Monday, December 18, 2006

Til Deaths Us Do Part

Two stories have surfaced recently which expose the dark underside of marriage. I refer of course to the saucy Golkar legislator's cell phone blue movie and to chilled out TV preacher AA Gym and his foray into polygamy. These two scandals seem to position local ladies between a rock and a hard place (no double entendre intended) however, we seem to be getting ahead of ourselves as usual.

Let's start at the beginning and review what has been happening over at the Golkar party first. When the story of Yahya Zaini's hotel room tryst with a Dangdut singer being recorded on a mobile phone and disseminated through the Internet first emerged, the papers initially referred to our hapless anti-hero by his initials YZ. Perhaps this is understandable if the publications in question were afraid of having their windows put in by Golkar heavies. It did cause me to speculate though that conceivably the guy's name was Young Zorro; with a rapier like flash of his cutlass those Dangdut singers are putty in his hands.

As further details, including names, emerged from the story, Young Zorro's position became increasingly untenable and he eventually fell on his cutlass and resigned. The dark irony of Golkar's spiritual affairs spokesman, someone who is no doubt involved in the debating of the Draconian Porno-Aksi bill, himself making a porno film, was too much to bear. Indeed, after a scandal such as this it would be impossible for a politician in any country to emerge unscathed. Back in my semi-beloved Britain, political sex scandals have become commonplace. From the Profumo affair in the 60s through to the recent misdemeanors of Tony Blair's henchmen (Robin Cook, David Blunkett and John Prescott all unable to keep their snakes caged) the sex scandal has become a permanent feature of the political landscape. Only vicarage family man Blair himself had remained aloof from the sleaze.

Male marital infidelity is hardly something new. At least though, when a man's illicit, extramarital affair is exposed, his wife can choose to either forgive or divorce her philandering spouse and the husband is shamed. Polygamy, on the other hand, presents us with a rather different conundrum. In a polygamous marriage, the man's caprices and dalliances are made respectable. If I was Young Zorro's wife, possibly I would prefer hubby to take a secret lover than a second wife. At least it wouldn't be in my face every day, he would be wasting less money and his hurtful actions wouldn't be legitimized through religion.

It was suggested by a columnist on the front page of this paper last Sunday that AA Gym's two wives possess, by being lawfully married to the same man, more dignity than Hillary Clinton did when her husband was caught in his shameful act of cigar rolling with Ms Lewinsky. Nonsense I say. Hilary emerges with an infinitely greater amount of dignity than either of AA Gym's wives (or Bill himself of course). She is not an unequal partner in her marriage and could have chosen to divorce the hapless president in a heartbeat. Instead she chose forgiveness. She has not capitulated to a religious patriarchy which treats women as second-class citizens; mere chattels who are only half as important as men and who thus only have access to half of their man's affections and time. Polygamy is a one-way street under current interpretations of Islam of course. Its inverse, polyandry, namely a woman with more than one husband, couldn't possibly be considered.

Encouragingly though, AA Gym's mostly female fans are up in arms over the whole saga and the be-turbaned guru may have badly misjudged his followers attitudes. Indonesia is not Saudi Arabia. I don't profess to be able to speak for Indonesian sisterhood but if there's one thing your average lady hates here it's polygamy. The green eyed monster is perhaps the deadly sin that the Indonesian female is most familiar with and a rival for her man's affections is a nonsense that simply will not be tolerated.

Personally, I haven't the slightest idea why a man would want to have two, three or even four wives. The mental and physical energy required would be way beyond my humble capacities. Less flippantly though, to have more than one wife renders the whole act of marriage virtually meaningless for me. Surely the whole idea of marriage is to strive for that sacred, one-on-one relationship that trumps all others and to find your soul mate (cue violins). If this is the goal of marriage then three is most definitely a crowd. On a more practical note, if all of Indonesia's male politicians had four wives each, the war on corruption would surely take an even bigger nosedive than it has done already. They would quite simply have to rob the state blind just to keep up.

Maybe the failings of Young Zorro, AA and males in general are best summed up by an old joke. God creates man and says to him, "Well, I've got two pieces of good news and one piece of bad news for you." Man says, "Let's have the good news first then." God says, “Okay, well I've given you a complex and powerful brain which you can use to build cities and computers, create art and culture, enjoy Barry Manilow albums and so forth. " "Great," says man, "And the other good news?" God replies, "Well, I've given you a penis which you can use to procreate the species, perpetuate life and thus live on through your children." "Nice one," says man, "So what's the bad news?" God looks pensive and says, "I'm afraid you won't be able to use both of them at the same time."

Simon Pitchforth