisasi can only be a public health and human rights disaster.

    Police raids rescuing trafficked women in Dolly are reported regularly in the Surabaya press – a few times a month it seems. Though given the stories of the money that has to be paid to the police by brothel owners one suspects that these raids are probably part of a protection racket rather than genuinely honourable police work…

  7. avatar Rob says:
    April 19th, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    To all…

    I agree that prostitution in the great majority of situations is exploitative in nature, inately or otherwise. But here’s the thing, and in spite of Timdog’s eloquence in referring to an urban myth, why is it so hard for some men and women to accept that, at least for some perhaps, prostitution is a good income earner.

    Freelancers who are not “owned” by anyone may in fact being doing this because it earns money, pays the bills, and perhaps even puts their kids through school.

    The reality is that we over-moralize the issue. Let’s face it those of us that are employed are working for the man (or woman) or simply working for some else. Even if you are self-employed your working for someone else because your income is derived from someone else. If we work for money does that mean we are prostituting oursleves? Or is it the fact that sex is invovled make this all evil and bad?

    There are seious problems in the prostitution industry. Lokalisasi is a form of quasi regulation where perhaps more explicit and strict regulations need to be put in place that force brothel owners into compliance with some kind of minimum standard. This would reduce but not eliminate trafficking and sexual slavery, it would provide regular health checks for the women involved, and ensure that facilities were proper.

    We need to get our collective heads out of the sand and face issues such as these a little more head on! I think Timdog’s piece is an excellent starting point for a discussion on this topic. One of the more important points is that there has been some recognition that prostitution exists in Indonesia and attempts to eradicate it have failed miserably. That is why it is the oldest profession in the world.

  8. avatar Unspun says:
    April 20th, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    @Timdog: Congratulations. I enjoyed this post very much. Well written and informative. Well done indeed.

  9. avatar shorty says:
    April 20th, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    whether we like it or not prostitution has, and will continue to exist. while ever it is illegal corruption and exploitation will thrive.

    maybe look at legalising prostitution and bordellos. it won’t eliminate all the problems, but will negate a lot.

  10. avatar Rob says:
    April 21st, 2008 at 7:02 am

    Timdog…

    Nice job in beating Kompas to the punch on this one!

  11. avatar timdog says:
    April 22nd, 2008 at 3:55 am

    Well obviously – Kompas lift all their best stories from IM, everyone knows that…

    Rob – yes, we are all certainly working for The Man; talented, creative people working in soulless industries could well be said to be “prostituting” themselves. But I do think there are unique problems with the sex trade, and yes, that is because it is SEX that is involved… I say this not as an old-fashioned moralist, but as a liberal/would-be feminist (a self-hating man perhaps? ;-) ). At risk of descending into the worst kind of pop-psychology, I shall explain my reasoning…

    I consider prostitution as innately misogenistic, not that I consider sex itself, or even theoretically the sale of sex, to be misogynistic. However, I’m sure that the paying for sex is for any man a humiliating act – perhaps only at a subconscious level. So men using prostitutes are dealing with a self-inflicted attack on their own self-esteem; they also may need – again at a subconscious level – to seek some moral justification for a trade that they know to be morally dubious.
    So, out of response and reaction to this we get all those dangerous old myths: that the prostitute “loves sex” (thus the money is incidental); that the man is the victim and the prostitute a “predator”. And thus we come to the age-old image of the prostitute as “slut”, driven by her own sordid desires, leading “man” astray. This is, of course, the way prostitutes have been portrayed across societies, across history. Now, a man with troubled self-esteem can only respond to these wicked sluts with contempt, aggression, and misogyny (and this unfortunately leaches in considerations of women in general). This all applies very much to the treatment and portrayal of women in pornography too incidentally.
    There is a revisionist post-feminist discourse that has female sex-workers as the ultimate symbol of female empowerment, in absolute sexual control, taking advantage of men. In populist form this idea appears in ridiculous nonsense like the hoax “Belle de Jour” blog, allegedly the diary of a high-class prostitute (recently turned into a TV series in the UK). To me this is nothing more than the old myth of prostitute as slut – repackaged for the post-modern age perhaps, but just as dangerous and ultimately misogynistic. And of course, all of this can be traced right back through the ages to that oldest of poisons – the legend of original sin…

    God, sorry about that, not only did I descend into terrible pop-psychology – I went off into ridiculous cultural-philosophical bullsh*t too. I will cease immediately!

    Having said all that, I acknowledge – and this was very much my point in the above article – that prostitution is a fact of life, and should therefore be accepted and controlled. BY control I do mean control in terms of safety, health and conditions, not control in terms of curtailment…

    ***

    Question – is prostitution more prevelent in Indonesia than in many “Western” countries? Do a larger percentage of men in Indonesia use prostitutes than in the “West”?
    I genuinely don’t know the answer to this, but I do know that in the “West” no one would launch into a shameless discussion of prostitution, where to find the best and cheapest girls etc on the street with a stranger within minutes of meeting them. I could not even begin to count the number of times this has happened to me in Indonesia – or is this, ironically, because I am a morally debased bule from the licentious “West”, and therefore surely right into talking about these things? I genuinely don’t know the answer to this – any ideas?

  12. avatar Mugwump says:
    April 22nd, 2008 at 4:36 am

    Hello. Generally a good article, but I think it is spoilt by your irrelevant and (let’s not beat about the bush) downright stupid opinions on prostitution. Why misrepresent the liberal (yes, liberal: the word means favouring freedom) argument and then present nothing counterarguments? (The real argument is “The women (or whatever) choose to do it.” And there it stops. The so-called case against prostitution is really about wowserism, about denying people the right to exercise their own choices.)

    You could just have said something like “Whatever your views on prostitution (and I am uncomfortable with it), you have to acknowledge that prohibition has never worked.”

    And your remarks in the “comments” section really take the biscuit:

    I do not like prostitution at all; I think it is inately exploitative, even in the very best of conditions, and despite the old urban myth/bullsh*t of the good middle class girls/suburban housewives who do it “COS THEY LOVE IT!” I think it cannot be anything but demeaning”¦

    It is a matter of supreme irrelevance whether it is an urban myth that some prostitutes do it for pleasure. There are certainly some who do not have any financial need to do so, and some who profess to enjoy the work. It matters even less whether you think it can “be anything but demeaning”. What matters is what the participants in the transaction choose to do.

    By the way, human trafficking is an unmitigated evil, but allegations of it are often over the top. A lot of the women “rescued” from “sex slavery” actively resist being “rescued” and are not at all grateful. As always, their rights, as well as the facts, take second place to the ideological, usually religiously motivated, agenda of some cretinous NGO.

  13. avatar timdog says:
    April 22nd, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Mugwump – a couple of points…

    First, this section of Indonesia Matters is called “Opinion” ergo there is no need to present “counter-arguments”.

    Secondly:

    You could just have said something like “Whatever your views on prostitution (and I am uncomfortable with it), you have to acknowledge that prohibition has never worked.”

    This appears to be a very neat synopsis of my above article, so your point is?

    You may well be able to trot out a few hoary (excuse the pun) old examples of “the tart with a heart”, the merry prostitute who does it “COS SHE LOVES IT!” but to slap down any ethical critique of the sex trade with these rickety old totems is not much of an argument.

    Invoking freedom of choice too is somewhat disingenuous. Now, I would NEVER dream of proscribing someone else’s free choice if that choice did not involve the harm to another individual, and I include prostitution in this. But at the same time, I do feel it is necessary to acknowledge that “freedom of choice” is not a blanket, monolithic force of liberty.
    The free choice that a woman may make to become a prostitute occurs within an entirely different set of perameters and circumstances to the free choice I’m going to make in a minute to have a cup of coffee.
    In many countries huge numbers of women working as prostitutes make that “free choice” from a starting point of miserable heroin or crack-cocaine addiction; in other places they make that choice against a landscape of grim and otherwise irredeemable poverty. Those are a very particular kind of “free choices” – the old cliche “a rock and a hard place” comes to mind. Though I stress again, I would only EVER seek to mitigate the circumstances in which those choices are made, rather than prohibit the choice itself.

    I’m sure that even from your more positive perspective of prostitution you would acknowledge that the route into the sex trade does not EVER involve some sweet young gadis desa looking up from her work in the rice field, saying, “F**k this for a game of soldiers, I’m off to Surabaya to sell my body to men – cash income here I come!” Sure, five, ten years down the line she might be that apparently confident woman that you invoke, who claims to be happy in her work. But take a moment to think about her situation outside the confines of the sex trade, and also to consider the journey she has made to reach that place.

    As for trafficking – well I’m sure we could both use google to throw up various figures, but that road leads only to futility… But I would ask you to think carefully about the women who seem to resist “rescue”, and to think about their circumstances. In many countries – my native UK for one – trafficked women are invariably illegal immigrants in a state of utter disorientation in a foreign country. Naturally “rescue” by the authorities is a pretty alarming prospect for them – they probably know nothing of the legal structures of the place in which they find themselves; may well frame it against their own reference points of state brutality, and ultimately may face deportation…
    Consider, when you find your examples of women “resisting rescue”, that that resistance may very well be on the grounds of fear, shame, institutionalisation, and awareness of their own tenuous legality rather than down to any “free choice” they have previously made, or the fact that “THEY LOVE IT!”

    Invoking the liberal mantra of “freedom of choice” as a defence of prostitution is all well and good, but nothing exists in a vacuum: we are talking about freedom of choice of a very compromised kind.

    Now all that said, once again, I would never EVER seek paternalistically to prevent the “free choices” that lead women into prostitution; I would NEVER seek the curtail or ban prostitution – on the contrary, I would positively encourage organised, regulated tolerance zones, while at the same time seeking to alleviate the circumstances in which women make the “choice” to enter the trade.

    ***

    Patung, I hope this rant of mine redresses the balance against any “rosiness” in my original article! ;-)

  14. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:
    April 22nd, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Mugwump,

    Ok, let’s not the rest of us beat around the bush. Grasp at straws all you want, it won’t convince the rest of us. Guys like you have a certain price-driven agenda for being in Indonesia and going to places like Dolly. Timdog wasn’t trying to judge you. Nor do I for going to places like Dolly — it’s your choice. Just don’t try to dress it up.

  15. avatar dewaratugedeanom says:
    April 22nd, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    Question:

    Why are there in the hetero sex-trade generally more female prostitutes than male ones (except here in Bali where there is a thriving gigolo scene, the notorious Kuta cowboys)?

    Could it be because the male sex drive and need is so much stronger than the female, so that many men are prepared to undergo the humiliating treatment having to pay for what normally should be a reciprocal physically and emotionally satisfying interaction?
    But if men wouldn’t be prepared to pay for the services of prostitutes, what would become of the millions of female sex-workers who now eke out a living – and sometimes a very wealthy one – from offering their bodies in return for cash?

    As Bill Clinton said: “It’s economy, stupid”.

  16. avatar David says:
    April 22nd, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    Well the rosy comment was probably unfair, when I said:

    But in Dolly proper, where the young pretty girls, aren’t they more or less owned by the brothel guys? If they want to go outside the area they need an “escort”? And sometimes they are moved to other cities, like Ujung Pandang – so sounds like trafficking, slavery, false imprisonment, etc.

    And how do the girls end up there? Do their parents sell them, do their parents know exactly where they are and what they’re doing?

    Those were genuine questions, I don’t know the answers to them, it’s just things I’ve heard.

    Anyway on this:

    Anywhere else in the city it is all but impossible to convince “the man on the street” that you are not

    * a) a regular patron of Dolly,
    * b) a habitual user of prostitutes, and
    * c) in possession of six or more girlfriends.

    I once lived pretty close to Dolly, and most nights (wait for it) I ate at this same warung on Jl Diponegoro/Jl. Pasar Kembang, which is very close to the entrance to Jl. Girilaya, the road that goes up the hill to Dolly. The warung owner was a young Madurese man, he was very talkative and cheerful and he talked to me about Dolly a fair bit, he thought it was a great place, and often when I got up to leave and go back to my box-room across the road he’d call out embarrassingly loudly:

    Selamat ke Dolly!

  17. avatar timdog says:
    April 23rd, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Selamat ke dolly! Well why else would you be living in that part of town Patung?
    I do have to say one of the few things that I do find endlessly tiring about Indonesia is the widespread assumption that as a man – or is it as a bule man? Or is it just me??!?! – then of course you must love using prostitutes and general philandering – and that having a serious girlfriend/fiance/wife should be no barrier to that…
    And one of the things that I genuinely like about going for a drink at Dolly (or more specifically on Jl Jarak) is the surprising fact that your fellow revellers there do usually seem able to accept the possibility that you really are just there for drink…

  18. avatar Mugwump says:
    April 23rd, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Hello, timdog, and thank you for taking the time to answer my post. However, you seem to have taken my points somewhat awry.

    First, this section of Indonesia Matters is called “Opinion” ergo there is no need to present “counter-arguments”.

    I was not suggesting you should present counterarguments. Rather I was suggesting that your comments on the desirability or otherwise of prostitution should have been omitted or kept to a minimum. You have one central point to make, and you dilute it and alienate some of those you seek to convince by stridently presenting you opinions on a related, but, by your own account, incidental topic.

    Secondly:

    You could just have said something like “Whatever your views on prostitution (and I am uncomfortable with it), you have to acknowledge that prohibition has never worked.”

    This appears to be a very neat synopsis of my above article, so your point is?

    The point is contained in the word “just”. Things might be different in the UK, but where I come from (Australia), “just” is more or less synonymous with “only”. I am suggesting that your reasons for not liking prostitution could have profitably been left out. You seem to be trying too hard to avoid appearing like an apologist for prostitution.

    I really don’t want to get into an argument about prostitution. I am not saying it’s a good thing; rather I would suggest it’s a sympton of a social malaise. For many of those involved, however, it may be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

    As an aside, there are certainly prostitutes in Thailand who are sent money by well-meaning but deluded former clients, often several times what they could earn in an honest job, but who continue to work the bars. At least one such gave her reason for this as “Because I like”. Certainly the lure of getting even more money (despite being more than adequately provided for) far outweighs any feelings of “degradation”. I would be very surprised if this didn’t also happen in Indonesia, but I have no first-hand knowledge of such.

    I have had some exposure to prostitution in Australia, however (although not as a client). I used to be a professional gambler, and places frequented by gamblers also tend to be frequented by prostitutes; so I ended up befriending some. I can tell you that there is no one “typical” image for them. Some genuinely enjoy their work, others seem to be reenacting a history of sexual abuse as children or supporting a drug habit (and the latter two categories overlap: people don’t become junkies on a whim)…. Apart from junkies, nobody has to resort to prostitution to live in Australia, unlike the Third World. In the Third World, there is a big category of women who got into prostitution out of financial necessity.

    This brings me to:

    I’m sure that even from your more positive perspective of prostitution you would acknowledge that the route into the sex trade does not EVER involve some sweet young gadis desa looking up from her work in the rice field, saying, “F**k this for a game of soldiers, I’m off to Surabaya to sell my body to men – cash income here I come!”

    I am quite sure that a lot of them do think just that&emdash;without the Pommy metaphor. Why do you think I have a “more positive perspective of prostitution”?

    Figures about traffic in prostitute are all sh*te. They are invariably collected by bodies with an agenda. I am not saying it doesn’t happen. Forced prostitution must be one of the most unmitigated evils in human society. Almost everyone recognizes it as such, and so people and organizations with a primarily anti-sex agenda try to assimilate other forms of prostitution to it. In so doing, they debase the moral currency, and effectively trivialize what is an unspeakable evil.

    On the subject of prostitutes resisting “liberation&rdqu;, this is a phenomenon in the Third World too, even where they are still in their home countries. Certainly some prostitutes in Australia have been highly critical of the treatment they are accorded by the Autralian authorities. They have said that they agreed to the (from point of view abhorrent) contracts, and that the government is labelling them as “sex slaves” to justify sending them home, rather than recognizing that they provide a needed service and allowing them to migrate through regular channels.

    Achmad Sudarsono, your “argument” is beneath contempt. You know nothing about my personal circumstances, background or motivation, and in any case any motives I have for presenting my arguments are not relevant to the strength or otherwise of those arguments. It may interest you to know, however, that the first I heard of Dolly was two days ago when someone sent me a link to this thread.

  19. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:
    April 23rd, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Mugwump,

    Sink further into denial if you want. But I think you doth protest too much.

    Some things are just obvious. In your case, the academic interest in “sex slaves,” brothels, and teenage village girls just proves an attempt to rationalize your favorite hobby.

    The girls need the money. It’s true — but there’s no need to prettify it. Just admit it.

    Also, I think it’s better if you address me as “Bpk” Achmad.

  20. avatar timdog says:
    April 23rd, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Mugwump – I had very definite reasons for making my own dislike and ethical problem with prostitution clear in the original piece, and that was this: tolerance zones have, in various places, at various times, been outlawed and removed for moral, social or religious reasons. This happened in Indonesia during later colonial times; unfortunately it is happening again in Indonesia now – city authorities may regard prostitution as an embarrassment and may seek to “clean up their image”; religious forces seek to wipe out “immorality” (there have been incidents in Indonesia where over-excited young Islamists have burnt and destroyed brothels).
    In the article I wanted to make it very clear that even someone with a deep dislike of the very idea of prostitution, such as myself, should, through a process of reason and logic, recognise, given the intractability of prostitution through the ages, that lokalisasi is a positive thing. I don’t for a minute think that I would “alienate” anyone from my central argument with this – people whose hackles would be raised by my dislike of prostitution are hardly the kind of people who would want brothels shut down are they?

    If you honestly think that innocent village girls regularly down tools in the rice fields and march merrily off to Surabaya, Bangkok, Manila, wherever, with the explicit intention of selling their bodies, try engaging in a little empathy and imagination.
    Not so long ago I saw an interesting, and rather bleak documentary about the journey into prostitution of young women in Thailand, a place you apparently have some experience of. The typical journey went something like this: owing to the pressure of rural poverty, and due to the expectations of family, spectacularly naive, uneducated young women, often second or third daughters, left villages to seek work in Bangkok; inevitably, given the size of the sector there, many of them ended up in very low-paid work on the fringes of the nightlife, entertainment and hospitality industries; due to the pathetically low wages they found themselves in dire financial circumstances – always with the expectations of family in the background; some found a little more money from working in bars; some, miserably, drifted into prostitution. Most of them talked about “shame”.
    In the documentary this was all presented in the form of first-hand interviews with the women in question. It was deeply depressing.

    So a bar girl in Bangkok, or some casino call girl in Sydney tells you cheerfully “Oh yes, I love my work”?
    Take a moment to think about this logically, think about what prostitution is. Prostitution is in general based on an act of conscious denial on the part of men. I’m sure only the most rancidly misogynistic men would enjoy the idea that the prostitute he is using is finding the act foul and degrading; most men would readily accept the pretence that “SHE’S LOVING IT!” Even a reluctant prostitute understands what her job is, what it rests upon. When she encounters you, A MAN, in her working environment, be it bar or casino, she’s hardly going to tell you, “I hate it, it makes me sick, I can’t express the shame I feel, I feel dirty, degraded” IS SHE!??! Even if she becomes your “buddy” she’s unlikely to tell you that IS SHE?

    Also, understand that particularly – but not only – in Asian societies once a woman has crossed that line into prostitution she has entered a world of irredeemable shame, a place of no going back. This of course applies to some extent in the “West” too (think of the reaction when rumours of a past as a prostitute attach themselves to some famous woman).
    And hopefully this might help you to understand again the idea of women “rescued” from prostitution in places like Indonesia apparently resisting rescue – imagine, empathise, with what it will be like for them to be packed off back to their village and their family…
    Empathy, my friend, empathy…

    If you believe that trafficking is “one of the most unmitigated evils in human society” why on earth would you seek to belittle, dismiss, underplay the issue? It makes absolutely no sense to me.

    Now, unlike my dear friend Achmad Sudarsono, I am not in the business of casting accusations or aspersions, but in my experience, men who dismiss my ethical qualms about prostitution, who trot out endless anecdotes of women “happy in their work”, or Bangkok bar girls who are cheerful Baht millionaires, generally, as Raden Mas Achmad says, “doth protest too much…”

  21. avatar Mugwump says:
    April 24th, 2008 at 1:51 am

    Timdog, given that you make some very intelligent arguments in relation to lokalisasi, I am disappointed to find that you are totally immune to rationality on the question of prostitution itself. However, I will make one more contribution to this debate.

    Do you really believe the bullsh*t in documentaries like that? Do you really think that those girls don’t know what their older sisters, cousins and friends do for a living? The vast majority of them head off knowing exactly what is in store for them. They are not duped or coerced, and they are certainly not innocent. If you are a documentary maker with an axe to grind, you will find plenty of girls who will say, truthfully or otherwise, that they got into prostitution involuntarily. In most cases, it is simply a matter of saving face.

    This “fall from grace” concept does not seem to apply to Thailand. In countries where it does apply, it happens to an unmarried woman who has a baby. I have seen scant evidence of it in my time in Indonesia (although I am sure it exists in the upper classes), but I do notice that most Indonesian prostitutes I have had anything to do with have at least one baby in the background. It may well be that they feel they have nothing left to lose in terms of reputation.

    If you actually had any empathy or imagination, you would find it fairly easy to distinguish bullsh*t sales lines spun by prostitutes from their actual feelings. You might also find that they were more inclined to tell you their real feelings. In any case, if a girl tells you she hates her job, because until you came along she never met a client she actually wanted to have sex with, so how about it?, you can be sure that it’s bullsh*t. She is far more likely to give you that line than to say she loves her work. It may disturb you to know that only two prostitutes have ever told me they love their work (and I have every reason to believe them), and they had something in common: they both started at the age of 12.

    Let you tell me about Andrea, a prostitute who used to hang out at Melbourne Casino. She was a lesbian in her non-working life, but told me she enjoyed “intimacy” with her (male) clients. Did she enjoy sex with them? Well, all I can say is that, early in the time I knew her, she attempted to recruit me as a client by saying she was prepared to have sex with me, but only on her terms. I asked what these were, and she said (1) I had to pay her (duh!) and (2) I had to make sure she derived sexual pleasure from it. I was not interested (although I found her attractive), but I was a bit taken aback by condition (2). For one thing, if I were paying, I don’t see why I should be asked to ensure her pleasure (although it is in fact one of my motivations in having sex with women), but further, it goes against everything we have been led to expect about prostitutes. Surely, if she really found it so degrading, she would want to get it over with as soon as possible? Of course, she was not typical, but then I have already said there is no such thing as a typical prostitute. If you asked six randomly-selected welders what they thought of their job, would you expect them all to give the same answer?

    Before signing, I will address the following:

    If you believe that trafficking is “one of the most unmitigated evils in human society” why on earth would you seek to belittle, dismiss, underplay the issue? It makes absolutely no sense to me.

    This beggars belief. It is pseudo-moralizers like you who underplay the issue, as I have already pointed out. By trying to make out that the whiole sex industry is based on human trafficking, which is a patent lie, you are trivializing the much smaller number of cases in which it actually happens.

    As I have already said, my own activities in relation to prostitution are neither here nor there. They certainly do not influence my “ethical” position, which has always been that it is not an ethical or moral issue. Until a few years ago, I considered it beneath my dignity, although I had no ethical objection to others engaging in it. In relation to the Third World, however, I have come to the view that it is essentially a more honest (and indeed ethical) way of finding a partner. A Westerner in the Third World has very little trouble finding a non-prostitute as a girlfriend. However, there is a certain duplicity about the whole thing: she may be pretending to love me so she can get an Australian visa (whether or not she intends to dump me once she gets permanent residence), and I may be pretending that this is a possibility just to get my dick wet. Moreover, given that I can earn in an afternoon, sitting at my computer, as much as the average Indonesian earns in about four months, it would seem callous not to help out someone I care about when it would make so little difference to me and so much to her if I slipped her a few hundred euros every so often. But how is this different from prostitution? Frank prostitution, ideally, is an honest transaction: a certain amount of money is exchanged for certain services. So, when I lived in Indonesia I was quite happy to use the services of prostitutes. Then I came to live and study in Geneva, where I have not even enquired about prices, but instead engage in the ritual of witty repartee with strange women in bars. If they offer sex for money, I immediately look elsewhere.

    There is no need to ratiionalize or justify anything. I make my choices; the women make theirs.

  22. avatar timdog says:
    April 24th, 2008 at 2:49 am

    Ah well, there we go.
    I said:

    in my experience, men who dismiss my ethical qualms about prostitution, who trot out endless anecdotes of women “happy in their work”, or Bangkok bar girls who are cheerful Baht millionaires, generally, as Raden Mas Achmad says, “doth protest too much”¦”

    You said:

    when I lived in Indonesia I was quite happy to use the services of prostitutes blah blah blah…

    That’s it then, game over.

    When I think about the prostitution I do so objectively as an outsider. I don’t and have never used prostitutes, not because I’m saintly or pure – that’s just me, odd creature that I am (I happen to like my sex within the bounds of a relationship – I don’t like the feeling I get after a one-night stand so I can’t imagine how miserable I’d feel the day after using a prostitute – but as I said, that’s just me, nothing to do with a sense saintliness).

    You attempt to deal with prostitution as an insider, as an interested party; you clearly have need to appease and quell your ego and conscience, so quite naturally, quite understandably you’re hardly likely to want even to consider the idea that it might be, in general, a pretty nasty thing… though the flickers of misogyny are plain to see in your last post…

    It is, I suppose, a bit like the meat-eaters who flinch squeamishly away from the idea of the slaughterhouse (I, incidentally, eat meat and grew up in a village where I learnt to hunt and kill rabbits for food).

    You said:

    This beggars belief. It is pseudo-moralizers like you who underplay the issue, as I have already pointed out. By trying to make out that the whiole sex industry is based on human trafficking, which is a patent lie, you are trivializing the much smaller number of cases in which it actually happens.

    I have nothing constructive or serious to say in response to this other than HAHAHAHAHA….

  23. avatar Rob says:
    April 24th, 2008 at 6:16 am

    Prostitution is here to stay in some form or another! You don’t get to call yourself the oldest profession in the world if you do not have staying power!

    Therefore, all of the arguments for and against, interesting as they are, are in fact academic!

    Seeing that prostitution is here to stay then the focus needs to be on making it as safe as possible, holding it to standards of HSE or OH&S or whatever it is called now that apply in other industries or businesses, and to ensure that the employment conditions of the women are not ones that are co-erced or forced! Perhaps there needs to be a scheme for award wages, rules about unfair dismisslal, and the like…

    Maybe as a people we need to take a reality check and except some cold and hard home truths!

    Just a though or two :D

  24. avatar Rob says:
    April 24th, 2008 at 6:18 am

    that is…thought! Oops

  25. avatar Country man says:
    April 24th, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Achmad Sudarsono, probably I am too stupid to understand the below quote to relate “………….the academic interest in “sex slaves,” brothels, and teenage village girls just proves an attempt to rationalize your favorite hobby………….

    Can you elaborate more for general interest ?

  26. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:
    April 24th, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Hi Country Man,

    Mugwump is using the “I did not inhale” argument. He expects us to believe he was a gambler and drunkard, who regularly cavorted with prostitutes, but didn’t use their services. See quote below.

    id she enjoy sex with them? Well, all I can say is that, early in the time I knew her, she attempted to recruit me as a client by saying she was prepared to have sex with me, but only on her terms. I asked what these were, and she said (1) I had to pay her (duh!) and (2) I had to make sure she derived sexual pleasure from it. I was not interested (although I found her attractive), but I was a bit taken aback by condition (2).

    He then goes to ramble at length about the rights and wrongs of prostitution, clearly one of his favorite activities. He never used “Andrea’s” services (yeah, right Mugwump), just like he’s not a patron of Block M or Dolly.

    Indonesia is rife with Mugwump’s sort. At the end of the day, they come, they go, they pay their fiscal (if someone’s been foolish enough to employ them). They’re neither here nor there. For more from the Mugwumps of this world see JakChat.

  27. avatar dewaratugedeanom says:
    April 24th, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    Instead of holding an intello thea-party about prostitution and lokalisasi wouldn’t it be better if we had the hands-on opinion of some of the working-girls involved. Like so many times day-to-day and down-to-earth stuff gets intellectualised over the heads of those directly involved as if their opinion is only trivia and of no academic value at all.

  28. avatar Rob says:
    April 25th, 2008 at 10:11 am

    dewaratugedeanom…

    A good point! Why is this an intellectual or academic argument between people with a passing interest in the subject matter and some who may have used the services provided by female and male prostitutes but sans the providers of these services…

    In that vein I attach the following link!

    Cheers!

  29. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:
    April 25th, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Rob and Dewa,

    Decent points, but I think the focus here should be Mugwump’s hypocrisy in not-so secretly trying to sample as much of Dolly as possible.

  30. avatar timdog says:
    April 25th, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Rob and Dewa – I agree entirely…
    Problem is, mugwump turned up sneering and scoffing at the issue of human trafficking and my ethical qualms with prostitution… though it was fairly safe to assume that he took this position due to certain issues with his own ego and conscience, I foolishly decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and waste my time in engaging with him… given that he nailed his colours to the mast before departing for good in his last post, revealing his unpleasant opinion of women in general and Asian women in particular (he infers that they are pathological liars interested only in money) I should probably have just dealt with him as Achmad did right from the start… but then Achmad has levels of wisdom far beyond me ;-)

    Dewa – great idea, want to go and find some working girls to join the discussion? ;-)

Pages: [1] 2 »



Your view on “Hello Dolly! – In Praise of Lokalisasi” :


RSS
RSS feed
Email

Copyright Indonesia Matters 2006-14
Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Contact