Indonesian women who have Western partners or husbands are often met with negative, sometimes harsh judgment from people around them, from gold diggers to exotic-looking harlots.
When you see an Indonesian woman with brown complexion walking together with a Western man, for example, you might hear responses like, “Why on Earth would a bule want to be with a woman with a tampang babu?”
Bule is an Indonesian slang word for Westerners, while tampang babu means the face of a domestic help.
Irked by such stereotypes, Jakarta-based writer Elisabeth Oktofani decided to write a book called Bule Hunter: Kisah Wanita Pemburu Bule (Bule Hunter: Tales of Women who Pursue Western Men). Published by Rene Books this year, it is based on her interviews with several women with Western partners to understand their motivation in pursuing the men.
“All this time, we have heard only the negative stereotypes about the women. To be fair, I think we need to listen to these women’s voices. So I’m trying to provide space for them in this book,” Elisabeth, who is fondly known as Fani, says.
No stranger to the issue, Fani has been married to a Canadian man for three years. After spending some time doing her research, she concludes the three things driving Indonesian women to pursue Western lovers: money, sex and love.
So, the stereotype that some Indonesian women go after Western men for their money is not a hundred percent wrong after all.
“Let’s face it, a lot of Western men who work in Indonesia are quite prosperous. This happens because they have privileges like higher salaries than local people,” she says, adding that when these men return to their home country, they may not be as privileged as they are in Indonesia.
Because of this, some Indonesian women who are “tired of being poor”, or those who may have a chance of a decent career but without the necessary motivation, choose to cling to Western men who provide them with a comfortable lifestyle.
“These women can have things they couldn’t afford before. They can now travel to different places. It’s a very comfortable life,” the former Jakarta Globe reporter says.
But things could turn ugly for these women when they have too high an expectation.
“Some of them had dreams of moving to their lover’s countries, where they would live a prosperous life. Unfortunately, as I have said before, a lot of westerners are not as prosperous in their own countries. They can live a lavishly in Indonesia thanks to the privileges given to them as expats here,” she says.
Real disappointment follows the high expectation when they find out that their European or American lives are not as glamorous as they had fantasized.
And then there is the darker side of this phenomenon: human traffickers who recruit Asian women by deceiving them with promises of romance with Western men.
Money and a lavish lifestyle, however, are not the sole reasons why some Indonesian women are so intent in finding a Western lover. Sex takes priority for some women.
“Some women that I interviewed said theyfound Western men to be sexy,” says Fani.
The women also feel more comfortable because Western men are more conscious about the importance of safe sex than Indonesian men.
“They are never reluctant about putting on a condom if their sexual partners ask them to do so. This makes Indonesian women feel safer when having sex with them, because safe sex is not just about avoiding pregnancy. Getting infected with sexually transmitted diseases is definitely scarier than getting pregnant,” she says.
Some of the women Fani interviewed said that Western men were also less judgmental on various sexual expressions than Indonesian men, though that is not always the case, as some can be judgmental too.
Finally, after a few years of relationship, the women might eventually find what they call “love”.
“Eventually, what motivates people to maintain a relationship is the fact that they find a good match in their partners, whether it’s because they have the same interests or they can discuss so many things with ease,” she says.
Indeed, this is the most important aspect in maintaining a relationship, regardless of the ethnicity or the origin of the partner. Her message: when choosing a life partner don’t confine yourself to people from one race or ethnicity.
“I used to be exclusively attracted to Western men too, but after I got married to one for several years, I came to realize that no matter where your partner comes from, the most important thing is the chemistry you have with him,” she says.
About Sebastian Partogi
Sebastian Partogi is a feminist writer living in Jakarta.
What “Bule Hunters” Want is published by The Magdalene on Aug. 29